Emmylou Harris and John Prine
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
June 6, 2008
On a sublime, perfect evening at the world famous Red Rocks Amphitheater, a near capacity crowd got a reminder of something Americans can be really proud of. Emmylou Harris and John Prine, performing together for the only time this year, played a double header, with both artists putting in full sets that clocked in just over 3 1⁄2 hours total.
Unabashedly claiming a Tennessee cold, (though you couldn’t hear it in her singing, when she addressed the crowd, it was painfully obvious), Emmylou Harris commanded the stage on this, her first night of her tour. At 61 years old, Emmylou Harris is vibrant, stunning, passionate, beautiful and sexy. As she interspersed oldies, nuggets and eight songs from her new record All I Intended to Be, the audience was as rapt as if it were the game ending pitch of the World Series. The band backing her this tour is comprised of some pretty good talent itself, as Harris has scooped up some temporarily available rhythm section of Chris Donahue on bass and Brian Owings on drums (who were available as a result of their primary band leader, Buddy Miller, being on tour with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss). The band was rounded out by Rickie Simpkins (mandolin, fiddle and banjo), Colin Linden (guitar), and Phil Madeira (keyboards), a multi-instrumentalist that finally gives Emmylou the accordion player she’s long wanted for her touring band.
Highlights from Emmy’s show opening set included “Bright Morning Stars,” “Red Dirt Girl,” “John The Baptist,” and a lovely version of “Michelangelo.” She also premiered songs from the new album, something that’s always difficult on the artist, the band and the audience. True to form, Emmylou performed these new songs with elegant grace, especially during the stirring and gorgeous rendition of Tracy Chapman’s “All That You Have Is Your Soul.”
Prine even joined in for “Lucky Star,” which saw Emmylou gleaming like she was the lucky one. As Prine left the stage, she turned her back for a moment, and as she turned back, tears in her eyes, said “Now I’m all verklempt.” And so was the crowd.
For the second portion of the evening, John Prine swept the audience away on a magical trip through time, exuding absolute joy and a prowess on both guitar and vocals. What was perhaps most inspiring of all was Prine’s command of the stage, an absolute master showman along that at times brought to mind the late Johnny Cash.
Performing at times alone, and other times backed by David Jacques (electric and standup acoustic, backing vocals) and Jason “Shorty” Wilbur (electric guitar, mandolin, harmonica, backing vocals), Prine sang with proud through his 23-song set, featuring gems such as Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War,” along with many of Prine’s finest – “Please Don’t Bury Me,” “Whistle and Fish,” “The Glory of True Love,” “Storm Windows,” “You Got Gold,” “Dear Abby,” “Lake Marie,” and “She’s My Everything,” sang to his wife who was in attendance on what had promised to be a magical evening. Neither Prine nor Emmylou would disappoint.
For all the love and grace, talent and songwriting gifts presented throughout the evening, the highlight of the night was Emmylou’s appearance with Prine for “In Spite of Ourselves.” With “Emmy” kicking her heels up in delight, lyric page in hand, reading glasses set aside, singing in the most delightful, infectious tone, “He ain’t got laid in a month of Sundays… I caught him once and he was sniffin’ my undies.”
Emmylou Harris and John Prine are true American treasures, something for us all to be proud of. On this beautiful night, between those hollowed Red Rocks of Morrison, the two delivered performances that many leaving the show called the best they’d ever seen from either artist. In any event, walking through the crowd after the show, there was no doubt at all that an exceptionally fun had been had by all.