Emmylou Harris at the Minnesota Zoo, 6/28/12

Emmylou Harris at the Minnesota Zoo, 6/28/12
Photo by Steve Cohen

See Also:
Slideshow: Emmylou Harris, Field Report at the MN Zoo
Field Report on Justin Vernon, Fergus Falls, and folk music

Emmylou Harris
With Field Report
Minnesota Zoo, Apple Valley
Thursday, June 28, 2012

To see Emmylou Harris perform live is a beautiful thing. Listening to her records, you hear that ethereal voice, you consider her introspective, poetic and often sad lyrics, and it's not hard to suspect that she's a bashful sort, that she might reluctantly shrink from under the stage lights, that she's a thing too delicate for the world. But her live performances tell a different story -- you see a woman full of life, full of joy, fully energized and ready to meet the challenge of finding a pleasing middle ground between those sad, sad songs, and a wholly engaging stage show. A performance that gives her ballads plenty of room to breathe, but without ever lulling an audience off to sleep. Reliably, Harris and her Red Dirt Boys brought equal parts high-spirited celebration and down-and-out blues to the Minnesota Zoo's Weesner Family Amphitheater Thursday night.

But first, Milwaukee up-and-comers Field Report played a short set of tunes marked for a September self-titled album release. The band was more moody and atmospheric than one might expect out of a folk band. While they're clearly still a little wet behind the ears, it's likely we'll be hearing a lot more of them and not just for frontman Chris Porterfield's connections (he's an alum of Eau Claire band DeYarmond Edison, which graduated the likes of Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and Megafaun) - with the twang of pedal steel playing off thickly resonant synth chords and the handsome and melancholy voice of Porterfield evoking Justin Townes Earle, these guys will no doubt be ones to watch in the coming year.

Emmylou Harris at the Minnesota Zoo, 6/28/12
Photo by Steve Cohen

Emmylou Harris kicked off her two hour set by boogieing on to the stage as the band started playing "Six White Cadillacs," a gritty tune off her 2011 album Hard Bargain, then followed with 2003's soulful "Here I Am." The Red Dirt Boys are a tight, beyond-proficient band of comprised of five men, all of whom at one point or another shared vocal duties with Harris, three of whom tackled multiple instruments throughout the night.

As usual, Harris proved an engaging storyteller, whether sharing how she found inspiration to write "Red Dirt Girl," how Gram Parsons helped her find her voice, or what Kimmie Rhodes' Texas accent sounds like when she calls her up on the telephone. In a poignant moment, she disclosed that she and friend Susanna Clark, who sadly passed away in her sleep late Tuesday night, had been the muses that inspired Rodney Crowell to write "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues."

Emmylou Harris at the Minnesota Zoo, 6/28/12
Photo by Steve Cohen

All told, Harris' live performance is sure to situate you in a state of total contentment -- mesmerizing and enchanting in its sweetness, in its simplicity, in the lack of anything too flashy or over the top, in her down to earth and relatable demeanor and in her band's polish and professionalism. The whole thing is as likely to make you want to dance as it is likely to make you want to lounge on a blanket in the grass, slapping off mosquitoes and nodding off under the stars as the band hits just the right sweet note, or she sings the lyric that strikes you just so and the goose pimples raise on your arms. Then as soon as you're ready to dance again, you hear her sing the lyrics to a song like "Red Dirt Girl" with such earnest conviction that you just wanna bawl your head off.

In short, it's powerful stuff.

Critic's Bias: I don't know if I'd rather be Emmylou Harris, her daughter, or her grandkid (she's got a second on the way). Or one of her rescue dogs. Is this creepy? Anyway - I'm a fan.

The Crowd: Powderhorn Park showed up in full force, maaaaaannn...

Overheard In The Crowd: Bears grumbling from behind their exhibit's tall metal fence. Sorry guys - maybe next time you should at least spring for the cheap seats?

Random Notebook Dump: Emmylou on her long career and dedicated fanbase - "I really think this relationship can work. This one, and the one with my dogs. And that's fine with me!"

Six White Cadillacs
Here I Am
Orphan Girl
Love and Happiness For You
Making Believe
Hello Stranger
Kern River
Red Dirt Girl
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
Get Up John
Prayer in Open D
Home Sweet Home
The Road
Luxury Liner
Tulsa Queen
One of These Days
Every Grain of Sand
Goin' Back to Harlan
Calling My Children Home (a cappella)
Together Again
Born to Run

Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight

See Also:
Slideshow: Emmylou Harris, Field Report at the MN Zoo
Field Report on Justin Vernon, Fergus Falls, and folk music

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