Emmylou Harris took up guitar as a teenager, inspired by the folk music of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins and Peter, Paul & Mary. In 1972 she met country-rocker Gram Parsons, who brought her to Los Angeles to become his duet partner. Harris emerged as a solo artist in 1975 with Pieces of the Sky—the first in a series of eight consecutive gold or platinum records. After Elite Hotel, Luxury Liner Quarter Moon in a Ten-Cent Town and Blue Kentucky Girl, she released her bluegrass homage, Roses in Snow—establishing Harris as a figure in the neo-traditionalist wave of the early 1980s. In 1987 Harris released her wildly successful Trio album with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt. She has also recorded with such diverse artists as Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Garth Brooks, John Denver, Roy Orbison and George Jones. In the 1990s she took on an important role in the Americana movement that gave country music its “alternative” wing. She re-invented her sound with the acoustic band The Nash Ramblers and won a Grammy Award for Live at the Ryman. Another Grammy came four years later for Wrecking Ball, after which she issued a live album, won her ninth Grammy for her Trio II reunion with Parton and Ronstadt, produced a Gram Parsons tribute album and issued her Ronstadt collaboration album Western Wall. Since then she has released Red Dirt Girl, Stumble into Grace and, most recently, All I Intended To Be, which features guest appearances by Dolly Parton, Vince Gill and the McGarrigle Sisters. This is Emmylou Harris’s fifth season at Ravinia, where she first performed in 1980.
This Maine native, the youngest of seven siblings, was introduced to music by listening to her mother sing hymns and country songs. After writing songs and poems as a teenager, Griffin moved to the Boston area, where she waited tables and worked as a telephone switchboard operator. It wasn’t until her guitar teacher coaxed her into joining him on stage in a tiny Cambridge club that Griffin mustered up the courage to perform in public. A set of unadorned acoustic demo recordings landed her a contract with A&M Records, which released her critically acclaimed debut album Living with Ghosts in 1996. Her sophomore effort, Flaming Red, took a radically different approach, but after an album she recorded in 2000 went unreleased due to corporate shuffles, Griffin signed with Dave Matthews’s new label ATO Records. She reverted to a mostly acoustic approach for her 2002 album 1,000 Kisses, which earned a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Folk Album and was followed in 2003 by the live CD/DVD set A Kiss In Time; and her 2004 effort, Impossible Dream, earned a second Grammy nomination. As her critical acclaim and audience grew, so did the interest of other artists in her songs, which have been covered by Martina McBride, Bette Midler, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Reba McEntire and Maura O’Connell. In 2005 filmmaker Cameron Crowe invited her to appear in his 2005 feature Elizabethtown. Her most recent album, Children Running Through, echoes a variety of styles, including classic R&B and gospel. “Some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard is when you catch somebody singing to themselves,” says Griffin. “I wanted to make music that had that feeling.” Tonight marks Patty Griffin’s Ravinia Festival debut.
Born in South Dakota and raised in Carbondale, Illinois, Shawn Colvin first found her voice in straight-up rock. A period of western swing in Austin preceded a move east to Boston and New York, where she backed up acts like Buddy Miller and Suzanne Vega and sang in Off-Broadway shows. It was in New York City that she met her producer and co-writer John Leventhal in 1981. Her 1989 debut disc, Steady On, won a Grammy in the Best Contemporary Folk category, and was followed by Fat City (with Larry Klein) and Cover Girl (with Steuart Smith). In 1997 she reunited with Leventhal for the album A Few Small Repairs, which yielded the top-10 single “Sunny Came Home.” After “Sunny” earned Grammys as both Song of the Year and Record of the Year in 1998, Colvin put her career briefly on hold to start a family. Her temporary loss of marketplace visibility was compensated for with valuable life lessons that found their way onto her album These Four Walls, her first album for Nonesuch. Colvin, now based in Austin, and Leventhal, still a New Yorker, co-wrote all but one of the 11 original songs on These Four Walls, while Colvin alone penned “I’m Gone.” The album ranges from bluesy chord progressions to driving, country-rock riffs to jangly, late-’60s-style guitar rock. “I’ve been doing this a long time,” she says while reflecting on These Four Walls, “and it’s great to feel like I’m doing my best work now.” Her television credits include roles on The Larry Sanders Show, Suddenly Susan and The Simpsons. This is her fifth appearance at Ravinia Festival, where she first performed in 1995.
Buddy Miller is a master of many disciplines. Records by artists ranging from Lucinda Williams to Trisha Yearwood have benefited from Buddy’s vocal and instrumental prowess. His songs have been covered by hitmakers like Lee Ann Womack, Brooks & Dunn and the Dixie Chicks; he has contributed his talents as producer and engineer for Emmylou Harris, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Jim Lauderdale; and he has a nice sideline mastering records. His own albums have created a niche in American music all his own: With Your Love and Other Lies (1995), Poison Love (1997), Cruel Moon (1999), the co-billed Buddy and Julie Miller (2001, Grammy nominee for Best Contemporary Folk Album), and Midnight and Lonesome (2002). Over nine years, the cast of players on Buddy’s records has remained relatively stable—Phil Madeira’s accordion, Tammy Rogers’s fiddle, Brady Blade’s and Bryan Owings’s drumming—and the ambience of his home studio and favored machinery (Wandre electric guitar, Vox AC30 amp, deep tremolo) has become instantly recognizable. His latest album, Universal United House of Prayer, finds Buddy Miller’s feet planted firmly in the territory that the roots-country musician staked out over the course of his five previous records, effortlessly blending a dozen American styles and idioms as he evokes the mongrel force that breathed life into America’s best mid-century pop and folk music. The album is a song cycle, and its theme is the soul. But in its engagement with social concerns, this record bears no resemblance to the music currently marketed to Christians. “I like the way those Marvin Gaye and Staples records were sort of gospel records,” Buddy says, “and sort of about the state of the world.” Tonight marks Buddy Miller’s Ravinia Festival debut.