“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.”
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
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)