Prime Prine Live!
By Rob Dickens
John Prine at The Station Inn – Americana Music Festival and Conference – Thursday September 22, 2016
This was on the Thursday night at Nashville’s AmericanaFest where attractive shows were calling out everywhere. Frankly, the choices were ridiculous – try these on for size – Billy Bragg and Joe Henry (Union Station), Jimmy LaFave, Bobby Rush and Caleb Caudle (The High Watt), Anne McCue (American Legion), John Moreland, Wanda Jackson and Parker Millsap (3rd & Lindsley), The Bottle Rockets and John Paul White (The Basement East), Dori Freeman, Rodney Crowell and Indigo Girls (Cannery Ballroom), The Steel Wheels (12th & Porter), LAU (The Family Wash), The Honeycutters (The Basement), Bruce Hornsby (City Winery) and The Handsome Family (Third Man Records). See what I mean!
But in the end I was very happy with my choice that night. John Prine‘s show was at the end of a bumper bill at The Station Inn – Teddy Thompson and Kelly Jones, Larry Campbell and Theresa Williams, plus Amanda Shires (with Jason Isbell). In fact, this was the most RSVP’d show of the week, so organisers instituted a ballot for selected Conference badge-holders to line-up on a first-come, first-in basis.
I got there before 6 (the first set was 7pm and Prine was due on at 10.30pm), stood in the hot sun as the line grew and grew. Eventually, entry was allowed and I found a spot up front where I could almost touch the Emmons pedal steel left of stage.
Now, John Prine is celebrating his seventieth birthday next week with two sold-out shows at The Ryman here in Nashville and it was almost enough for me to want to stretch my stay in the USA. Tonight he graced us with two riveting sets – one which featured his first, self-titled 1971 album front-to-back, with a second set of songs around his new duets release and some of the greatest songs from his extensive catalogue. A terrific band which included Jason Wilber on guitar (he serves as band-leader), Pat McLoughlin mandolin, Dave Jacques bass (JP: “he’s been with me almost twenty two years”) and, for the first time with Prine, the sublimely-gifted and elegant Fats Kaplin (pedal steel, accordion and violin).
Prine’s debut album clearly has stood the test of time. As Prine himself acknowledged, the band regularly includes ten of the thirteen tracks in their live shows. And so it went – ‘Hello in There’, ‘Sam Stone’, ‘Your Flag Decal Won’t Get you Into Heaven Anymore’ (JP: “I keep this in mothballs until we have an election”), ‘Far From Me’, ‘Angel From Montgomery’ (“JP: It’s fun to learn your own songs again”), ‘Donald and Lydia’, ‘Six O’Clock News’, ‘Paradise’ and ‘Flashback News’. Now, during this first set, the bar was closed which was a significant commercial, respectful concession by the venue and helped keep any extraneous noise at bay.
After a quick break, proceedings renewed with the sublime ‘Souvenirs’, during which a young woman was clearly emotionally overcome, wiping tears away frequently. A young fellow I met in the admission line brought along his mother’s original vinyl release of Prine’s first album. He sat by the bar quietly throughout, soaking it up, his plan was to get a signature – he was both determined and optimistic, a good combination. The crowd was hushed throughout, reverential and in some sort of familiar awe. Even the Mayor of Nashville was there.
To add even further to the occasion, Isbell and Shires came up to share a glorious rendition of the hilarious ‘In Spite of Ourselves’. What followed included ‘Unwed Fathers’ , ‘Storm Windows’, ‘Please Don’t Bury Me’, a rollicking, joyous ‘Saddles In The Rain’, ‘Christmas In Prison’, ‘Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)’, the delightfully familiar opening riff of ‘Glory of True Love’ and one of the most incredibly quirky yet emotional songs ever written ‘Lake Marie’.
It was a special night alright and I suspect that the person front of stage enjoyed it more than anybody in this iconic room. This was a show for the ages. One that will gloriously stay with everyone in the room for ever.
If you are thinking about coming to AmericanaFest sometime and are questioning the cost and effort, a show like this will blow those doubts away for ever.