It'll be a night to remember for Harris fans in Florida, where she has rarely scheduled concert dates in an esteemed country-music career that began in the early 1970s.
"Listen, it's not me," Harris said with a gentle laugh in a phone interview from her home base in Nashville, Tenn. "I don't know why we don't get booked down there. It's not that far and it's a good bus trip. This time, we're coming off a working cruise [Grammy Festival at Sea] and we land in Miami, so why not do a few shows on the way up?"
A 13-time Grammy Award winner, Harris has consistently blended country elements with different styles, starting with her association with Florida-bred country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons in the 1970s.
Her 1975 major label debut, "Pieces of the Sky," featured covers of the Beatles ("For No One"); country icon Merle Haggard ("Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down"); and traditionalist duo the Louvin Brothers ("If I Could Only Win Your Love").
She later recorded bluegrass-flavored albums, a well-received 1987 pop collaboration with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt and the genre-bending "Wrecking Ball," a moody 1995 release produced by Daniel Lanois (U2, Peter Gabriel). The latter was ignored by country radio stations as it earned Harris followers among alternative-rock fans.
In recent years, that affinity for a variety of musical styles made Harris one of the most visible ambassadors for the emerging Americana genre, an umbrella category that embraces country, rock and roots music.
In keeping with her stature as one of the most revered singers in the music business, Harris, 67, performs almost exclusively in the nation's most beautiful concert halls. Her Florida swing, for instance, also includes a stop at the historic Tampa Theatre, a 1926 building with an interior designed as a Mediterranean courtyard.
From The Tampa Bay Times:
"Believe it or not, there are even critics who say that her voice isn't quite what it used to be.
At this point, the last of those shallow criticisms is on par with some schmuck giving Jesus a hard time for turning water into a house chianti instead of a 1969 Bordeaux. Ask anyone inside the Tampa Theatre Wednesday night, and they’ll tell you -- Emmylou Harris still has it. In fact, she probably has plenty more of it to go around. "
From Lynne Quido, Emmylou fan extraordinaire:
Wednesday night, November 12 was one of those heartbeat nights you have every now and then. Something you're doing brings back a wave of nostalgia that sweeps over you like the ocean and you find yourself lost in the wonder of this thing we call life.
Emmylou Harris doesn't have the voice she used to. Probably because you can have an extraordinary voice at the age of 26 and then life sets in and does what it does to your body, to your voice. Probly about the time of the watershed "Wrecking Ball" album (yes, Miley Cyrus stole the name from her)... which arrived on the scene in 1995, Emmylou's strategy has been to replace that incredible, ethereal voice by backing it as it began to change with what one writer called "her formula has been to match a crack crew of left-of-center country players with an assortment of tasteful tunes".
I first saw her in 1975 with my best friend and roommate, another EH devotee, at St. Paul's Orpheum theater. It was in November, I believe, and we were recent country converts and stayed to see her, since we'd worn out her "Pieces of the Sky" album...one Friday night. We were supposed to drive 175 miles home that night, and we did, but we forsook decent weather for the concert, and when we came out, we faced a nailbiting trip in a hail of hard snow. My dad met me at 4 a.m., when the 3 hour trip had turned into 5 hours, and boy was he mad. "You stay and take a terrible risk on getting lost or getting in an accident, and for what...some long haired hippie chick in a fringed suede jacket! What were you thinking?"
I changed my dad's mind at Christmas time when I gave him all 3 of her albums and he, in turn, wore out the vinyl listening to what he admitted was the best female voice of his time...even forsaking Patsy Cline. He became an ardent fan.
(I did see Emmylou again, fleetingly, at the 1998 New Orleans jazz festival.)
But Wednesday night, in the Tampa Theatre, where she breezed through 20 of her songs and changed guitars about 13 times, was incredibly bitter sweet. My best friend this time was not a fan, but enjoyed herself. The audience was incredibly old (but still tappin' and clappin') and the beautiful theater was packed and once again, yielded the best sound money could buy. The funky, old Emmylou once again had a crack team of musicians and she adds some funky instrument each tour...this time, the accordion! Yes, the accordion. The lead guitar player, from Australia, sounded as good as the young Eric Clapton. I sung along to the 6 old songs she played and enjoyed the music from her last 3 albums, which I don't own or have memorized. She hit Lucinda Williams ... "Sweet Old World", "Save the Last Dance for Me", and my all time favorite was her encore...
"Boulder to Birmingham". If you have not heard it, pull it up and listen. Probably one of the most beautiful heartbreak songs of our times, and you'll hear what I heard in the 70's.
It's the last time I'll probably see Emmylou. She'll give up touring (she's 66) at some point and just write and pursue her work on rescue animals. I'll save my meager concert dollars to see someone of significance (last year, the Eagles...the year before Smokey Robinson) who means a lot to me once a year. I'm on my once a year farewell tour of concerts, you might say.
But Wednesday would have been my dad's 95th birthday. And somehow, it felt like he was there with me. What a night!!!