Emmylou Harris and Ricky Skaggs raised the roof and helped raise funds for the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum at a special show in Nashville. The all-star event honored producer Brian Ahern while proceeds from the show were earmarked toward the restoration of Ahern’s Enactron trailer, one of the first mobile recording studios ever built.
Harris headlined the intimate, acoustic concert inside the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum with Skaggs and other former members of her famed Hot Band, including guitarist Albert Lee and drummer Jon Ware. Acclaimed duo The Whites, who performed on a number of Harris’ albums, provided first-rate vocal backup.
Before the music got underway, a video aired paying tribute to Ahern, who was seated in the audience, from Harris, Anne Murray, Skaggs and others. Ahern produced several albums for Harris, notably “Luxury Liner,” “Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town,” and “Blue Kentucky Girl,” considered among her most defining works. The two were also married for seven years. “He taught me to trust my instincts,” Harris declared in the video. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him.”
Following the video, Harris entered the stage with Skaggs, The Whites, and musician Jerry Douglas, along with the band. She essentially served up an entertaining, insightful timeline of her extraordinary career, beginning with her first major hit on country radio, her rendition of The Louvin Brothers’ “If I Could Only Win Your Love,” which peaked at No. 4 in 1975. Skaggs backed her on guitar and vocals, along with The Whites.
On many of the selections, Harris recalled some behind-the-scenes stories, relating to either the recording of the tune or the song search. On her cover of Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors,” for example, Harris shared that Ahern wasn’t sure about including the Parton classic for her 1975 “Pieces of the Sky” album. “Brian thought it was too wordy, and too linear,” Harris laughed. Harris performed the song and followed with “Too Far Gone” from the same album.
A touching moment arrived as Harris introduced Rodney Crowell to the stage, who wrote several songs for her, including “Bluebird Wine,” and was also a member of her Hot Band. “It’s our college reunion that we never went to,” Harris quipped as Crowell entered. Crowell recalled meeting Ahern for the first time and said, “I felt so insecure. He was so smart.”
Harris, known throughout her career as an avowed champion of songwriters, performed two of her favorite compositions for the fundraiser, “My Songbird” by Jesse Winchester and “Green Rolling Hills,” written by folk artist/activist Utah Phillips. Later in the show, she recalled her stylistic movement from country rock to the more traditional country sound, heightened by the release of her 1979 album “Blue Kentucky Girl,” a Grammy winner for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. Harris sang the title track beautifully, still reaching the high notes that characterized the song. “Then, I went deeper into bluegrass,” Harris continued, pointing to her 1980 album “Roses in the Snow,” featuring her version of the bluegrass standard “Wayfaring Stranger.”
The show closed with everyone joining in on “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,” an appropriate choice given that the song was written by Crowell and first recorded by Harris for her “Blue Kentucky Girl” album. All exited the show on an upbeat note.