Kris Kristofferson showed again why he’s a true Hall of Famer. The grizzled singer-songwriter performed 34 of his original songs in a two-hour-plus concert at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Ford Theater in Nashville Tuesday (Aug. 14). Then he told Hall officials that the second sold-out show of his two-concert series the next evening would feature a completely different set of his songs. And he’s one of the few with the repertoire to be able to do that.
As this year’s artist-in-residence at the Hall, Kristofferson also demonstrated why that feature of the institution has become country music’s most prestigious musical showcase and usually Nashville’s hottest concert ticket every year. The approximately 250-seat theater is a good setting for an intimate show with an acoustic artist. The series began in 2003 with Cowboy Jack Clement and has since featured Earl Scruggs, Tom T. Hall and Guy Clark. Clement was in the theater Tuesday evening to honor Kristofferson, along with other artists including Charlie Louvin, John Rich and Big Kenny Alphin. Scruggs and others are scheduled to attend Wednesday’s show.
Performers in the artist-in-residence series are given complete freedom to do whatever they please. Kristofferson was the first to perform completely alone, without any guest artists. It was just him and his acoustic guitar and a spotlight. A high pressure situation for any artist.
Kristofferson handled it gracefully and with his customary understated musical force. Dressed in long-sleeved black shirt, black trousers and boots, he held the crowd enthralled throughout the evening. He tossed in occasional asides about the songs and in effect conjured up the traditional coffeehouse atmosphere of a folksinger performing before a rapt audience in a small setting. He talked about the letter he received from his mother that in effect told him that his leaving the Army to be a songwriter bum in Nashville had shamed the family — and then he described how Clement had taken that letter to Johnny Cash, which resulted in Kristofferson meeting Cash for the first time. And he conjured up memories of the songwriters’ Nashville of the ’60s, of writers such as Mickey Newbury and the old joints like the Tallyho Tavern and the Professionals Club and Linebaugh’s.
Beginning with his traditional show opener, “Shipwrecked in the Eighties,” he moved easily through his best-known compositions such as “Lovin’ Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)” and “For the Good Times,” while reminding the listeners of the beauty and wit of such songs as “Sky King” and “Final Attraction.” Occasional lyric references to ending the war and to official lies drew fervent applause.
The biggest ovation for a single song was, not surprisingly, for “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.” At the end of the evening he was brought back for a three-song encore, concluding with “Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends.”
“Shipwrecked in the Eighties”
“Me and Bobby McGee”
“Broken Freedom Song”
“Best of All Possible Worlds”
“In the News”
“Here Comes That Rainbow”
“Help Me Make It Through the Night”
“Casey’s Last Ride”
“From Here to Forever”
“Lovin’ Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)”
“Shandy (The Perfect Disguise)”
“Just the Other Side of Nowhere”
“New Mr. Me”
“Jody & the Kid”
“The Pilgrim: Chapter 33”
“To Beat the Devil”
“The Last Thing to Go”
“Chase the Feeling”
“This Old Road”
“The Final Attraction”
“Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down”
“The Silver-Tongued Devil and I”
“For the Good Times”
“Moment of Forever”
“Don’t Let the Bastards Get You Down”
“Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends”