A two-beer toast to Emmylou and the zoo
By TOM TYNER
Bainbridge Island Review Columnist
August 12, 2008 · Updated 3:24 PM
I turned 53 recently, and as part of my weeklong birthday celebration, the woman whose husband I am and I and half a dozen friends all went to the Woodland Park Zoo to see Emmylou Harris in concert.
As concert venues go, it’s hard to beat ZooTunes. You sit outdoors on beach chairs, you can bring in ice chests and blankets, the sound is terrific, the show starts early and ends in time to make the 9:45 boat home, assuming you view posted speed limits as suggestions rather than absolute limits. Who could ask for anything more? Oh, and did I mention that there is a beer garden?
The zoo’s beer garden is just off to the side of the stage, so you can see and hear the performers while you leisurely finish your adult malted beverage. The beer garden at ZooTunes is truly a garden, with a large white tent set amidst colorful and exotic plants such as flowers and leafy green things.
It should be noted that at the ZooTunes beer garden people have conveniently separated the pouring function from the ordering and taking your money functions of the operation, so you hand over your money to one person, step to one side and pick up your readily accessible, pre-poured, cold beverage. It’s a simple and efficient concept, but one that’s more honored in the breach than in practice at most lesser venues. To top things off, the beer at ZooTunes is reasonably priced, by which I mean it costs half of what a beer costs at Safeco Field. With that equation in mind, and using what I’m sure you’ll agree is impeccable beer garden logic, I had two.
The concert itself was even better than the beer garden. I’ve been a huge Emmylou Harris fan since the mid-1970s. If you’re a fan as well, then you already know that Emmylou’s big musical break occurred in 1973 when former Byrd and Flying Burrito Brother Chris Hillman introduced her to Gram Parsons, who was at the time looking for a “girl singer” to tour with his band, The Fallen Angels. He was one of the first musicians to blend country music with rock and roll. Emmylou toured with Gram and cut a couple of albums with him.
Their second album, “Grievous Angel,” was released posthumously after Parson’s tragic early death by overdose at Joshua Tree National Park. Harris, shaken by Parson’s death, set out on a solo career, a career that has now produced some 30 albums and numerous Grammys and other awards. Harris wrote a song for Parsons called “Boulder to Birmingham,” which appeared on her seminal “Luxury Liner” album:
I would rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham
I would hold my life in his saving grace
I would walk all the way from Boulder to Birmingham
If I thought I could see, I could see your face
I can’t tell you how many times I listened to Emmylou’s early albums. I’m surprised I didn’t wear out the vinyl with the needle on my turntable. In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably also admit I spent about the same amount of time staring at her picture on the album covers as I did listening to the music.
(If you are reading this but don’t know what vinyl and needles have to do with playing music or what a turntable is, then I suspect that you are still somewhat shy of your 53rd birthday.)
Toward the end of the evening, Emmylou played a song she co-wrote with Daniel Lanois from her 2003 “Stumble Into Grace” album called “I Am Lost Unto This World.” For me at least, it was one of those moments when music achieves a sort of transcendence, when it become more than just the sum total of the various instruments intermixed with human voices and becomes something more, something that speaks to us in a deeply mysterious and powerful way.
Sort of like walking into the beer garden and finding no one in line ahead of you, only better.
I recommend the song to you, just as I recommend you get yourself out to the Woodland Park Zoo before the end of the current concert season. And if you happen to make your way to the beer garden, and you happen to mention my name, I guarantee they’ll promptly serve you a cold beer at full price. Tell them Emmylou sent you.
Islander Tom Tyner is an attorney
for the Trust for Public Land. He is author
of “Skeletons From Our Closet,”
a collection of writings on the island’s latte scene.