“Through the pandemic, I listened to John Prine more than any other songwriter, by far,” says Joe D’Urso. “It was just kind of optimism and … a bright light in a dark time. Even when he’s talking about a horrible situation, there’s still the humor.”
A group billed as Joe D’Urso & Friends — also featuring Loren Korevec, David Frye, Tim O’Donohue, Gary Solomon, Michelle Solomon, Christopher Brown and Jake Thistle — will present “A Birthday Tribute to John Prine” at The Outpost in the Burbs in Montclair, Oct. 7. Prine — whose best known songs include “Angel From Montgomery,” “Hello in There,” “Sam Stone,” “Please Don’t Bury Me,” “Paradise” and “All the Best” — died in 2020, of COVID, but would have turned turned 76 on Oct. 10.
This group of musicians has presented this show before, but this will be their first time doing it in New Jersey.
D’Urso, who lives in Park Ridge, says most of the musicians “live right on the border of Rockland/Bergen, as I do, though we all work in different projects, so we don’t get a chance to see each other too often, because everyone’s busy performing. But during COVID, we started getting together at people’s houses, in the backyard, and just having little jams, and Prine kept on coming up. I started thinking about, ‘We should do a big old love letter to John. He makes everyone feel good, and all these great guys enjoy playing his music.’ ”
Everyone will sing a few songs apiece, and offer occasional backing music or vocals to each other. They will stay onstage, together, throughout the entire show — with Korevec at the piano, and the rest with their guitars — and join together, at the end, for the encores.
D’Urso says the first Prine album he owned was 1991’s The Missing Years, and the fact that Prine had released it on his own label, Oh Boy Records, inspired him to start a label of his own. Since then, D’Urso went back and became a fan of Prine’s ’70s and ’80s output as well, and he’s now collecting Prine’s albums on vinyl.
“Looking back and watching him change as a songwriter … especially with John’s later stuff, the simplicity … I’m blown away at how little goes on (in the songs), sometimes. But these songs are like epic novels. I mean, how do you do that? So I’m still learning from him.”
While D’Urso admires Prine’s lighter side, the songs he has been performing in the tribute concerts — “Hello in There,” “Sam Stone” and “I Remember Everything” — are “the really emotional, tug-at-your-heart ones,” he says. “But we do get some of the fun ones in there.”
Thistle, the show’s youngest performer at 18, says “the setlist generally varies a bit, but I think it’s probably a safe bet, this time, that I’ll be doing ‘Clay Pigeons,’ which is originally a Blaze Foley tune (recorded by Prine for his 2005 Fair & Square album) but it’s just one of my favorites, and ‘Lonesome Friends of Science,’ which is kind of a funny one off of his final album (2018’s The Tree of Forgiveness).
“Americana music is probably the music I listen to the most, and naturally I really gravitated to him. I’ve always been a huge John Hiatt fan; John Hiatt’s been a major, major influence on me. So, in kind of diving into that Americana world, obviously John Prine was right there at the forefront, so I started listening to him as well. And I fell in love with his songwriting, too.”
As does, basically, anyone who hears it.
“I find that either people love John Prine, or they don’t know about John Prine,” says D’Urso. “A band like the Grateful Dead … Jerry Garcia had that great quote, ‘We’re like licorice. Some people don’t like licorice, but a lot of people love licorice.’ But I never heard anyone say, ‘Oh, I don’t like John Prine.’ ”
The Outpost in the Burbs will present “A Birthday Tribute to John Prine” at The First Congregational Church at 40 S. Fullerton Ave. in Montclair, at 8 p.m. Oct. 7. Visit outpostintheburbs.org.
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