Emmylou Harris Presents Lampedusa: A Concert for Refugees

The Merriam Theater / Philadelphia, PA

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Photos by Mark J. Smith

I had the absolute pleasure of attending the LAMPEDUSA: Concert For Refugees the other night. Not only was it a great night of music– it also was for a really great cause. The tour, put together by Patty Griffin and Emmylou Harris, benefits the Jesuit Refugees Service’s refugee education programs around the world. Sadly, Griffin had to drop out due to health reasons, but Emmylou Harris, joined by others, carried on.

Joining Harris on tour and on the Merriam Theater stage was Steve Earle, Buddy Miller, the Milk Carton Kids, and in Philadelphia and a few other stops on the tour, Robert Plant. The stage was set up like a songwriters session, with chairs in a semi oval across the stage. The performers sat in those chairs behind their respective mic stands (tough for photographers, unfortunately) and made beautiful music for hours.

Steve Earle started things off with “Copperhead Road,” and the music went around the circle… ok, the oval. Buddy Miller and Emmylou Harris performed a duet, “Gasoline and Matches,” and the music went round and round. Steve Earle mentioned that he usually gets in the first joke of the night, but was beaten to the punch- and punch line- by the Milk Carton Kids. Yeah, they definitely were, as I have seen mentioned elsewhere, a bit like the Smothers Brothers. Comments aside, their music was excellent. But back to their humor for a minute, Joey Ryan started to introduce a song about Kenneth Pattengale’s daughter, “Charlie.” The intro turned into a monologue that ended with the statement that Charlie, as wonderful as she was, actually didn’t have a mother. Funny, yes indeed, but also a great song. They also sang “Monterey,” and Pattengale’s playing throughout the evening was excellent.

I got a kick out of Steve Earle saying that there are only two songs, the blues and “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” and he wasn’t going to sing “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.” Just the week before, I heard David Bromberg say the same thing, only he used the blues and the “National Anthem.” …Same idea.

The whole group did a wonderful version of “Pancho and Lefty,” followed by Harris and Plant singing “No Regrets.” Miller and Earle did “Freight Train,” a song they recorded from their last Cayamo Cruise. Both Harris and Earle got into dialogues about the refugee situation around the world and how the Jesuit Refugee Service was helping. Earle talked of how, when he moved to New York, he loved the corner grocery stores and how they were changed ownership from Italians to Koreans to Hispanics from Central America. He told of how Mr. Kim spoke fluent Spanish, because his workers were Hispanic and would probably buy him out when he wanted to retire. It was a real heartwarming tale about how we are all immigrants, and how things change, and the importance of getting along together rather than opposing each other.

This naturally lead to “City of Immigrants,” as the show for the evening came to a close. Philadelphia was the penultimate show of the tour. So, especially if you missed it, let’s hope they put out a CD, because it was special in every way. What a night.

Mark J. Smith

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