An old friend returned to Red Butte Garden Sunday.
She needed no introduction to the adoring, sold-out crowd, nor did most of her songs. Instead, everything Emmylou Harris offered during her almost two-hour performance was comfortable, casual and great to hear again.
By this point in her career, Harris knows her fans and her fans know her. She is not the tortured musician, the heartbroken lover or the recovered addict, and she doesn't sing like one. She has also settled comfortably into her late-career, "Godmother" status, even embracing the passing years without lament.
On Sunday night, her music spanned the history of country music, from the early sounds of The Louvin Brothers and Stanley Brothers, to the classic sounds of Townes Van Zandt, and forward to her own, current songs. She played bluegrass, honky-tonk and the country-rock she helped bring into popularity, all to similar, pleasing effect.
Harris continues to produce albums, including her recent "All I Intended To Be." It's an album steeped in deep emotion on many of its songs, and the almost half-dozen selections she played from that album translated well to the stage.
In fact, the best song of the night may have been "Kern River," written by Merle Haggard. It's a dark song about the loss of a friend to drowning, and one which Harris carried with exceptional depth.
Other standouts from the show were "Evangeline" and the powerhouse "Leavin' Louisiana In The Daylight," which brought the crowd to its feet. There was also the bluegrass breakdown midshow, which provided a nice soundtrack for the near-perfect summer evening.
For everything she and her talented backing band did well, nothing about her performance ever rose to something memorable. Songs came and went without much mention, much like stories about the past bounce between people who have years of history together.
That said, nobody in the crowd seemed to mind, and they even seemed to appreciate the comfort that Harris provided. Which may prove even further that she understands her fans.
Like Harris, opening duo Jimmy Gaudreau and Moondi Klein played a half-hour a laid-back bluegrass standards. While they did not wow the crowd, they did well enough to keep their attention.