Emmylou Harris, Steve Martin and Arlo Guthrie at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 7/18/12 (photos and review) - Reverb

Emmylou Harris, Steve Martin and Arlo Guthrie at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 7/18/12 (photos and review)

“Good things just stay around,” Emmylou Harris said in introducing “Pancho and Lefty” early in her set at Red Rocks Wednesday night. Earlier, she had laughingly referenced herself and the other artists on the bill, Steve Martin and Arlo Guthrie, by whimsically asking “When was the last time you saw so many gray-haired people on stage? We’re taking over!”

It’s a tribute to some shrewd booking that last night’s show was completely sold out. None have been at the top of their respective genres in a long time, though Harris has continued to churn out lovely albums for those who bother to look. All three have previously played Red Rocks in their heyday. Guthrie hadn’t played there since 1972, and it had been 35 years since Martin graced the venue. All three stated how privileged they felt to be back at Red Rocks. Harris called it the most beautiful venue in the world, while Guthrie laughed that it was nice to be somewhere that wasn’t too hot, after playing in 100 degree heat on the East Coast.

Guthrie started off the evening’s proceedings, switching mainly between six- and 12-string acoustic guitars, though he did move to piano for a rousing take on Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans” that seems to sound more and more like Goodman’s original, upbeat recording every time he plays it. In addition to playing several Woody Guthrie songs, Arlo proved he could still spin a tale, as he turned an incident where his wife was arrested at a Connecticut airport into a perfect intro to a rousing “Coming into Los Angeles.”

Martin and his backing band, the Steep Canyon Rangers, were up next. Anyone who hadn’t seen the act before and thought Martin was a novelty act would have been pleasantly surprised. While the Steep Canyon Rangers’ instrumental prowess is well known in traditional bluegrass circles, Martin, himself is no slouch, as he proved with a solo performance of “The Great Remember” in clawhammer style. Martin’s “Pretty Little One” also brilliantly upended the traditional murder ballad.

Martin and the Rangers played at RockyGrass last summer, and anyone who was at both last summer’s Rockygrass and Wednesday’s Red Rocks performance got virtually the same jokes, down to the setup, which proved mildly annoying.

Mesmerizing songstress Harris brought the evening to a close in grand style. Harris’ voice shows no signs of wear, and puts to shame most of the pablum currently cranked out by the Nashville musical establishment. Harris’ set spanned her entire career, and took fans on a journey. Many of the songs came from last year’s release, “Hard Bargain,” including the title cut and an achingly tender “Darlin’ Kate,” written for Harris’ friend, the late Kate McGarrigle. Perhaps the strongest of the new tunes is the absolutely haunting and tragic “My Name Is Emmett Till.”

It is a measure of how enchanting Harris is that during her performance, the audience was so silent you could hear the empty beer cans being blown through the aisles by the strong wind.

For those not familiar with Harris’ newer material, there were plenty of older chestnuts, including “Making Believe,” which she dedicated to the late Kitty Wells, and an a cappella “Calling My Children Home.”

For the encore, Harris brought out Guthrie, Martin, and the Steep Canyon Rangers for a classic rave-up on “Rough and Rocky.”

Set lists

Arlo Guthrie
Green Green Rocky Road, Darkest Hour, Pretty Boy Floyd, Coming into Los Angeles, I Hear You Sing Again, Alabama Bound, Waimanalo Blues, City of New Orleans, This Land is Your Land, E: My Peace

Steve Martin and Steep Canyon Rangers
Pitkin County Turnaround, Rare Bird Alert, Daddy Played the Banjo, Go Away Stop Turn Around Come Back, The Crow, Jubilation Day, I Can’t Sit Down (Steep Canyon Rangers solo), Atheists Don’t Have No Songs, The Great Remember, Dance at the Wedding, Pretty Little One, Me and Paul Revere, E: Auden’s Train

Emmylou Harris
Six White Cadillacs, Orphan Girl, If I Needed You, Hello Stranger, Pancho & Lefty, Michelangelo, My Name is Emmett Till, Making Believe, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Luxury Liner, The Road, Hard Bargain, Darlin’ Kate, Every Grain of Sand, Going Back to Harlan, Bang the Drum Slowly, Shores of White Sand, The Pearl, Calling My Children Home, From Boulder to Birmingham, Get Up John (with Steve Martin), E: Rough and Rocky (with Arlo Guthrie, Steve Martin and Steep Canyon Rangers)

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Candace Horgan is a Denver freelance writer/photographer and regular contributor to Reverb. When not writing and shooting, she plays guitar and violin in Denver band Black Postcards.

Michael McGrath is a Denver area photographer. His work is available at Twist and Shout Records. Visit his website.

  • Justinholstein

    Correction! 1972 was not the last time Arlo Guthrie played at Red Rocks. I saw him there with Pete Seger in 1979 or ’80.

    • Rocker Chick

       OK, well Arlo said it had been 1972 the last time he played there!

  • Brett Boyles

    All in all the concert was great. I would just like to add that those in charge of the sound mixing for Emmylou Harris should be fired. The sound for both Guthrie and Steve Martin was great, then it went downhill when Harris took stage. We left halfway through her set. She and her band are amazing musicians, but the varying volume levels, doppler-like sound variations, and total lack of bass coming through made it less than enjoyable to listen to.

    • Carol

      I agree, the sound mixing was terrible. It was a perfect evening at Red Rocks. I loved Arlo Guthrie and would like to see him again. Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers were great! Emmylou would have been better in a smaller venue.

