Artist-in-Residence: Vince Gill

February 17, 2009
Vince Gill’s only plan going into his second performance as the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s artist-in-residence was to offer up a different batch of songs from his previous show.

“One of the good things about being old is you’ve got a lot of songs,” said Gill.  “A lot of young rich kids can only play you about three songs and that’s it.”

In one of three sold-out artist-in-residence performances in the museum’s Ford Theater, Gill once again juxtaposed stirring performances with personal ruminations and witty storytelling. The evening also included guest appearances by old friends and past collaborators. Seated alone onstage, surrounded by vintage acoustic guitars, Gill reveled in the intimate setting and spoke honestly about the evening’s spontaneity.   

“That’s the way I’ve operated most of my life … I never know what the hell I’m going to do. It makes it more fun. Everything’s always a surprise.” 

Gill’s warm voice and rich, acoustic picking rang crisp and clear throughout the 213-seat theater, the impeccable sound courtesy of long-time engineer Hugh Johnson. A friend counseled Gill twenty years ago that Johnson would serve him well: “Chain him to your leg.” Johnson had lost his father just days before this performance, so Gill dedicated the set opener, “The Key to Life,” to Johnson. Gill wrote the song originally as a memorial to his own father.

During the more than two-hour set, audience members occasionally shouted requests and interacted with Gill. The lively, informal evening included both a bucketful of deep cuts and several newer compositions, among them “Lucky Diamond Motel,” “Heaven,” and “Forever Changed.”  

Said Gill about his songs, “Some of them are the truth, some are autobiographical, and some are big fat lies. It’s fun to watch y’all try and figure it out.”

Gill’s amiable and magnetic personality captivated the standing-room-only audience, who seemed delighted to hear the Country Music Hall of Fame member tell jokes and give insight into his songwriting.  During an impromptu question-and-answer session, Gill elaborated on his guitar collection, which boasts more than a hundred pieces; his golf handicap and collection of clubs; and his hatred of TV commercials for erectile dysfunction, which he said seem to air exclusively during golf tournaments or when he watches with his daughters.

Dobro specialist Jerry Douglas, the museum’s 2008 artist-in-residence and Gill’s long-time friend, was in attendance. After a fun, sarcastic exchange between the two, Gill expressed his admiration for Douglas as “one of the finest musicians to ever walk this earth.”

In fact, Gill showered many of his musical friends in attendance with praise, including legendary songwriter, singer, and Texas cult hero Guy Clark. Clark held the same stage for an artist-in-residence stint in 2006 and is one of Gill’s primary songwriting influences.

“I love the way Guy Clark writes songs, because you see every picture with every line he writes—you see the words,” said Gill as he invited Clark onstage.

Clark was excited to perform two brand-new songs, “Some Days the Song Writes You” and “Hemingway’s Whiskey,” with Gill softly humming along and providing backing guitar.

Clark lobbed kind words right back at Gill. “I think the world is a better place with Vince being in it,” he said matter-of-factly. “That’s just all I have to say about that.”

Songwriter, singer, and Texas native Gary Nicholson also joined Gill onstage for a pair of songs. Nicholson has co-written songs with Gill and Clark, both. One of the biggest laughs of the night came as Nicholson played the opening guitar intro to “A Better Word for Love,” which sounded eerily similar to a certain guitar figure made popular by the Animals in 1964. Without missing a beat, Gill exclaimed, “I didn’t know you wrote ‘House of the Rising Sun’!  I had no idea!” 

Gill closed the show on a heartfelt note, explaining why the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is so near and dear to his heart. He serves as president of the museum’s Board of Officers and Trustees.

“This place really, really matters,” he said. “Everybody gets caught up in what’s hot right now or what’s popular. That’s the beauty of this place: it houses all of that—every note of it.  It’s the most important thing to me.”

Gill’s final song, “What You Give Away,” reflected the generous spirit that prompts many of his close friends to call him “Benefit.” It perfectly capped an evening of give-and-take with audience members. Gill sang, “No matter what you make, all that you take is what you give away.”

Each year, the artist-in-residence series begins as a blank slate, and the chosen artist is encouraged to paint their own musical masterpiece.  Vince Gill’s painting, although not yet complete, balances a deep well of enduring songs with an open, honest and instinctive delivery.  The beauty lies in what comes next, something that even Gill himself seems eager to find out. 

--Jeremy Rush          

Set list:

 

  1. The Key to Life
  2. Some Things Never Get Old
  3. Young Man’s Town
  4. Jenny Dreamed of Trains
  5. Whenever You Come Around
  6. Lucky Diamond Motel
  7. Some Days the Song Writes You (Guy Clark)
  8. Hemingway’s Whiskey (Guy Clark)
  9. A Better Word for Love (Gary Nicholson)
  10. Bag of Bones (Gary Nicholson)
  11. Heaven
  12. Sweet Thing
  13. Whippoorwill River
  14. Little Brother
  15. Rocky Top
  16. Forever Changed
  17. This Old Guitar and Me

Encore

    18.  Till I Gain Control Again
    19.  What You Give Away