Emmylou Harris, John Prine and Friends at The City Winery - Nashville, 1/22/17by Pat and George Betzhold on 04/26/17
A Doggone Good Show in Nashville
What do you think when you hear the name Emmylou Harris? Perhaps you think of a singer touring with Gram Parsons. Maybe doing covers of some great songs such as Merle Haggard’s, “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down” or The Band’s, “Evangeline”? Maybe it’s one of my favorite albums of all time; her Daniel Lanois produced “Wrecking Ball”.
No matter, Sundays’ concert at the City Winery in Nashville covered it all. There, she was joined by John Prine, doing a benefit concert to support Emmylou’s “last chance” shelter for dogs (Bonaparte’s Retreat.) The benefit also included the affiliated pet store, Crossroads. Both are located in Nashville.
Together, John and Emmylou did a laid back “Concert in the Round” with each of them taking turns singing their signature songs.
Emmylou began by singing a song she wrote called “Big Black Dog.” This was written about her black lab rescue dog named Bella. This led her to talk a bit about her passion for animals and the reason she established Bonaparte’s Retreat. It is actually located in her backyard at her home in Nashville. She also described how the store Crossroads helps the homeless by providing shelter and jobs for many.
Next, the mike got passed to John Prine. I have been a huge fan of his since the seventies. In fact, I first saw him live in 1980 at Milwaukee’s Summerfest. There were many fine musicians there, but Prine always stood out for me. John’s set list for the Winery was peppered with his vintage material. It was indeed, just what the doctor ordered, taking me back to that July show at the Milwaukee Lake Front. Two of his songs, “Hello in There” and “Souvenirs” really did the job.
In typical “concert in the round” fashion, the artists swapped the mike, taking turns while maintaining a continuity of material so that each song seemed to fit with the next. Emmylou spoke about John becoming a grandfather for the second time. This led into her singing a touching rendition of “Ordinary Heart” (co-written with Kimmie Rhodes.) Not to be outdone, Prine talked about his affection for “older people” that led into his song, “Hello in There.” There was not a dry eye in the place!
We couldn’t help but notice the empty chair next to Emmylou. Who could that be waiting for? Soon we found out, as Emmylou welcomed Sheryl Crow to the stage. The audience was thrilled! Sheryl sat down with her guitar and sang a beautiful “Don’t Bail on Me.” What a fantastic voice!
We were then treated to a short film that introduced us to Crossroads Pet store. This is the inspiring business venture that is Emmylou’s passion. It combines animal rescue while providing jobs and shelter for many homeless individuals. The testimonies of these young people were very moving. They served to remind us that there is value in everyone, regardless of their circumstances. After the film, Sheryl and Emmylou sang a duet, “Home Sweet Home” which was inspired by the founder of Crossroads.
Sheryl left the stage as Prine got back into the mix, dipping once again into his early work.
The next surprise was when Mary Gauthier was introduced on stage. After the appreciative applause, she sat down and sang her signature song, “Mercy Now.” It really hit home for many people. The lyrics were very meaningful and sung with such clear emotion. What a compelling and beautiful voice!
Once Mary left the stage, Emmylou sang “The road” as a tribute to Gram Parsons. Continuing in that spirit; Emmylou and John did homage to Guy Clark with “Magnolia Wind.”
So many great songs were sung this night, but one of my favorites was the duet of Prine’s original song, “In Spite Of Ourselves.” John wrote the song at the request of Billy Bob Thornton for Billy’s film “Daddy and Them.” Emmylou did a great and credible job filling in for Iris De Mint.
After that duet, the mic once again was passed to Emmylou. She sang Steve Earle’s “Goodbye.” Prine was next when he sang his “Angel from Montgomery”. Although many artists have covered this song, I believe when he sings it, it’s the best!
The song “Believe” was next. It was written by Emmylou, inspired by her conversations with the gravely ill June Carter Cash. June died before her beloved husband Johnny’s passing. The song was done with love and emotion.
Last, but not least, the empty chair was once again filled, this time by John’s wife, Fiona. She had just returned from the Women’s March in DC. She and her husband sang a duet of “My Happiness” to each other.
It was sure hard to leave the venue. We had just enjoyed over two hours of sharing intimate moments with veteran musicians who have been honing their craft for probably longer than they care to admit. Hearing their stories, learning how their music had been formed and who has influenced them over the years was an unforgettable experience.
It’s marvelous to think that all of this was for the benefit of both animals and humans.