    • dude

      I agree, but the wind had alot to do with the funky sound.

  • Acrosstheboard

    I thought the Steep Canyon Band was okay, even though most of the tunes were in the same key and they didn’t get the thumping out of the flat-top. Martin is a fair banjo player, not a quality musician. Emmylou’s voice was not up to what I expected; raspy on the top end. It finally cleared a little during the slow “Emmett Till” number. She strained to hit the top notes, especially after modulations. She looks old and worn, even for 65. Her band was okay, typical Nashville dull on stage presence…too many slow songs. No excitement …we left early. Would not go to see these performers again. Red Rox is a cluster when we have to park half a mile away and up steep embankments. Getting too old for the Rox after 50+ years of concerts there.

    • dude

      You do sound old…  All those great musicians, and not one decent thing to say about any of them.

    • royhobbs

      Wow, poor Acrosstheboard.  He managed to sound miserable on such a memorable evening.  The walk up to the Theatre is always fun, even for most of us old folks.  Hope I don’t end up thinking like him.  We were in Row 3 and Emmylou looked great.

  • Pladwig

    I thought Arlo Guthrie and The Steep Canyon Rangers were awesome. Emmylou Harris, not so much.
    Not a real music expert but I know what I like. Both Arlo and the Rangers had me standing in the aisle clapping and stomping. Emmylou sounded bad and was just plain boring. It  might have been the altitude. Both my wife and I thought she sounded like she was gasping for air.  Maybe Steve Martin was not kidding when he said she was drunk. Have not been to Red Rocks in years, getting a bit old for the steep climb but we got there early, got good parking spot and really enjoyed the evening. Could not have asked for better weather

  • Splyler03

    Emmy Lou sounded just perfect overcoming some obvious mixing problems….and for all the jerks who left in the middle of her performance you obviously have no respect for one of the last living legend in traditional country music. Respect is something that is lost on a lot of people these days.

  • milehighjc

    I also thought the sound mix for Emmylou Harris was terrible.  Arlo Guthrie and Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers sounded great, and dealt with similar weather (the wind did mess with the sound a bit back in row 51).   Arlo was dead solid perfect.   City of New Orleans was beautifully done, and the final sing along was a ton of fun.   The a capella piece that the Steep Canyon Rangers did was mesmerizing, and I found myself liking bluegrass more and more as the night wore on.    I think Harris would have been far more enjoyable had the sound been right.   Her voice was distorted much of the evening, and the instrumental mix seemed off most of the night.   It was really too bad as I think she had so much to bring to the evening.   Despite the sound problems, it was a fantastic night to be in one of the best concert venues on the planet.  

  • Jug Knot

    Arlo – We’ve seen him 4 times since 1981 (1st time at Vance Brand Auditorium, Longmont).  He was ‘spot on’ for the show.   This was a ‘Woody Guthrie Centennial Moment’ that will last a lifetime.

    Steve Martin and SCR – Competent, not exciting and the comedy script was a mixed bag.  Highlights were the ‘A Capella Gospel & Athiest’ numbers.  ‘I Can’t Sit Down’ had the audience on their feet.   ‘The Great Remember’ banjo solo was fine work by ‘I’m the next Earl Scruggs’, Steve Martin (not).  The show producers would do well to cut the Steve Martin act by 20
    minutes.  If had 5 banjos on stage, why did we listen to the ‘tuning segments’ for 10-15 minutes.

    Emmy Lou & the Red Dirt Band – Sorry that we left at the 1/2-way point.  We were just tired.  ELH is
    a fine stage performer (comments about her voice are ‘off-base’).  Ricky Simpkins on fiddle/mando/vocals was solid.  Luxury Liner was a rocking-tune.

    All-in-all, a fantastic evening show (from the ‘grey-haired talents of Folk/Bluegrass/Country)’.  After a 30-year hiatus (Joni Mitchell/Persuastions Aug79), Red Rocks was a great venue to return to.

  • brucekey

    arlo—- felt like come on in lets have a cup of coffee you old ****.
    steve martin and the rangers,
    freekin rocked it! sure dumb funny humor but— well i needed the night away from the world. silly so what they had the crowd in there hands and glad i got tixs back in feb and it was worth it!!!
    emmy lou harris—- the sound was like my wife saying leave it alone, wind or no wind dont mees with the volume.
    7.00-11.30 is 4 1/2 hours for a show, time well spent!!!!! i was entertained!!!!!!!!

    how sense less 2 days later makes.


  • CDP

    Not sure which show you were at, because due to the horrible sound system, we too left early, mid-way thru Emmy Lou’s act. In fact, she was the one we (6 of us) looked forward to the most – and the one we were most disappointed by. We are huge fans and would overlook many flaws, but the sound team totally failed her. Yes it was windy, but that’s the venue and if they can mic the two prior acts correctly, why couldn’t they mic her right? It was horrid and made her voice sound like it was bad too (maybe it was both??) We were on vacation and would have stayed hours more if the sound quality was any good. My take: Steve Martin was both an entertainer & and performer, the others were performers – good ones – but not as much fun. Before ELH’s act, this was going to be my fav concert of recent times – great venue, line up and performances, but after the sound-fail, my enthusiasm waned. I wonder how she sounded in the other towns they played…. PS -It was a HIKE to get to our nose bleed seats! But we still walked at 0630 the next day.