Songs, stories and, of course, a few on-the-nose jokes — how else should someone celebrate John Prine?
In a two-hour virtual memorial called “Picture Show,” Prine’s family and friends saluted the late songwriting master Thursday with humor, heaviness and kindness worthy of, well, a John Prine tune.
The online concert featured more than three dozen entertainers — collaborators, comedians, musicians and journalists — contributing words and performances that highlighted the withstanding impact of Prine’s five-decade career. Prine died April 7 at age 73 from COVID-19 complications.
Produced by the Prine family and Oh Boy Records, the Nashville-based label he co-founded, “Picture Show” raised funds for National Alliance on Mental Illness, hospice nonprofit Alive and racial advocacy group Make the Road New York.
And it was, in the words of Prine’s 2018 song, a night of “Boundless Love.”
“It’s hard to talk about John being gone because his music is so present,” journalist and “60 Minutes” host John Dickerson said, introducing the show. “You feel like you know him, or more to the point, he knows you. … It’s the chills you get on your arm when you hear him on a summer day. The time-travel you feel when a song takes you back to the night you wore the grooves out on his record.
“We’re celebrating what his music did for us, to us and with all of us.”
The show took viewers into homes and venues, including many Nashville institutions that remain dormant due to the ongoing health crisis. At the Ryman Auditorium, musicians Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, who describe Prine as a “friend and hero,” opened the broadcast with “Hello In There” — a portrait of elderly loneliness he penned as a 20-something delivering mail in suburban Chicago.
With an at-home performance, Kacey Musgraves reprised “Burn One With John Prine,” a nod to the ageless influence and enteral coolness shared among a modern class of Nashville songwriters.
“I’m so thankful I got to be on this planet at the same time as John,” Musgraves said. “He’s left us so may wonderful treasures and stories and songs.”
“Picture Show” traveled to Washington state, where Brandi Carlile led a timely rendition of politically coy “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore”; former Oh Boy artist and longtime Prine friend Todd Snider offered “Illegal Smile” from his East Nashville “clubhouse” the Purple Room; “Caravan of Fools” earned a trio treatment from the song’s co-writers — The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach and songwriter Pat McLaughlin, joined by producer Dave Ferguson.
Backs turned to rows of vinyl LPs, Margo Price and Jeremy Ivey recorded “All The Best” from East Nashville record store Grimey’s, and, in downtown Nashville, Eric Church stepped on stage at the CMA Theater for an acoustic performance of late-career Prine song “She Is My Everything.”
The show teamed performances and stories with archived footage of Prine, where he discussed songwriting, snowstorms and his signature cocktail, a “Handsome Johnny.” Two of Prine’s sons, Jack Prine and Tommy Prine, performed “Paradise” — a song Prine wrote for his father about the coal mining industry stripping his familial hometown in rural Kentucky.
Fiona Whelan Prine, Prine’s wife of 24 years, shared gratitude for those who supported her family following her husband’s death.
“John loved,” Whelan Prine said. “He loved hard. He love fierce. He loved well. It’s really all he believed in.”
Some sang, but others, such as Stephen Colbert, Billy Bob Thornton and Bill Marry, shared words. Murray recalled “one of my favorite times ever,” when Prine invited him to sing “Paradise” with bluegrass outfit The Streeldrivers at the Grand Ole Opry.
“I got a huge kick out of it because we got to go out there and it’s just like ‘Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?'” Murray said. “John’s got his own microphone and The Steeldrivers and myself got one mic to sing, and to lean into, like the movie.
“It was one of the greatest nights ever. It was a really great night.”
With the show’s penultimate performance, Prine friend and musician Bonnie Raitt offered “Angel From Montgomery,” a song written by the Midwesterner about a restless Southern housewife that Raitt — with her 1974 cover — helped transform into arguably his best-known work.
The night closed with a recording of the last song on Prine’s last record, “When I Get To Heaven,” a song reminding listeners how Prine planned to spend the afterlife.
“In that little song, he laid out his complete set of beliefs,” Whelan Prine said, adding, “It makes me cry. It comforts me, too.”
“Picture Show” raised at least $200,000 in donations for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, with contributions to other charities yet to be totaled. A replay of the show remains on YouTube through Sunday.
John Prine ‘Picture Show’ setlist
- Hello In There (Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires)
- Clocks and Spoons (Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires)
- Burn One With John Prine (Kacey Musgraves)
- Spanish Pipedream (Kacey Musgraves)
- All The Best (Margo Price and Jeremy Ivey)
- Caravan of Fools (Dan Auerbach, Pat McLaughlin and Dave Ferguson)
- Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore (Brandi Carlile)
- Mexican Home (John Dickerson — spoken word)
- Grandpa Was A Carpenter (John Prine and family — archived footage)
- Far From Me (Prine’s longtime band, Kenneth Blevins, David Jacques, Fats Kaplin and Jason Wilber, featuring Sara Watkins)
- Some Things Never Get Old (Vince Gill)
- Paradise (Jack Prine and Tommy Prine)
- Souvenirs (The Secret Sisters with Ricky Rogers)
- Illegal Smile (Todd Snider with members of Prine’s band)
- In Spite of Ourselves (Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick)
- Summer’s End (Rita Wilson)
- Speed of the Sound of Loneliness (Sturgill Simpson)
- She Is My Everything (Eric Church)
- Crazy As A Loon (Kurt Vile, John Paul White, Jim James, Pat McLaughlin and Courtney Marie Andrews)
- Unwed Fathers (Kelsey Waldon with members of Prine’s band)
- Angel From Montgomery (Bonnie Raitt)
- When I Get To Heaven (John Prine recording)
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