With more than 80 years in the business between them, Emmylou Harris and John Prine brought wistful vocals, silver hair and an affinity for melancholy music to Red Rocks on Sunday. And even with so much experience performing on some of the biggest stages in the world, there was still a hint of awe from the performers at the legendary venue.
John Prine does not allow any photographers, so see photos of Emmylou Harris performing at Red Rocks on Sunday below.
“This is the most beautiful venue in the world. Everybody knows that,” Harris told the audience as she took the stage and gazed at the towering monoliths. She and her band played a set of songs that reached deep into her expansive catalog. Rich arrangements featured accordion on “Orphan Girl” and lap steel on “Making Believe.” She introduced “Bang the Drum Slowly” with a loving description of her father for whom she wrote the song. Harris covered George Jones’ “One of These Days”—her mother’s favorite song—and Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho & Lefty.”
Harris’s set ranged from honky-tonk to rockabilly with perfectly knit harmonies on “Red Dirt Girl,” “The Pearl” and the dreamy “Michaelangelo.” For her encore, she wailed “Boulder to Birmingham.”
As he walked on stage, the Red Rocks crowd gave Prine — a two-time cancer surviver — a standing ovation before he opened with “Spanish Pipedream.” Like Harris before him, Prine peppered his set with loving homages to Colorado. He told the crowd that he wrote “Iron Ore Betty” for a woman befriended during a Boulder gig with Steve Goodman.
It wasn’t a night without incident for Prine. Before he even took the stage, his guitar had been toppled from its stand thanks to the wind. “My oldest and dearest guitar took a nose dive. But I’m sure it’ll come back sounding better,” Prine said — a haunting reminder of his own survivor instinct. Then he dedicated “Souvenirs” to his beloved guitar.
Some tempered with Prine’s wry sense of humor, he and his all-strings band picked through heart-wrenching stories. Performing solo, Prine did several signature tunes: “Donald and Lydia,” “Fish and Whistle” and “Sam Stone” (which is voted as one of Rolling Stone’s 10 Saddest Songs of All Time). The audience grew silent, rapt and riveted by Prine’s gravelly voice and poignant guitar.
Harris joined Prine for a pair of duets, including “Angel From Montgomery.” Prine closed the show with his encore: “Paradise.”
Colleen Smith is a longtime contributor to The Denver Post and the author of the acclaimed novel “Glass Halo” and “Laid-Back Skier” by Friday Jones Publishing.