Review: Prine’s simple delivery hides a depth of meaning
Review • Veteran singer-songwriter quietly captures attention of Red Butte crowd.
Published: August 20, 2013 11:07PM
Updated: August 20, 2013 11:07PM
Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune John Prine in concert at Red Butte Garden, Tuesday, August 20, 2013.

Sometimes it’s the simple things that make life worth living.

Take, for example, John Prine’s concert Tuesday night at Red Butte Garden.

The 66-year-old folk singer walked on stage with a bass player and lead guitarist. There was little chatter and not much flash. Crickets in the background sometimes provided the rhythm. And, as the final strains ended a nearly two-hour show, the full moon peeked out from behind the clouds.

Prine is a performer who makes demands on his audience. His songs tell stories and offer messages, sometimes sad, often happy. These are the tools of his trade, and few can match him.

The wonderful thing about Tuesday was that, for the most part, the audience was in the mood to listen and not talk. The sound was so good that it was possible to hear each note and nearly every word.

That’s a good thing because Prine is an artist who has much to say about love and life.

Opening with “Spanish Pipedream” and ending with “Muhlenberg County,” Prine often made you stop and think if you listened to his lyrics closely. Some of his tunes are catchy, others soulful and sad. He doesn’t possess a big voice. It’s gravely and worn.

But Prine’s stage presence demanded respect. There is something about him that makes an audience want to pay attention.

Whether telling folks that “Your Flag Won’t Get You Into Heaven,” extolling “The Glory of True Love” or singing about “Bear Creek Blues,” the veteran storyteller has something to say. He doesn’t let a lot of chit chat get in the way of the music. And he wasn’t afraid to share the stage with his two bandmates, who played a variety of instruments that were as crisp as a summer evening with a touch of autumn in the air.

The difficult thing about a songwriter who has been around as long as Prine has been is that even after a long and satisfying show, fans walk away wishing for more. I would have loved to have heard “Unwed Fathers” or the humorous “Dear Abby,” for example. But if he would have played his entire songbook, we would have been there for days.

Prine also has the strange ability in some of his songs to turn everyday cliches and sayings into meaningful lines.

Some tunes, such as “Lake Marie” are slow and soft. I personally enjoyed some of the more upbeat song such as “Fish and Whistle” and “The Glory of True Love.”

Prine also plays a mean guitar, strumming up a storm when called for or simply hitting a few simple, soft chords while letting the words of his creations hit home.

Johnnyswim, consisting of husband and wife team Amanda Sudano and Abner Ramirez, opened the show, mostly on a quiet note. Both have beautiful voices with Ramirez providing the only instrumentation with an acoustic guitar.

They, too, forced the audience to listen, not a bad way to prepare for Prine.

In the end, Prine provided the perfect way to spend an August evening, turning the nearly full Red Butte Amphitheater into a place where it felt as if the audience was a small group sitting around a campfire sharing a few tunes and a couple of beers.

All things considered, there were few places I would have rather been Tuesday evening and the concert made me want to bring out all my old Prine CDs and listen more closely to the messages he tries to impart with his music.

Twitter @tribtomwharton

John Prine

With • Johnnyswim

Where • Red Butte Garden

When • Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013