Until four years ago I had never heard of John Prine.
That was before I had the unexpected pleasure of seeing him in concert at Red Rocks in Colorado, which is tough to beat as a concert venue.
We took my daughter to see the opening act that night, Kacey Musgraves, and figured we’d stick around for a little bit of the Prine show before skating out of there to beat the traffic. Instead, we stayed for almost the entire show, and if not for my daughter nearly falling asleep, we would have made it to the last song.
A couple of things stand out for me from that show. The first is that the average age of the audience had to be 60 years old, which I only mention because, even after doing a small bit of Prine research, I didn’t realize he’d been so popular for so long.
The second was how much fun everyone had listening to his songs, of course, but to the stories he told between them. I got a sense that many of the fans there had heard the tales before and they didn’t care one bit if they heard it one more time.
I just remembered a third thing: Prine and his band all wore suits and ties.
By the end of the night I was fascinated by the man and I couldn’t wait to get back home to find out everything I could about John Prine, and to listen to his albums — the first of which debuted 50 years ago.
I downloaded his songs, looked up his appearances on Letterman, and found concert clips on YouTube. A couple of years later, I picked up a copy of his biography in a Nashville bookstore.
In 2018, Prine released “The Tree of Forgiveness“, and I ordered it on CD for my brother, and I bought it on iTunes for myself. We watched him perform the album on Austin City Limits and, wouldn’t you know it, he told some of the stories we heard that night at Red Rocks. I might have been a latecomer, but I felt part of the Prine tribe.
Early last year Prine’s wife contracted COVID-19 and recovered. After she came out of quarantine, John started showing symptoms and was hospitalized. He died in Nashville on April 7, one of the first well-known people to die from COVID.
Man, I was bummed. I read every obituary and tribute, and listened to more of his music, including his last recorded single, “I Remember Everything.”
A few months later, Prine’s friends and fellow artists performed in a tribute that my daughter and I watched on my computer — almost four years to the day we saw him for the first time. I feel fortunate to have gotten to see him perform live and to get know his music. I just wish I’d been exposed to him sooner.
If you’re just getting to know John Prine, check out this segment with him from CBS Sunday Morning, which aired on Feb. 9, 2019.