By Holly Smith
Photography by Kendall Wilson
The sun came out for John Prine on the closing day of the Long Road Festival 2023 as a stellar roster of artists played a tribute set to the late singer-songwriter.
The contingent from Oh Boy Records, the label founded by Prine in 1981 and still producing some of country's truest talents, were out in force, with Emily Scott Robinson, Kelsey Waldon, Tré Burt and Will Hoge all putting their spin on Prine classics. Host Kelsey Waldon kicked off proceedings, draping her drawl across Sam Stone which, she reminded the crowd in awe, John had played at his first ever writer’s round in Nashville.
The affection with which the artists held John Prine as both a songwriter and a person created a genuinely affecting atmosphere, as each of them shared their memories of the man. The War & Treaty bought the party to the porch with a stomp-along cover of 'Knockin On Your Screen Door'.
They’d first contacted John when they had family in town - they wanted to see a show at the Opry on a weekend when John was performing. He invited the duo up on stage and promptly walked off, leaving them to entertain the crowd, an occasion which they rose to with characteristic aplomb.
Tré Burt and Kelsey Waldon joined forces for crowd favourite 'In Spite Of Ourselves', which Kelsey had performed regularly with John. “People used to get married to this song”, Kelsey told the crowd. “I used to say sometimes they’d get divorced to it”. The growing crowd of artists at the side of the stage, including the ever-fun Chapel Hart, swayed along, Trea even helping security calm the crowds who got too close to the stage whilst Emily Scott Robinson waltzed with a partner.
Gabe Lee kept 'Speed Of The Sound Of Lonelieness' true to its acoustic singer-songwriter roots, Will Hoge gave a Springsteen vibe to 'Picture Show' and Rissi Palmer smouldered on 'Angel From Montgomery'. The crowd swayed with the smooth fiddle on Emily Scott Robinson’s 'Spanish Pipedream', as a hush descended over the crowd for Tommy Prine, John’s son, as he delivered a touching and introspective rendition of 'Souvenirs'. Tommy and the Oh Boy contingent ended the set, as John so often did, with with a cover of 'Paradise'.
The camaraderie on stage paved the way for a few stumbles - forgotten words, early entrances - but in fact it simply made the set more effective, conjuring the good humour of John Prine himself, his warmth blanketing the crowd as the dusk settled behind them.
Taken from The Long Road festival in Leicestershire, UK on Sunday 27th August.
For more on The Long Road festival, see below: