Saturday night I dragged my husband down to DC to DAR Constitution Hall for The Life and Songs of Emmylou Harris concert. I follow Sara Watkins on Twitter and saw her tweet a presale code for this concert, which at the time was the first I had heard about it. I looked up what it was and almost fell out of my chair looking at the insane lineup of legendary musicians who were going to be playing. I immediately put that presale code to use because I could not miss out on the chance to see all these amazing people on a single stage. Excuse me while I rattle off names for the next ten minutes. Obviously as the concert was a tribute to the incredible career of Emmylou Harris she was going to be there, but the concert also included Mavis Staples, Sara Watkins, Allison Krauss, Patty Griffin, Kris Kristofferson, Chris Hillman & Herb Pederson, Rodney Crowell, Trampled by Turtles, Shovels and Rope, The Milk Carton Kids, Holly Williams, Sheryl Crow, Conor Oberst, Shawn Colvin, Daniel Lanois, Iron & Wine, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Vince Gill, Martina McBride, Buddy Miller, Don Was, and Mary Chapin Carpenter.
Whew! Now that you know who was there I can actually talk about the concert itself. I have to say that I think the title of the concert was a little bit of a misnomer. It probably should have just been called The Songs of Emmylou Harris. Adding that “life” part in there made me feel like there would be more talking about her life and career than there actually was. For the most part all the artists just came out on stage when announced and sang one or two of Emmylou’s songs and then left. A lot of them didn’t say anything at all and the ones who did only said a sentence or two. There wasn’t even a real host on the stage. It was just some disembodied voice announcing everyone, so the whole thing felt a little cold to me. One thing I have learned by listening to musicians talk about their concerts on podcasts is that some audience members are very hostile to them spending much time talking and not playing music. I am the exact opposite. I actually want to hear what the artists have to say about what they’re playing.
At any rate, I didn’t realize it ahead of time, but from what I gathered last night this concert was recorded for a PBS special, so it was definitely very scripted and I get why it was like it was, but it took away some of the heart of it for me. The music itself though was wonderful. Emmylou Harris is a musical legend for a reason, and seeing so many amazing people that I love in their own right on stage singing her songs was incredible. I recently watched the PBS Special for Billy Joel winning the Gershwin prize where similar to this a lot of well known artists got up and sang covers of his songs. Through most of that all I really wanted was to hear him sing the songs. Not so with the concert last night. Everyone was amazing and I didn’t feel like man I just wish Emmylou was out here singing that instead.
There was no shortage of music either. The concert lasted three and half hours. Even cutting out the time for the intermission and the few minutes between each artist when they had to hook new instruments into the sound board, there’s probably still at least three hours worth of music. I can’t imagine PBS giving three whole hours to broadcast this, so I’ll be curious to see what they cut. It many not have been quite everything I was hoping for, but it was still a wonderful concert and I am really glad I got the chance to experience it.