Sydney Festival: Emmylou Harris and the Red Dirt Boys

Country legend Emmylou Harris , and her band the Red Dirt Boys, played a free concert for the Sydney Festival First Night on the weekend, but I caught her paying gig at the State Theatre last night.

Support was from Australian country-folk singer Vikki Thorn, normally one half of sister duo The Waifs, but on her own here. She was pleasant enough, but really came alive on one or two songs.

Harris is an iconic figure, with her long white hair. She’s a grandma in her sixties now, but she can still sing a sweet, sad tune. Most of those songs may have been written by other people, but she delivers them all like they were her own. She brought out the Gillian Welch-penned “Orphan Girl” early, and – good news for the Dylanophile – she played “Every Grain of Sand”.

A few gospel songs found their way in because “It’s still Sunday in Nashville” (not strictly accurate at the time, I think, but it got a laugh). And theMcGarrigle sisters were definitely there in spirit, whether through the songs they penned with Harris, or her words about them, but especially through the unveiled-for-the-first-time song she wrote about Kate, who passed away last year.

Sweet, sad tunes.