Last Night: Emmylou Harris at the Winspear Opera House

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Emmylou Harris
Winspear Opera House
June 23, 2011

Better than: Sipping lemonade on the porch swing on a breezy afternoon in May.

Dressed like Stevie Nicks, if Nicks had been a flapper (black headband and all), Emmylou Harris literally danced her way onto the stage at the AT&T Performing Arts Center's Winspear Opera House last night. Her setting was barren, save for a bevy of instruments and the five band members who entered the stage just ahead of her.

With nothing more than a guitar nearly as big as she and a voice that anyone who has ever heard her sing could recognize, Harris held the packed house rapt for more than two hours.

She opened with "Six White Cadillacs" followed by "Orphan Girl."

Then, Harris first addressed the audience:

"Welcome to our show. We are it. The opening, the middle, and the closing. We have you all to ourselves," she said with a smile.

The audience, made up predominantly of the 50-plus set, was clearly thrilled.

The warm, blue green lighting design cast a glow over Harris and the audience and gave the concert the feel of an outdoor show preformed at dusk. Nothing could have been more appropriate. There is something wonderfully intimate about hearing Harris sing, as if she's in your own backyard performing just for you and your kin. And she couldn't be any happier about it.

"Thank you boys for following me," Harris said to her band. "I definitely want to do Red Dirt Girl. It's my show and I can do what's not on the set list."

She was in a teasing mood. And she conversed with the audience throughout the show -- not talked at, but conversed with, sharing story after story.

"I had a very happy childhood." she said. "I have to make stuff up to write these sad songs. Once, after a show, someone asked me, 'Was Lillian a real person?' This was over in England. I said no. And she said, 'Pity.'"

Her band was a bit of a motley crew. One in a pork pie hat and a deep v-neck tee, another in a fedora, a third who looked like a cross between Kenny Rogers and a small town preacher, yet another cutting the figure of a bored hipster, and finally a drummer who I wouldn't have recognized if I saw him leaving the stage door after the show.

The crowd was very still throughout the show. But they are vehement cheerers and clappers -- and they even shouted out to Harris a few times.

"We love you," someone yelled at one point.

"I love you too," Harris responded. "I think this relationship is going to work. We'll see each other every two to three years. I'll be here. Now you just have to be."

If a voice can be rich and raspy all at once, that's precisely what Harris' is.

"Later, I'm going to do some stuff you might not recognize from the new album," Harris told the crowd before performing one of her classic tunes. "So I just want to suck up a bit. It's also a lot of fun to do."

A song later: "I'm going to start in on these new tunes."

A little after that, she explained that writing music isn't always easy for her: "I'm always thankful to the muse or wherever they come from. I don't write them. I write them down. I just wait and then write them down."

Later, Harris shared the reason for the so many stories on this night: "I want to introduce these songs like a new friend. This is so and so and this is so and so and I hope you'll grow to really like each other."

She went on to introduce a chilling song about Emmett Hill, in which Harris gives Till a voice to tell his story. And as the night rolled on, Harris went on to share more of her own stories as well.

About her start: "The reason I'm up here really is because back in the '70s, I met this guy Gram Parsons. He heard something. I was singing this country stuff jokingly. I should be punished now. I was a folk snob. You would not have wanted to know me back then. He took me out on the road and helped me get over my fear of drummers."

About her parent's marriage: "It was a mixed marriage. He was from New Jersey. She was from Alabama. How could it last? It lasted 50 happy years. They got married and he went off to war. Imagine you might never see that person again? It's a real leap of faith when you get together with someone going out into harm's way."

About her father: "We never talked about a lot of things. I wish I had asked him about the war. I wish I had learned to take apart an engine. This is a celebration of my hero. All the things I meant to ask him."

Harris' voice and music was sumptuous and stripped down. She wrapped herself around each note, around each line like she was their mama.

"We love you Emmylou," yet another audience member yelled.

"See, isn't this better than money?" Harris responded in kind.

After almost two full hours, Harris said goodnight and took an old-school, arm-in-arm bow with her band and left the stage. But quickly returned to play an encore and take one final bow.

"You folks have been great," she said. "We must do this again sometime."


Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
I'm a fan. I saw her perform once at Wolftrap in the driving rain. We stayed for the whole show dripping wet and all. It was worth it.

By The Way: Use the facilities before the show or sit on the aisle for God's sake. Enough with the up and down and in and out already.

Random Note: There was one lone fist pumper in the front section of the theater. I think she was confused.

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