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Artist Spotlight: John Prine

– Hilton Peeples, Assistant Festival Director

“Daddy won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County,” the opening words to the chorus of John Prine’s “Paradise” will always bring a tear to my eye and put me in a different place. And then I hear “I know a guy that’s got a lot to lose, he’s a pretty nice fella, kinda confused.”

And yet, I don’t hear it in Prine’s voice. Instead, I hear it in the voice of my little brother Jack, singing as loud as he can despite his inability to perfect the art of saying his r’s. This probably isn’t the kind of song a 5-year-old should know every word to, but he sure did. To say the least, I grew up loving Prine, his music, and his story telling.

My dad made sure we loved all kinds of good music; John Prine’s was not only at the top of the list, but also the most vivid in my mind. His music takes me to a different place – to riding in the car with my dad and brother and singing every single word…well mostly every word.  

I recently got to see him live for the first time and it was amazing. Well, aside from the guy sitting next to us who was seemingly trying to sing every word louder than Prine. His voice was still as powerful, his storytelling as captivating as ever.

Iris Dement has written and recorded multiple songs with John over the years, and she did a few surprise songs with him during his set in Kansas City. It was incredible. Their voices work so well together, and they always make it look fun! Amanda Shires opened the show with a guest appearance from her husband,  incredible musician Jason Isbell. Amanda & Jason’s music has shaped my music taste so much so that it has even driven me to taking violin lessons.

Seeing so many of my musical heroes all on one stage that night was something I will never forget, just like singing in the car with dad & Jack.

All of these songwriters constantly remind me of the importance of music in our everyday lives; songs change lives and music makes us who we are. Friendships are formed over music. I don’t know about you, but all of my best memories have revolved around music. 15 years later and those visions of my dad & brother singing, “that’s the way that the world goes ‘round” are still some of my favorite memories. Thank God for dads who show us good music before we realize how good it really is.