Singer/songwriter John Prine's career has spanned nearly a half-century of contemporary folk music. The soft-spoken former mailman has garnered his share of accolades along the way. Not only has he picked up a host of awards, but he carries the distinction of being the only singer/songwriter invited to read and perform at the Library of Congress at the behest of former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser.
Prine hit his commercial high point in the late '60s and early '70s in the thick of the hippie folk scene, though his songs were not the fiery protest tunes that got other neo-folkies held up as leaders of the revolution. PBS documentaries will likely never use a Prine hit as a soundtrack for slow-motion footage of the Vietnam War, the Chicago riots or marches on Washington. He left it to other songwriters to make sweeping musical statements about the movement, the revolution and the change that was going to come. Prine's songs, instead, looked at the microcosm, using tender wit to paint simple, beautiful portraits of individuals like a musical Sherwood Anderson or Raymond Carver. His sense of humor made for a few great protest songs, including the classic "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven" and the pothead anthem "Illegal Smile." But for the most part, Prine has always made his point through storytelling, not speechifying.
Prine is a survivor not just of the tumultuous last quarter of the 20th century that made him a folk icon, but also of a life-threatening bout with throat cancer that, among other things, left his already characteristically growly voice a full register lower. He kept a low profile for almost a decade after he underwent surgery to remove the tumor in this throat, but in 2005, he released the Grammy-winning Fair and Square, which features guest vocals from first-weekend Jazz Fest performer Alison Krauss.
john prine 5:40 p.m. friDAY, may 2 | Gentilly Stage