Emmylou Harris, Jackson Browne, Patty Griffith, the Mastersons, and special guest Steve Earle combined forces for a fundraising showdown of acoustic guitars at Town Hall. The Concert for Migrant and Refugee Families was a benefit for the Women’s Refugee Commission, whose mission is to “advocate for the rights and protection of women, girls, and families seeking shelter and safety at the US border.”
Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle stood center stage as co-emcees and worked the crowd like seasoned vets, as they played off each other’s homespun tales of life on the road, Nashville, and the good fight. Harris opened the night with Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” that had everyone strumming on time and taking on the chorus’s campfire style. The rest of the night the artists took solo turns as they let the songs speak for themselves.
Browne sang “Walls and Doors”—a gorgeous cover by Cuban musician Carlos Varela from his last album Standing in the Breach. Taking on the fight since the seventies No Nukes movement, Browne’s voice has aged like fine wine and he’s been a fixture on the benefit circuit recently, donating his time to fundraising causes as diverse as the Actors’ Gang and the Cayucas Land Conservancy in California. He’s sporting a beard now but sounds as stark, sincere, and fragile as he did in the seventies. He introduced “The Long Way Around” as a reworking of the 1967 version of “These Days” (by adding a guitar capo to the 7th fret) that he played with Nico on her album Chelsea Girl and later recorded on his 1973 album, For Everyman. He introduced the new one “Little Too Soon to Say” adding—“I usually don’t play new songs onstage anymore since they’re likely to end up on YouTube, but since it takes me so long to make albums these days I might as well play it!” It was a fingerpicked, somber ode to an old love that hit that minor chord and emotion Browne’s known for.
Emmylou Harris sang “Michelangelo” to musical partner Gram Parsons, who would have turned 73 had he not died such an untimely death in 1973. Plaintive and dreamy, Harris beckons to Parsons in the song like an old friend. Patty Griffith sang a soulful rendition of “Move` Up” with David Pulkingham accompanying her on guitar. The Mastersons, who served as the house band for most of the night, played a new one “No Time for Love Songs,” from their forthcoming album.
Renegade leftist, outlaw country punk, folkie, and all-around nice guy Steve Earle sang some Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark songs as well as a foot stomping “Galway Girl,” adding some downtown grit and Irish humor to the genre (he’s been a Greenwich Village resident for the past 16 years). He ended the evening with “City of Immigrants” playing it on a Bouzouki (an octave mandolin), that turned the stage into a barnyard hoedown. Guy Clark’s “Pilgrim” was the night closer that had everyone taking on a verse and ending a fabulous night for an even greater cause at Town Hall.