It was a meeting of old friends, of a sort, except that we didn’t meet for dinner or drinks at a restaurant or bar but, instead, an evening of stories and songs at the Keswick Theater in Glenside, Pa., on Friday, Feb. 6th, 2009. Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin and Shawn Colvin shared the stage while Diane and I sat in fifth-row seats, tapped our feet and said “wow” to one another after many of the songs. Buddy Miller, who was also slated to be there, bowed out in order to rehearse for a Grammy appearance backing Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. In a nod to him, however, the three women placed a “buddy bear” in the chair where he would’ve sat.
On the outside looking in, as Buddy’s a guitarist’s guitarist, one might have expected that the all-acoustic gig lacked fret work. Patty and Shawn, however, are more than qualified – each has probably played thousands of solo gigs – and Emmy, while far from a guitar goddess, more than holds her own.
Highlights abounded, and included Emmy’s opening “Red Dirt Girl” and heartfelt “Strong Hand (Just One Miracle),” which she wrote for June Carter Cash the night of June’s passing,
Also: Patty’s fierce “Stay on the Ride” (from her 2007 Children Running Through album); and harmony-rich, to-die-for renditions of the Beatles’ “I’ll Be Back” and Patty’s own “Mary.” Shawn, as is her wont, served up a few oddballs: covers of Donovan’s “Catch the Wind” and Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.”
For me, though, the piece de resistance was Patty’s fiery “Truth No. 2,” which she wrote but most folks know as a Dixie Chicks song. (They sang it on their 2003 Home CD.) “You don’t like the sound of the truth coming from my mouth….”
As I recall, about the only negative was the song selection. Aside from “Stay on the Ride,” Patty veered away from Children Running Through, one of my top albums of 2007. “Trapeze,” a hypnotic ballad that features Emmy on harmony, seemed a natural fit; but it wasn’t to be. Likewise, “Up to the Mountain (MLK Song)” – my favorite song of hers – didn’t make the setlist.
And, not to be outdone, Shawn also sidestepped my favorite song of hers, “Shotgun Down the Avalanche,” even after promising to play it when a fan (not me!) shouted out a request for it.
Even missing those songs, however, it was a good show. In fact, it’s safe to say that it was the best round-robin concert I’ve witnessed. That’s not really saying much in and of itself, though, as round-robin shows – for me, at least – are often as frustrating as they are fun. If you’re a fan of one or two, but not all three, four or five artists on stage, you wind up slumping in your seat half the night. And if you’re a fan of each, you can’t help wishing that they had more time to shine. This night, for instance, despite the concert running a little longer than two hours, the format only allotted Emmy and Shawn seven songs each and Patty eight, plus one group sing-along on “I’ll Be Back.”
(Unfortunately, no videos from this particular concert are on YouTube; and none for the three singing “I’ll Be Back.” So you’ll have of trust me when I say it sounded like three of God’s messengers delivering the Word from above; and, of course, the Word was Love.)