One-of-a-Kind Collaborations Highlight Kris Kristofferson Tribute [PICTURES]
The stars were out in droves on Wednesday night (March 16) to pay tribute to country music icon Kris Kristofferson. The Life & Songs of Kris Kristofferson, held at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena, featured more than a dozen artists, including Willie Nelson, Reba McEntire, Lady Antebellum, Emmylou Harris and Eric Church, honoring the singer by performing some of his biggest hits.
"Whatever 'it' is, Kris has a triple scoop," actor W. Earl Brown, who starred in the 2010 film Bloodworth with Kristofferson and hosted the event, said. "He’s a singer-songwriter who infused American music with a style of storytelling and true-life poetry that was as gritty as it was graceful."
Jessi Alexander and Jon Randall kicked off the music by performing a song she wrote on her Down Home album, called "Kristofferson," with Larry Gatlin joining them on harmony. Jack Ingram was next; he sang "Jesus Was a Capricorn" and quipped, "I'm going to send this out to my mother, who wishes I was Kris' son."
Jessi Colter, wife of the late Waylon Jennings, sang "The Captive." She admitted beforehand that singing the song live made her a bit nervous, "only because I know the song, the way he strings the words together, I'm in awe."
"He's a literary artist. That's what he is," Colter tells The Boot. "If the songs were written with no music, they would stand."
Whatever 'it' is, Kris has a triple scoop.
Buddy Miller, who played in the house band throughout The Life & Songs of Kris Kristofferson, took a solo turn on "Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends;" he called the experience of singing in honor to Kristofferson "terrifying." Martina McBride then performed "Here Comes That Rainbow Again."
"You are a perfect combination of brawn and brains. That’s what I would say, which makes you not only a great musician, songwriter, poet, but an actor," boasted Barbra Streisand, who starred with Kristofferson in the 1976 film A Star Is Born, in a video message. "I want to thank you for being there, through my life, as I’ve called on you, needed you, and you were always there for me, through the years. Have a wonderful evening, and feel all the love that’s coming at you."
Following Streisand's virtual appearance, Ryan Bingham and Lee Ann Womack then sang "The Taker" and "Nobody Wins," respectively, while Jennifer Nettles earned the first standing ovation of the night with her rendition of "It's All Worth Nothing Alone."
"When I was a young songwriter, 16, 17, 18 years old, I thought, ‘That’s what I should aim for, to be that good.’ The playing field was totally different when Kris came on the scene," Rosanne Cash, who has known Kristofferson since she was a kid and performed "Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again)," told The Boot prior to the show. "And he’s been an inspiration since Day One -- not just his writing, but his life."
Following Cash, Rodney Crowell and Harris took the stage for "Chase the Feeling," before Kristofferson joined Harris onstage to sing "The Pilgrim."
"He’s such a real person," Harris notes. "I’m just inspired by his writing, his singing of the songs that other people have done. And then when you meet him and you realize he’s so real and so gentle, and this wonderful art can spring from this man who’s not weird or troubled or angry. That he’s truly, in the South we say, someone is as real as dirt. But he also happens to be a Rhodes Scholar."
He’s truly, in the South we say, someone is as real as dirt.
Before intermission, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry declared March 16, 2016, Kris Kristofferson Day in the city. Following the break, Dierks Bentley sang a bluegrass version of "From the Bottle to the Bottom," joined by the Travelin' McCourys, and actor Ethan Hawke honored Kristofferson with chorus of "Just the Other Side of Nowhere," performed with one of his daughters in a video presentation.
Lady Antebellum reunited to sing "Help Me Make It Through the Night," and Darius Rucker played "Under the Gun." For Rucker, the chance to perform was an opportunity to honor the man who helped instill his love of music when he was only a child.
"It started with Al Green and “[For the] Good Times," because that’s my favorite Al Green song ever. It's a song of his I've done since I was six," Rucker said. "Then, the day I found out Kris Kristofferson wrote it … it’s my favorite song of all time. His music has been influencing me since I was six, since I was little bitty."
Jamey Johnson performed "For the Good Times" with Alison Krauss, and then stayed onstage to play guitar while Krauss sang "Casey's Last Ride." Hank Williams Jr. kept the crowd on their feet as he, appropriately, played "If You Don't Like Hank Williams," but Church's performance of "To Beat the Devil" -- which the country star noted was "written about Johnny Cash in his darkest days" -- earned a standing ovation.
"I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for this song," Church told the audience, explaining that it inspired him during one of the darkest times of his life. "I’m having a hell of a hard enough time with him sitting right there while I play."
McEntire got to share the mic with Kristofferson for "Me and Bobby McGee," and Nelson and Kristofferson gave an unforgettable performance of "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down." Nelson also played "Living Legend" solo -- but perhaps the biggest treat of Nelson's time onstage was watching him, Kristofferson, Shooter Jennings and Johnson sing "Highwayman."
The evening concluded with all of the artists who performed during the show returning to stage to sing "Why Me," a song that Brown called one of the most "spiritually soaring creations" and invited the audience to "sing it so the Lord can hear it."
The Life & Songs of Kris Kristofferson will air on TV later this fall. Details will be announced at a later date.
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