TO LIVE IN Nashville is to love John Prine, so it never sat right how quarantine robbed the late singer, songwriter, and hometown hero of a proper in-person memorial when he died of Covid complications in April of 2020. Prine finally got the wake he deserved this week in Nashville with a string of celebratory concerts titled “You Got Gold,” which featured an all-star, cross-generational casts of admirers covering songs and exchanging anecdotes about the man.
On Sunday, performers and presenters remembered Prine’s generous spirit and the way he modeled being a decent human on top of his talents. “This is the type of songwriter you should be — this is the type of man you should be,” John Paul White recalled of his encounters with Prine, before turning in a solo acoustic rendition of “Far From Me.”
Elsewhere, Steve Earle offered a rowdy take on “That’s the Way the World Goes Round,” Lucius captivated with sublime harmonies on “You Got Gold,” Gillian Welch and David Rawlings chilled with “Hello in There,” and the inspired pairing of Valerie June and Nathaniel Rateliff rollicked their way through “In Spite of Ourselves.” Later in the night, R&B cult figure Swamp Dogg gave a sprawling, impassioned take on “Sam Stone” that included a spiel on homeless veterans, further driving home Prine’s original point about the vulnerability of those returning from war.
On Monday — what would have been Prine’s 75th birthday — standards like “Angel From Montgomery” off Prine’s eponymous 1971 debut (covered first by Bonnie Raitt on her 1974 LP Streetlights and performed again, with Brandi Carlile, to Monday night’s reverent standing-room audience) spoke to his music’s timelessness, while material from his 2018 sign-off Tree of Forgiveness evidenced its cross generational reach. “I Have Met My Love Today” was rendered as a duet between veteran crooner Chris Isaak and younger counterpart Nicole Atkins, and “Summer’s End” was tackled with aplomb by gifted New Orleanian singer and multi-instrumentalist Leyla McCalla.
One of Prine’s oldest friends and colleagues to perform was Bonnie Raitt, whom he had known since 1971. They both released their debut albums that year and Raitt has been performing “Angel From Montgomery” live ever since, calling it “a cornerstone of emotion for the audience and for me.”
“For us all to come together in honor of him this week is so healing for us as well as for the Prine family,” Raitt said of the concerts. “It’s really the wake and the celebration we didn’t get to have yet.”
The amount of talent and heart gathered Monday at the Mother Church was, honestly, staggering. Upstarts included the charismatic Nashville staple Margo Price, red-hot Bluegrass Stater Tyler Childers, and pop-country maven Kacey Musgraves — an avowed super-fan who, early in her career, titled a song “Burn One With John Prine” and eventually got to perform said tune with its namesake — plus, from the West Coast, Milk Carton Kids, a duo whose harmonies on their rendition of Prine’s 1980 track “Storm Windows” induced goosebumps.
Heavier in nature were performances by Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams, and others whose relationships with the revered songwriter were more peer-to-peer than teacher-and-understudy.
Yet as gifted as Prine proved himself to be at boiling down universal truths into pithy tunes over his long, fruitful career, it was the between-song anecdotes shared by Sunday and Monday’s performers — firsthand reflections of both his big heart, and subtle-yet-wicked sense of humor — that made his loss feel most pronounced and proved that Prine was a man not only gifted in writing about the human experience, but living it too.
The “You Got Gold” concerts wrap up Wednesday night with one last show at the Basement East in East Nashville.
Additional reporting by Jon Freeman.
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