When she introduced her song about Emmett Till Wednesday night at Wolf Trap, Emmylou Harris included praise for President Obama and his family.
But this is Northern Virginia, land of the Democrats who are expected to carry the state in November again, and with a little help from their friends it will likely happen again, but this message is not about politics (well, maybe a little), but about Emmylou Harris and her performance, but she's got a lot of message music, if you know what I mean.
Not only did she sing about Emmett Till and tell why he is such an important person in American history, but she sang a song she wrote about a dog. Not a human dog or an "ex," but a real dog, "My Big Black Dog." In her backyard in Nashville she said she keeps an animal rescue station, so she sang "to all the critters out there." It was a right mellow tune. I suppose dogs can be political.
Did you know she got her start in D.C.? Me neither. At Clyde's in Georgetown, she said. And before that she was the high school valedictorian at Gar-Field High School in Woodbridge, Virginia, according to program notes. I imagine those sites have historical markers by now.
I am not familiar with Emmylou's music, just her voice, and therefore recognized none of her tunes, but that didn't make them any less special.
She started off the evening with a tribute to country music legend Kitty Wells who died July 16 at age 92, singing "Making Believe" which took both artists close to the top of the charts.
When John Starling came out on stage to sing a single number with Emmylou, it was probably the most excited the people got, but it wasn't a Seal or Al Green crowd (coming up) so no one was out of his or her chair whoopin' and carryin' on like what happens sometimes. About 90% of the audience were senior citizens, over the age of 55, I would guess (and 99.9%, white).
And Emmylou may be 65, but she sure doesn't look it, act it, or sing like it. Her voice is still crystal clear with that Nashville twang, and she needs no back-up from other singers to make it sound strong. (Cher’s “last” concert tour which I saw in Nashville about 10 years ago was nothing more than costume changes, video, and back-ups to add strength to Cher’s voice. Emmylou requires none of that.)
Except for a few changes in the colors of the lights when the crew flipped a switch, the stage stood plain and honest. None of that fancy stuff, clothes change, sparklers or lightning shows, if you please.
It was shocking earlier in the evening at precisely 7:30 p.m. to hear music wafting up to the bar area, but Emmylou started right on time. Who ever heard of such a thing? An usher told me the word among the ushers was Emmylou goes to bed early (!), and that's why she preceded John Prine. Whatever. Emmylou's first act lasted 90 minutes and made her audience smile, kiss, and dance. What more would you want?