Last Night: John Prine at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

John Prine
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Golden Gate Park
Friday, Oct. 2, 2009

Better than: Listening to John Prine indoors, minus a box of cold beers and the scent of funnel cakes around you.

Golden Gate Park has played host to numerous music events over the summer, from the gigantic Outside Lands to the smaller radio station and hiphop concerts. But the season of outdoor shows is fading like evening sunlight, the change notable in the chill creeping into the air in the middle of John Prine's set last night at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. Picnicers who had stripped down to tank tops and shorts to beat the blaze all afternoon pulled on their layers as it started to feel like fall in the park meadow. But no one was better dressed for the event than one of Friday's big headliners: John Prine, who sported a snazzy suit (as did all his bandmates) in a performance that helped send the park's giant music gatherings out on a highly memorable note.

Prine took the stage just around happy hour, hundreds of fans settled into the grass before him far beyond the festival-food booths, families and friends passing around BYOB cases of Pabst and airplane-sized bottles of wine. The legendary songwriter came armed with plenty of droll banter–some of which, you'll see in YouTube clips, he's used before. But he's funny enough that's easy to forgive.

He opened the song “Fish and Whistle” with the explanation, “I never meant to write this song, but I was working with a stubborn record producer.” The producer was apparently pushing Prine to finish an album he wasn't happy with, and, Prine explained, “I'll show him, I'll write the worst song in the word.” Of course, once the song was finished, the songwriter ended up liking it–as did the crowd around me, who swayed and sang along to every word.

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