Emmylou Harris, Mavis Staples, Chuck Prophet at 30A Songwriters’ Festival 2022
Legacy performers in country and rhythm & blue/gospel music took the main stage in Miramar Beach, Florida at the 30A Songwriters festival.
Headlining the Grand Boulevard event on Sunday, January 16, was Emmylou Harris. Opening for Harris, a 74 year performer in her own right, Mavis Staples. A scheduling change added Chuck Prophet to the main stage before Staples.
Emmylou Harris’ 21-song set at the Grand Boulevard stage amounted to a great Americana country-folk songbook with smiles and head nods abounding in the audience.
Harris started on an upbeat note with “Two Bottles of Wine” she recorded in 1978, a song originally written by Delbert McClinton. A cover of Steve Earle’s “Guitar Town” followed.
A few songs from 1995’s Wrecking Ball made the set, including “Orphan Girl” – with the next two songs, “Make Believe” (Luxury Liner, 1977) and the title song from Red Dirt Girl (2000) about her Alabama upbringing.
In the lead up to Red Dirt Girl” Harris spoke of songwriting, “My childhood was too happy to make an interesting song. So I made things up.”
A tribute was paid by Harris to Nancy Griffith, singing her song “Gulf Coast.” Harris said when she first heard the song it touched her heart and likened it to a moment when driving and you have to pull off to the side of the road. Griffith passed away in August 2021.
A song paying homage to Hank Williams, Sam Cooke and Robert Johnson – “Raise The Dead” – came next. The Emmylou Harris-penned song was recorded with Linda Ronstadt in 1999. Then appeared on 2001’s Hickory Wind.
Harris’ next selection is a song which originated as a mandolin instrumental by Bill Monroe. Marty Stuart, a friend of Harris, put words to this song “Get Up John.”
An original Flying Burrito Brothers song “Wheels” (Elite Hotel, 1975) and “Luxury Liner” (Luxery Liner, 1996), originally released in 1968 by the International Submarine Band, followed.
The band members, as the “Red Dirt Choir,”including Will Kimbrough, gathered at the front of the stage around a single microphone on four-part harmonies to deliver “Calling My Children Home.”
Then Harris performed a second Steve Earle song, “I recorded “Goodbye” because it is so dang sad,” she said.
The Grand Boulevard audience got a first, a Joan Baez song “God is God.” Last year it was performed by Harris in a medley of Baez songs Diamonds & Rust/God Is God/We Shall Overcome with Mary Chapin Carpenter for the induction of Baez at the 43rd Annual Kennedy Center Honors in 2021.
The vibe was turned back up with “One of These Days” and then to melancholy with the country classic “Pancho & Lefty” (Luxury Liner, 1977) written by Towns Van Zandt. Emmylou Harris adds a beautiful plaintiveness to the song with her vocals
“Michelangelo” (Red Dirt Girl) and “Every Grain of Sand” (Wrecking Ball) preceded Rodney Crowell’s raucous song “Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This”.
Reaching the close of her afternoon performance, Emmylou Harris was reflecting on the consequences of the lockdown. “We’ve been in isolation. Now we’ve started playing together as a band. Without you (the audience), it’s just a soundcheck.”
Fittingly, Harris followed those words with “Together” – not played at one of her shows for a lengthy time.
Emmylou Harris closed out her 21 song set with two songs from 1981’s Cimarron, “Born to Run” and “Rose of Cimarron” (an original song from country-rock band Poco).
It was great how she took a shine to the Poco song after its release and a bittersweet moment for those aware of the loss of Poco’s Rusty Young and Paul Cotton in 2021.
Two More Bottles of Wine [Delbert McClinton]
Guitar Town [Steve Earle]
Orphan Girl (Wrecking Ball, 1995) [Gillian Welch]
Making Believe (Luxury Liner, 1977)
Red Dirt Girl (Red Dirt Girl, 2000)
Gulf Coast [Nancy Griffith]
Raise the Dead (Hickory Wind, 2001) w/ Linda Ronstadt
Get Up John (At the Ryman, 1992)
Wheels (Elite Hotel, 1975) [Gram Parsons/Chris Hillman]
Luxury Liner (Luxery Liner, 1996) [International Submarine Band]
Calling My Children Home (Portraits, 1996)
Goodbye (Wrecking Ball)
God Is God [Joan Baez]
One of These Days (Elite Hotel, 1975)
Pancho & Lefty (Luxury Liner) [Townes Van Zandt]
Michelangelo (Red Dirt Girl)
Every Grain of Sand (Wrecking Ball)
I Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This (Quarter Moon In A Ten Cent Town, 1978) [Rodney Crowell]
Together Again [Buck Owens]
Born to Run (Cimarron, 1981)
Rose of Cimarron (Cimarron)
Chuck Prophet started out the 30A Songwriters Fest main stage Sunday, January 16 performances at Grand Boulevard in San Destin, FL.
This was a solo set, so while his Mission Express band wasn’t present, his penchant for clever lyrics remained.
Thankfully “Storm Across The Sea” (No Other Love, 2002) wasn’t a weather reality as rains had encroached the previous day on the performance of Chris and Rich Robinson as Brothers of a Feather.
Three songs on the set come from 2014’s Night Surfer. The first is “Wish Me Luck” followed by the second, “Tell Me Anything (Turn To Gold).
“Open Up Your Heart” (Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins, 2017) and “Doubter Out of Jesus (All Over You)” from Soap and Water (2007) precede “Summertime Thing” (No Other Love). In it’s full band version, “Summertime Thing” is a veritable twanger, reminiscent of his earlier days as a member of Green On Red.
“Left Hand and the Right Hand” (Temple Beautiful, 2012) followed. Next, a rousing song about roadtripping with a girl in “Ford econoline” (Night Surfer).
The set concluded with a bouncy feeling number “You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp)” from Age of Miracles (2004) with the catchy non-lexical, vocalized chorus elevating the mood of the audience on an overcast afternoon.
***** Mavis Staples — show review and photo by Brian DeSpain
Last weekend at 30A Songwriters’ Festival, on the lead up to headliner Emmylou Harris, Mavis Staples provided a soul stirring, grooving and inspirational performance for the Grand Boulevard audience.
Some songs were from her own albums and others from The Staple Singers.
“If You’re Ready” (Be What You Are, 1973), a number from The Staple Singers, starts out the set followed by “Take Us Back” (Livin’ On A High Note, 2016).
One of the more intriguing collaborations by The Staple Singers is with David Byrne of The Talking Heads. On their album Turning Point (1984), Byrne leaves his distinctive mark as producer and guitarist on “Slippery People.” Mavis Staples said with the song, “We are here to give you hope inspiration and positive vibration.” The Staple Singers first performed the song on Soul Train.
The sound shifted sparser on “Are You Sure” (Freedom Highway, 1995) and with determination on “Eyes on the Prize” (We’ll Never Turn Back, 2007).
Staples performed her unique take on the Buffalo Springfield classic “For What It’s Worth” which she has recorded solo and as The Staple Singers.
Mellow, hushed voices provide salve on “You Are Not Alone.” This is the title track of her 2010 album produced by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. The album received a Grammy for best Americana album in 2010.
A cover of the the classic”The Weight” by The Band preceded the last song on the set.
Dancing in the crowd was present all throughout the Mavis Staples’ performance and broke out in earnest with The Staple Singers’ massive Stax Records hit “I’ll Take You There” (Be Altitude: Respect Yourself, 1972).
Find more information on Mavis here: https://mavisstaples.com