Guy Clark’s Life and Music Celebrated at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium

Lyle Lovett, Emmylou Harris, Robert Earl Keen, Vince Gill, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle Among Those Paying Tribute

On an evening when Guy Clark’s life and music were being celebrated at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, Vince Gill offered a particularly insightful observation:

“I told my friend Rodney Crowell backstage, ’Can you imagine a three-hour show with no shitty songs?'”

Clark, who died in May at age 74, would have probably been amused by Gill’s comment — if not the mere concept that so many fellow singer-songwriters gathered Tuesday night (Aug. 16) at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium to pay tribute to him. But the other truth is that every person onstage and in the audience had somehow been affected, directly or indirectly, by Clark’s words, melodies and performances.

The Texas native’s initial national recognition came after Jerry Jeff Walker recorded two songs for his self-titled album released in 1972. Appropriately, Walker opened Tuesday’s show with “That Old Time Feeling” and another song that Clark had first told him was titled “Pack Up All Your Dishes.” The title was eventually changed to “L.A. Freeway” and became a signature song for both Walker and Clark.

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Other highlights of the night included collaborations by Jack Ingram and Steve Earle’s (“Desperados Waiting for a Train”), Ricky Skaggs and the Whites (“Heartbroke”),” Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen (“Texas 1947″), Lovett and Emmylou Harris (Anyway, I Love You”), Chris and Morgane Stapleton (“Hell Bent on a Heartache”), Gillian Welch and David Rawlings (“Dublin Blues”), Crowell and Gill (“Stuff That Works”).

The concert also featured performances by Joe Ely, Bobby Bare, Shawn Camp, Verlon Thompson, Terry Allen, Sam Bush, Angaleena Presley and Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam.

The legendary Ramblin’ Jack Elliott was the only one to perform a song that Clark didn’t write, opting for “Old Shep,” a Red Foley hit from the ’40s that Elvis Presley later recorded. Elliott said he chose to perform the song because Clark once told him he liked his version.

“That’s the saddest song I’ve ever heard,” Gill noted. “It don’t get any sadder than shooting your own damn dog.”

At the end of the night, a large cast of native Texans — including Delbert McClinton, Radney Foster, Lee Roy Parnell and Gary Nicholson — joined the other performers onstage for a finale of “Texas Cookin'” and “Old Friends.”

Vince Gill and Rodney Crowell

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Emmylou Harris and Lyle Lovett

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Ricky Skaggs and the Whites

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Steve Earle

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Robert Earl Keen

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Morgane Stapleton, Bobby Bare and Chris Stapleton

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Calvin Gilbert has served as’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.