The Minnesota Zoo, Apple Valley, MN
Aug 24, 2002
Loose talk, tight set for John Prine at the zoo
By: Chris Riemenschneider
Though he had a few irrepressible one-liners about performing at the Minnesota Zoo ("Don't feed the musicians"), country-folk laureate John Prine gave a playful concert Saturday in Apple Valley that would not have been as memorable elsewhere in town.
"I try to write a song for every occasion," the ex-Midwesterner, 55, told the standing-room-only crowd at the zoo's Weesner Family Amphitheater. He inadvertently proved this with a couple of tunes that sounded tailor-made for the outdoor show.
Prine is no best-seller, but he has plenty of friends
Published: Aug 22, 2002
By: Robert Morast
John Prine's career has gone mostly undetected by the pop-culture radar, but it never seems to bother the singer-songwriter, who always has been more popular with his peers than the general public.
"I always had a private theory that if you've never had a big hit, it's hard to go out of fashion because you were never in fashion," the press-shy Prine told Salon.com in 1999. "If you had a peak, then everybody's looking to see if you're up to there. I figure you keep dodging these things, and before you know it you've been around 50 years. You've got no gold watch but lots of friends."
That's pretty much Prine's career in his own words.
Since the Illinois native first achieved some recognition and critical acclaim in 1971 for his self-titled debut album, Prine has been the favorite musician of a precious few.
Though popular enough to tour annually around the United States and Europe, Prine's fans seemingly have always treated him as a secret they applaud personally but rarely share with friends.
Tonight, the cultish folk-country performer will play the Great Hall of the Washington Pavilion at 8. And though Prine may be a musician many people haven't heard of, don't be surprised if the hall is nearly packed.
"We've never been the most popular kid on the block but thankfully had a loyal legion of fans that follow John's music," says Dan Einstein, general manager of Oh Boy Records, the label Prine founded.
Among the legion of loyalists has always been a healthy crop of Prine's more mainstream brethren.
In fact, an impromptu performance for Kris Kristofferson opened the door for Prine's first recording, which yielded non-commercial favorites "Sam Stone" and "Illegal Smile."
Later, the Everly Brothers recorded Prine's "Paradise," and Bette Midler and Joan Baez both covered "Hello in There."
Seemingly never worried that mainstream success was passing him by, Prine simply kept recording. Along the way, he became disenchanted with the mechanics of the major record labels and opted to start his own imprint, Oh Boy Records, in the early '80s.
Though independent labels are rampant today, back then the practice was relatively uncharted.
"When we started it, people looked at us like we had two heads," Einstein says. "We came into the indie world in covered wagons."
Even if Prine's records had to be shipped via covered wagon, his fans would have endured. Prine's literate words hit many of his listeners with a profound appreciation.
"Any time people are looking for entertainment or escape, John's a guaranteed winner for that," Einstein says.
Yet, a few years ago there was a scare that Prine's words would never be heard live again.
During a procedure to remove a lump on his neck, it was discovered that Prine had neck cancer.
"John faced his treatments head-on," Einstein says. "He's been clear of that for several years."
The cancer is gone, but the memory still is very present. As a side-effect of the medical procedures Prine's voice was altered.
"Nowadays, his voice is a little more croaky," says Danny Santos, a Texas folk musician and admitted Prine fan. "He doesn't sound that much more removed. It's given him a deeper, rougher, edgier voice than he did before. I always thought he had a warm voice."
"My voice seemed to drop some - it's not as thin or something. A little broader and sounding a little more mature," Prine told Salon.com. "It's a heck of a way to get maturity. But things could be a lot worse."
IF YOU GO
Who: John Prine.
When: 8 tonight.
Where: Great Hall of the Washington Pavilion.
Tickets: $30 and $35, available at the Pavilion box office. Call 367-6000 or 877-WashPav.