New life goal(s): Excel at some art form. Make a superstar friend who excels at that same art form. Go on tour together so we can mostly hang out, share stories, crack jokes and be mind-blowingly awesome — in a very down-to-earth and relatable way.
This isn’t just a pipe dream, it’s a performance model. On Saturday, Feb. 20 contemporary authors/critique partners Joshilyn Jackson and Sara Gruen discussed the writing process, the writing business, their newest novels and their friendship in a delightful event at Malaprop’s. Then on Sunday, Feb. 21, country musicians/friends Vince Gill and Lyle Lovett did something similar at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. While Gill and Lovett didn’t have cupcakes frosted to look like the covers of their latest releases (Jackson and Gruen did), their chemistry was palpable and the show, billed as the Songs & Stories Tour, was ultimately less like a concert and more like eavesdropping on a porch-picking session. On one of the coolest porches of all time.
Because Lovett and Gill took the stage alone — just them, two chairs and a handful of guitars — they also served as each other’s backup. Gill lent guitar parts to Lovett’s songs and Lovett occasionally added a background vocal to Gill’s offerings. At one point Lovett joked that, while he didn’t like to brag, he had the far superior band that night. Quick to the punch, Gill (who’d been alluding to his own love of food and subsequent weight) replied, “Some might say you still have your large band.”
The show began with Lovett performing “Goodbye to Carolina,” followed by two-and-a-half hours of music and banter. Gill played “One More Last Chance,” his guitar tone warm. The two musicians are the same age, and were introduced when Gill sang harmony on the recording of Lovett’s song, “Give Back My Heart.”
While the music was a polished list of favorites (“She Make Me Feel Good” and “Nobody Knows Me” from Lovett, “Look at Us” and “Whenever You Come Around” from Gill), the evening also included songs from Gill’s new album, Down to My Last Bad Habit, like the title track and “Me and my Girl,” — “my version of a modern pickup truck song,” according to the musician.
Though both artists have maintained long careers in country music, neither has been considered pop-country, both are renowned for their songwriting abilities, and both have successfully crossed over to other listeners. Gill shared stories of his early career with country rock band Pure Prairie League, as well as meeting Bill Monroe and George Jones. Lovett told what may or may not have been the actual back story to “Creep Like Me.” The lyric, “Wear grandmother’s ring / On my finger / On my finger / She had a tooth of gold,” was supposedly inspired by a woman he met who did indeed wear a ring fashioned from a melted-down gold tooth.
But whether Lovett’s story was truth or fiction matters little. His comic timing was impeccable and his acting prowess seemed at play on the stage, as well as an insider glimpse into his creative process and the stripped-down simplicity of the songwriter performance.
While the crowd was clearly full of fans, a listener unfamiliar with either Gill or Lovett could have seen that show and walked away on a first-name basis with both musicians.