Here’s a trivia tidbit. Thirteen-time Grammy award winning country and bluegrass performer Emmylou Harris spent her teenage years in the suburbs of Washington D.C., graduating as the valedictorian of Gar-Field High School in Woodbridge, Virginia. Given this information, the idea that Emmylou Harris would have her near five-decade career celebrated on Saturday night at a gala event (recorded for broadcast and DVD release) at Washington D.C.’s Constitution Hall shouldn’t be surprising.
The capacity crowd at Constitution Hall was treated to an event where three generations of artists who have sold a grand total of 100 million-plus albums (plus written and performed some of the most iconic songs in the history of modern popular music) performed. The sum of their talents were equal to, but certainly not greater than the legacy of Emmylou Harris.
Prior to singing an acoustic and well-received rendition of 2000-released album Red Dirt Girl single “Michelangelo,” The Milk Carton Kids’ Joey Ryan said the following, “Emmylou wants you to know that she knows of some bands that you haven’t heard of before (like the hipster-folk styled Milk Carton Kids) who are pretty good, too.” That quote basically sums up the prevailing feeling of the evening. Emmylou Harris fans in comfortable surroundings hearing songs that made them feel comfortable as played and sang by artists they loved (and artists similar to those they love, too). While certainly a massively exciting event, it was in just being plain relaxing and truly entertaining for all in attendance that made it a terrific time.
Kris Kristofferson joined Harris’ frequent collaborator Rodney Crowell onstage for 2013-released single (from 2014 Grammy-winning album Old Yellow Moon) “Chase The Feeling,” with the hook, “ain’t you handsome when you’re high,” in the wheelhouse for noted outlaw-era country superstar Kristofferson. Keeping that vibe, he performed his own legendary 1971 single “Lovin’ Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again.” Somehow, the Daughters of the American Revolution’s vaunted venue went from feeling like a staid space hosting a gala to a sawdust-on-the-floor honkytonk, or even better Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, the noted Nashville hangout of everyone from Willie Nelson to Patsy Cline and every noted country star in-between, Harris and Kristofferson included.
Everyone performing brought their A-game. Artists either a) did their best to maintain the integrity of Emmylou Harris’ numerous hit singles, or b) attempted to look back in on whatever moment in their lives as an aspiring vocalist when they performed Harris’ material to a live audience, in their car, or quite possibly in front of the mirror into a hairbrush. Lucinda Williams singing Gram Parsons-written and 1979-released single “Hickory Wind” and Sheryl Crow singing “Two Bottles of Wine” and “Ooh Las Vegas” were outstanding. Gospel/soul legend Mavis Staples’ take on roots-religious classic “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” plus Conor Oberst, Patty Griffin and Shawn Colvin’s rendition of Red Dirt Girl‘s “The Pearl” showcased the depth, scope and diverse generational span of of artists providing takes on Harris’ 40-plus albums and recordings.
Country legend Vince Gill called Harris, “a long-time friend, who taught us the importance of all of these songs,” while Grammy award-winning musical jack-of-all-trades Steve Earle commented, “It [is] every songwriter’s dream to have Harris record one of their songs — and I’ve had two.”
When reflecting on what was an incredible evening before bringing down the house with her trademark classic “Boulder to Birmingham,” Harris said, “Those of you who are of my generation may remember that show, This is Your Life.” Continuing, she said, “Well, this has been a big chunk of my life. I’m blessed to have so many friends. I must have been somebody good in a past life.” When 29 singers including Mary Chapin Carpenter and Alison Krauss, plus a veritable who’s who of classic, modern and future country and folk legends celebrate your career by beautifully singing your iconic songs to a packed (and appreciative venue), that statement must be true.