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World Cafe 30th Anniversary: First Times

Alabama Shakes (by Autumn de Wilde), Lizzo (by John Vettese/WXPN), Courtney Barnett (by Milk! Records), Ray Lamontagne (by WXPN)
Autumn de Wilde
Alabama Shakes (by Autumn de Wilde), Lizzo (by John Vettese/WXPN), Courtney Barnett (by Milk! Records), Ray Lamontagne (by WXPN)

Updated May 4, 2022 at 1:01 PM ET

As part of World Cafe's 30th anniversary, we're publishing a series of special features that celebrate the music, the conversation and the legacy of the Cafe, every week for 30 weeks.

One thing that's so important to us at World Cafe is boosting emerging artists – and then continuing to support them on their journey. There are so many artists who have visited multiple times, and who we've had the privilege to see grow. Sometimes, into big, big stars.

For our First Times series, we've gone into our archives and dug out some of the most memorable first visits to the Cafe, often when an artist was just starting out — or on the brink of major success. Each week for the next 30 weeks, join us in listening back and re-witnessing the obvious early promise of our guests.

First up, Jan. 26, 2012: Alabama Shakes was just a couple months away from releasing the breakthrough album Boys & Girls — in fact, the Shakes hadn't even officially released the eventually Grammy-winning single "Hold On." But they played it here.

Now, let's go back to September 1993. A month before her appearance on the show, Sheryl Crow had released her debut album, Tuesday Night Music Club. It wasn't an immediate success, which is hard to believe in retrospect, so her visit to World Cafe fell in-between the release of that album and her rise to fame. You'll hear her speak with original World Cafe host David Dye, and perform some of those soon-to-be hits from Tuesday Night Music Club.

Dave Matthews has been on the show a bunch of times over the years, but his very first appearance, in 1994, was the only time the entire Dave Matthews Band was on World Cafe. (We should mention that, in 1994, the World Cafe studios were much smaller...) The band was promoting its debut album Under the Table and Dreaming — and were just about to go on to play some much bigger rooms.

Like all great works of science fiction, Janelle Monáe's debut full-length, ArchAndroid, used the genre as a way to examine the world's problems through a new, fantastical lens – specifically here, the ever-present spectre of racial injustice. Mixing orchestral arrangements with funk, soul, pop and rock, Monae covers it all while constructing a dimension wholly her own. Listen to her live performance in the World Cafe studio, along with an interview, in this session from December 2010.

Sometimes we catch them just before that success happens – like when John Mayer stopped by the Cafe just two days after the release of his major-label debut, Room for Squares, all the way back in 2001. That album would go on to sell over 4 million copies and snag him a Grammy for the song "Your Body Is A Wonderland" — well, when this session was recorded, none of that had happened yet. He had no idea he'd be a star (or that he'd one day tour as lead guitarist for a the Dead and Co. reunion).

It doesn't take much to argue that Coldplay is one of the biggest rock bands in the world — but they'd just boarded that rocket to the stars when they made their stop at the World Cafe in June, 2001. It was less than a year after releasing their debut album Parachutes when former World Cafe host David Dye spoke with Chris Martin about writing Coldplay's hit "Yellow" and performed live at Indre Studios in Philadelphia.

Original World Cafe host David Dye said that in terms of record sales, Norah Jones was the most important artist to appear on the cafe as an unknown. The session originally aired in 2002 before her debut album, Come Away With Me, was released, and at the time she was "just another singer-songwriter from Texas who had moved to New York City." The album was later certified Diamond for selling over 10 million copies, and Jones has won nine Grammy Awards in total over her career. Not too shabby.

It was a big life change for Ray LaMontagne when he first visited World Cafe in 2005. A couple of months earlier, he'd released his debut studio album, Trouble. That album marked his transition from working in a shoe factory in Maine to being a musician. And that shoe factory job is what original World Cafe host David Dye had just asked him about in this session.

In 1992, Tori Amos had just released her debut studio album Little Earthquakes. She was on her very first tour of the USA when she caught up with original World Cafe host David Dye, who had just asked her how she was being received by audiences on that tour.

Lizzo has been on a tear – thanks to her Grammy-winning breakout album, Cuz I Love You, released in 2019. But in 2015, when World Cafe traveled to Minneapolis, where Lizzo lived at the time (she now lives in Los Angeles) she was an aspiring rapper, singer and flutist. The city was buzzing about how she was about to blow up, and everyone kept telling World Cafe to check her out. So we did. At the time, Lizzo was getting ready to release her second studio album, Big Grrrl, Small World. Host emeritus David Dye talked to Lizzo about her inspirations, learning to play flute and her message of body positivity.

It was almost 20 years ago when My Morning Jacket first dropped by the Cafe, right around the time the band's major-label debut, It Still Moves, was released. This session was recorded in 2003 with original World Cafe host David Dye. Here, he had just asked frontman Jim James what the difference was between having a real producer and engineer in the studio versus producing themselves, like they had before.

"Great Success" ... might even be an understatement for today's First Timer. She's now an international superstar, but back in 2008, Adele had just released her debut album, 19. That same year, she came by the World Cafe and spoke with original host, David Dye.

The Black Keys in Studio on World Cafe - 04/18/2007

As we continue to celebrate World Cafe's 30th anniversary, we revisit Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney's first appearance on the show as The Black Keys from 2004 — back when they were just a blues duo from Akron, Ohio. Plus, Dan Wilson shares the secret double meaning behind his hit song "Closing Time."

Most people were introduced to Courtney Barnett and her clever, stream of consciousness-style lyrics in 2015 when she released her debut full length album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. But for World Cafe listeners, that introduction came a year earlier. Courtney Barnett joined original World Cafe host David Dye in 2014, before that debut and after 2013's The Double EP:A Sea of Split Peas, which was a re-release of her first 2 EPs that she put out on her own label, Milk Records.

If you listen to World Cafe, you probably don't need me to explain who Brandi Carlile is because the last few years have been massive for her. She's a six-time GRAMMY winner and an 18-time nominee, a prodigious collaborator, a mentor and an icon for LGBTQ voices in Americana, country and pop music. She's on her way to becoming a living legend. But when she first visited the World Cafe in 2005, she had only just been signed to Columbia Records and was fresh off the release of her self-titled debut album. Above, you can hear that first visit and her conversation with original World Cafe host David Dye.

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