“I couldn’t dance, so I became a singer,” laughed Emmylou Harris early in her set with Rodney Crowell at the Denver Botanic Gardens Monday night, right after she had boogied along to a guitar solo by Jedd Hughes. In fact, when the band wasn’t delivering aching, heartbreaking ballads that cast a somber spell over the sold-out crowd, Harris frequently got her black cowboy boots moving along to the beat.
Crowell played with Harris back in the ’70s as a member of the Hot Band, and the two recently reunited to record a new album, “Old Yellow Moon.” At one point, Harris stated that this tour is a” celebration of a 40-year friendship,” and for much of the show, Harris and Crowell could be seem beaming at each other in joy.
Much of the setlist Monday night consisted of songs from that album, as well as some of the more popular tunes from the pair’s first collaborative efforts, such as “Pancho and Lefty,” one of those songs that while written by someone else (Townes Van Zandt), has become synonymous with a different performer who offered perhaps the definitive performance of it.
Harris, who recently turned 66, doesn’t have quite the same purity to her voice that she did when she first started out; at times, there was a hint of raspiness and earthiness to it. However, her harmonies with Crowell were filled with nuance as a result, and definitely added a touch more rock to songs like “Luxury Liner,” which featured a standout solo from Hughes.
In fact, much like in the Hot Band, Harris and Crowell were surrounded by strong instrumentalists. Steve Fishell’s weepy pedal steel licks danced in and out of songs like “If I Needed You” and “Love Hurts” to great effect, while keyboardist Chris Tuttle added a touch of Jerry Lee Lewis piano riffing to “I Ain’t Living Long Like This.” Also backing up Harris and Crowell were bassist Byron House and drummer Jerry Roe.
In addition to the usual parking nightmare at a Denver Botanic Gardens show caused by the residential permit parking only on many of the nearby streets (a serious headache), some fans also got an unexpected shower when the sprinklers near the stage went on at 9 p.m. Luckily, the security team got them shut down again quickly, or there would have been an interesting collision between those flocking toward the stage to dance and those running back up hill to avoid getting wet.
After closing with the title track to the new album, Harris, Crowell and company left the stage briefly, then returned for a two-song encore that ended with the classic country rock rave up “Two More Bottles of Wine.”
Long may Emmylou continue to find joy in performing.
Return of the Grievous Angel, Wheels, Pancho and Lefty, Earthbound, ‘Til I Gain Control Again, If I Needed You, I’ll Be Your San Antone Rose, Red Dirt Girl, Rock O My Soul, Heaven Only Knows, Love Hurts, Luxury Liner, Darlin’ Kate, The Angels Rejoiced Last Night, Long Time Girl, I Know Love is All I Need, Hanging Up My Heart, Invitation to the Blues, Spanish Dancer, Chase the Feeling, Dreaming My Dreams, Back When We Were Beautiful, Bluebird Wine, Learning How to Fly, Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight, I Ain’t Living Long Like This, Old Yellow Moon, E: Stars on the Water, Two More Bottles of Wine