Poetic and prophetic, Kristofferson captivates sold-out crowd

http://www.tennessean.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070815/ENTERTAINMENT0106/708150461

Review

Kris Kristofferson is hardly a crooner, and he barely knows his way around a handful of chords on the guitar. And yet as his intimate, sold-out show at the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Ford Theater on Tuesday confirmed, the man who did more than anyone to bring country songwriting into the modern era sure can hollow the marrow out of the human desire for intimacy and connection.

From “Help Me Make It Through the Night” to “For the Good Times” to “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” he sang all of the songs that made him famous, plus more than a dozen recent ruminations on family, both nuclear and global, during his 2½-hour performance Tuesday night.

Rail thin and dressed head-to-toe in black like his hero Johnny Cash, the Country Music Hall of Famer, now 71, seemed smaller and frailer than the hunky star of such Hollywood movies as Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and A Star Is Born. Accompanying himself on harmonica and one of two Gibson guitars, however, his moral authority and stature as country’s poet laureate of the second half of the 20th century remained unassailable.

“Did you know that here in the ‘Land of the Free’ we’ve got more people behind bars than anywhere on the planet,” he asked during an ad-libbed portion of “The Best of All Possible Worlds,” an otherwise riotous paean to an early, inebriated encounter with Metro’s finest.

Later, in the chorus of “Pilgrim’s Progress,” his voice craggier than ever, he sang, “Am I young enough to believe in revolution / Am I strong enough to get down on my knees and pray?”

Humor, not just faith and politics, was in abundance all evening. After relating the story of his first night in Nashville, an evening of “roaring” with Cowboy Jack Clement, one of the many luminaries in the audience on Tuesday, Kristofferson drank deeply of his bottle of Powerade. “This is one of those nights when you wanna be good so bad,” he winced, as if he wished he’d taken a big pull of whiskey, before launching into an emotional rendition of “Me and Bobby McGee.”

Then, after blowing a sour note in another song, he gibed, “I’ve got the wrong harmonica. If I was Roger Miller, I’d think of a real clever scat to go out on, but I’m not, so I’ll just quit right here.”

Kristofferson’s yarns, which invoked everyone from Mel Tillis and Mickey Newbury to John Prine and Johnny Cash, would have been worth the price of admission alone. The same might be said of his generosity of spirit, especially when an audience member helped him with a forgotten lyric, as well as his sense of the moment.

After receiving a standing ovation — one of a half-dozen or so that greeted him throughout the evening — a visibly moved Kristofferson clutched his heart and said, “I’ll carry that one with me. Thank you.”

Echoing this sentiment at end of his three-song encore, even more choked up, he added, “Thank you for your spirit. … I’ll never forget this — ever.”

Nor will any of us who were lucky enough to have witnessed his big-hearted outpouring on Tuesday night.

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