The world of music is full of a variety of kinds of lyricists. Some focus on creating catchy verses for pop hits while others layer poetics with metaphor to express deep emotions that words don’t seem to be enough to capture the feeling and some just want to write a fun song. Folk singer-songwriter John Prine is a story teller — and a damn good one. Known for his political lyrics and rambling stories, Prine has earned a cult-like fan base over the course of his nearly 50-year career. Many of those fans were in attendance at Red Rocks Wednesday night when Prine brought his unique sound to Denver as part of his “Tree Of Forgiveness Tour.”
Originally set to take place in July, Prine rescheduled his Red Rocks’ performance earlier this year due to health concerns. However, despite the delay, fans were no less excited to see his performance, filling the iconic outdoor venue nearly to capacity. The tour follows one of the biggest years in the half of a century that Prine has been performing. The 2018 release of his latest album, The Tree Of Forgiveness, earned him a spot on many Christmas gift guides — and Prine was named “Artist Of The Year” at the Americana Music Awards.
After a monumental year, Prine’s tour supporting his latest album couldn’t make its way to Denver fast enough. Despite the rescheduling of the show, Prine’s performance was worth the wait. Prine’s narrative lyrics are iconic enough that they don’t need much support apart from Prine’s guitar — however, additional instrumentals elevate the songs to another level. For fans at Red Rocks Wednesday evening the performance had a little bit of extra magic with the Colorado Symphony joining Prine on stage.
When Prine took his place center stage and launched into the first song of the evening, it was immediately clear that the night would be nothing less than an evening spent with one of the greats. However, when the swell of the orchestra filled the amphitheater and added an additional layer of texture to Prine’s music, the air was thick with the sense that something special was about to take place.
Though Prine’s voice shows signs of his age, his timeless music and charming stage presence is more than enough to make up for any moments in the evening when his voice may have wavered. Though many of his songs are melancholy, Prine’s music is far from hopeless, and his performance was filled with joy. When he took pauses from singing, Prine found a few moments throughout the evening to reminisce with the audience about memorable moments of his career, such as his early performances. Much like Prine’s songs, many of his stories were filled with humor. As Prine took a walk down memory lane, with a smile on his face, audience members found themselves smiling along as if listening to an old friend.
Though a show at Red Rocks always draws a large crowd, Prine’s presence transformed the large venue into an intimate affair. Responding to fans who called out to him and looking directly into the eyes of fans as he reminisced, Red Rocks felt more like a small bar show than a massive outdoor amphitheater.
When it came time to slow things down, the Colorado Symphony made their way off stage, leaving Prine alone center stage. Prine was clearly in his element as he plucked at his guitar strings and captivated concert-goers with his presence. Then, joined by openers I’m With Her, fans were treated to a duet of his song “In Spite Of Ourselves.” With a smile on his face throughout the evening, it was clear that Prine is made for the stage. “I hope you’re enjoying this,” Prine told the audience, “’cause we’re having a ball.”
Backed by the Colorado Symphony, Prine’s voice carried over the rocks — seeming to carve his narrative lyrics into the rocks themselves. Though Prine sings his songs slightly slower these days — adding an extra layer of melancholy to sorrowful songs like “Sam Stone” — he still possesses the spirit of the young man he was when he began playing to small audiences. Though he may be aging, Prine is far from growing old. In fact, at the end of the set, Prine set his guitar down on the stage and began to dance before finally grooving off stage.
Fortunately, Prine returned to his place center stage for the final songs of the evening. Walking to the front of the stage, he gazed out over the audience, basking in the moment. When the evening came to a close, Prine directed the audience’s attention to his band standing alongside him before shifting the focus to the Colorado Symphony, giving them all their moment in the spotlight.
After an evening of music that spanned every stage of Prine’s career, fans found themselves walking back to their cars still filled with joy and wonder from a special evening that is unlike anything Denver is likely to see again soon.