Emmylou Harris will be the first act to play at City Winery Philadelphia. That’s the Center City outpost of the music venue restaurant chain that’s part of Fashion District Philadelphia.
Harris and her band the Red Dirt Boys will be on stage in the Winery’s 350-seat concert space on Friday, Sept. 27, kicking off a four-night opening run in which she will be followed by the Mountain Goats, Josh Ritter, and Justin Townes Earle.
That quartet kicks off a busy fall at the $8 million, 36,000-square-foot venue founded by music entrepreneur Michael Dorf.
Macy Gray does two shows at the street level, 150-capacity The Loft on Oct. 27. Most shows there and at the cozy downstairs venue with a 32-inch-high stage will feature reserved seating. (There’s also a bar on the Fashion District concourse, but the venue can only be entered from outside 10th and Filbert Streets.)
As construction workers, cooks and food servers were busy getting the restaurant ready to serve kale Caesar salads and sauvignon blanc this past week, talent buyer Christianna LaBuz, who’s booked shows for Live Nation and the World Cafe Live, said tables will be removed for a few select dates. Those dance parties include La Bamba & the Hubcaps on Oct. 6 and the Flamin’ Groovies on Oct. 29 at The Loft.
Harris is a classy opening night get for the new venue. From her early 1970s beginnings with Gram Parsons to Trio albums with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt to recent sets with Rodney Crowell, Harris is the most angelic harmony singer in modern country history.
But the 2018 Grammy lifetime achievement winner has also carried on a solo career as a bandleader whose highlights include 1970s albums Elite Hotel and Luxury Liner and Wrecking Ball, her 1995 teaming with Daniel Lanois.
Her City Winery show is a benefit for Bonaparte’s Retreat, the Nashville dog-adoption service she founded in 2004. She spoke on the phone from Los Angeles, where she was performing with Vince Gill, Sheryl Crow, and Luke Combs at a fund-raiser for the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Your show in Philadelphia show is a benefit for Bonaparte’s Retreat. Who was Bonaparte?
I had adopted a little dog for my daughter on her 12th birthday, and then I got Bonaparte as a companion for him. And just on a lark I had to drive down to Birmingham to do Prairie Home Companion, and decided to take Bonaparte.
And he just turned out to be the greatest bus dog. He loved the backstage, and it got me out of the hotel rooms walking a dog. My life was totally changed.
He was a poodle mix that I used to say looked like Dr. Seuss drew him. Black hair, and long gangly legs. He was just a great companion.
You’re opening City Winery Philadelphia. You’ve played them in other cities, I’m sure.
Oh, God, I think I did a whole tour of them with Rodney. First of all, I like the size. I like the fact that people sit down and watch the show. The food is really good, and the wine. Every one I’ve played is a little bit different, but they all have that same intimate quality.
And as an artist, all that matters to you?
It matters. And the sound is always good.
Have you ever played a dump so horrible that you told your manager, “Don’t ever book me there again!”
I don’t think I ever did. You love the dumps, because you play them on your way up. And you’re grateful for the work. I’ve always had fantastic musicians behind me, and that’s all you really need. Great musicians, and an audience willing to listen to you. So I suppose I look affectionately on the dumps.
You’ve sung harmony with great songwriters. And you’ve had amazing players in your own band, like Ricky Skaggs and Buddy Miller. Which do you enjoy more: blending in, or being the boss?
They’re different things. But they’re both collaborations. And music is really a collaboration. There’s that time when you’re in a room by yourself trying to write a song. But ultimately, when it comes down to it, it’s the collaboration that I love.
Which collaborations do you really treasure?
There are so many. The beginning of when I started to consider myself any kind of artist goes back to Gram Parsons. But to be able to sing with your heroes, like Neil Young, and then Elvis Costello. And to have done that album with Mark Knopfler, that was an amazing experience. My friends, like Mary Chapin Carpenter and Shawn Colvin and Patty Griffin.
Did you get your country education from Gram?
I’m from the South. I was born in Birmingham, Ala. But when I was 5 my father went back into the Marine Corps and we lived in off-base housing in Virginia. And music didn’t really come to me until I was in high school in the ‘60s.
It was Peter, Paul and Mary and Joan Baez and Bob Dylan who got me. I was a bit of a country snob, except for Johnny Cash, of course. My brother had that Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar album, and probably from osmosis I learned every one of those songs. He’s one of those artists that encompasses everything that’s good.
So did working with Gram open up the country world for you?
Yeah, it truly did. When I started working with him, I was just a hired hand. On the tour and the album. And then I started to realize the beauty and simplicity of country music. I became very serious about singing along with Gram, and it changed my phrasing and it changed my ideas about singing. You don’t have to emote. You just have to sing the beautiful melodies and the words. I think that’s where I really found my own voice, instead of trying to be Joan Baez-lite.
What country harmony singers did you love?
Gram turned me on to the Louvin Brothers. They weren’t on the radio I listened to. And I was astonished at the incredible sound. The tension that the two of their voices got.
I loved George Jones and Tammy Wynette. And I discovered the wonderful duets he did before Tammy with Melba Montgomery. I just love the whole concept of the man-woman thing, which in my own way I was doing with Gram.
You’re featured in Ken Burns’ Country Music. Are you a fan?
The Civil War brought a seriousness to television. I could watch it, and weep, every time I see it. I’ve watched all of them. As a baseball fan, every year, when baseball season is over, I watch the Ken Burns Baseball again.
You’re a Braves fan, aren’t you?
Well I am, but of course I admire the Phillies. I am a National League girl.
The Braves are going to win the division. You must be pretty pleased with yourself.
What I am is just incredibly nervous about it. So we’re not going to talk about it.
OK. But you do follow it closely?
I do. Back in 1990 I started a bluegrass band and Sam Bush, our mandolin player, was a huge Cardinals fan. We started going to games and I started getting into the beauty and the poetry of baseball. It’s the only sport where the defense has the ball. It’s the most beautiful sport.