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Chasing Paradise

John Prine at Chastain Park

Levon Helm Band w/ Larry Campbell open

By Steve Jones

Paradise on John Prine's self-titled debut album in 1971 is where my awareness of environmentally conscious songs began. Prine sang of a Kentucky mountain whose beauty is ravaged "by the world's largest shovel" until "Mr. Peabody's coal train had hauled it away." My hope is he plays it at Atlanta's Chastain Park on this lovely early June evening .

On a clear night under a nearly full moon, Chastain Park is a lovely place to attend a concert. The venerable amphitheater set among the trees and stone walls provides an ideal setting for an evening with John Prine and the opening Levon Helm Band (featuring guitarist Larry Campbell and his wife, singer Teresa Williams).

Levon's band was smoking. Bob Dylan's former drummer, now 68 years old, led the way as the band opened with Ophelia. They then laid into Band classics such as Rag Mama Rag, Long Black Veil and Chest Fever. Levon & Company concluded with his most well known tune, The Weight.

Soon John Prine strode on stage in a black suit with a white tie, accompanied only by a bass and guitar player. The band launched into Blow Up Your TV and kept it rolling through Prine's timeless hits Picture Show and Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven before slowing the mood with Spend the Night With Me. The somber and emotional tune blended with a mournful harmonica lead seemed to put the crowd into a thoughtful place. Prine remarked, "Sorry about the grisly ending. In my early days I seemed to kill the main characters off, which is good except there are no sequels."

Prine (1192K)

Prine & Band at Chastain Park (Photo by Shanny)

After a few more songs, Mr. Prine was solo. The stage fits him well. With a craftsman's touch, Angel from Montgomery was received like an old friend. Another introduction to the eternal couple Donald and Lydia was followed by the good natured advice of Dear Abbey.

The band rejoined Mr. Prine on stage for several more well-received tunes by the audience of approximately 4,000. The song I had come to see had yet to be played, but the encore remained. As the band returned, they were accompanied by Larry Campbell carrying a mandolin and John Prine's brother, Billy, toting an acoustic. Low and behold, they began playing Paradise. The interplay between the Prine brothers, obviously happy to be sharing a stage, as Larry Campbell picked out a lead as timeless as the song itself was inspiring. The crowd was transported back to Ol' Kentucky and a simpler time that no longer exists due "to the progress of Man", known as coal mining. It was a truly heart rendering version.

The message of Paradise struck a chord in me years ago that never left. The poignancy of how the treatment of the land affects so many lives for good or bad. How the few can control the resources we all depend on. Funny, how a 38 year old song can change one's outlook of the world. But that's what good music does. John Prine is good music.