June 21, 2016
On a late November night in 2014, Americana quartet The Accomplices were among the artists from across Savannah who gathered at the city’s revered Lucas Theatre for a musical tribute to The Band. Energized from the experience and wanting to organize their own similar show, the opportunity arose a little over a year later in conjunction with the opening of the new Tybee Post Theater — and guitarist and vocalist Matt Eckstine knew just the person he and his bandmates would honor.
“Personally, John Prine’s music is probably my greatest influence on the songwriter that I’ve become, and The Accomplices, too,” Eckstine said. “We’ve always played a lot of his songs just for fun, so it just seemed like the natural thing to do.”
Kicking off his band’s summer tour in grand “Last Waltz”-like fashion, Eckstine revives the Prine tribute June 23 at Charlotte’s Evening Muse and brings a different lineup to The Altamont Theatre on June 24.
In forming the Asheville setlist, Eckstine had a handful of priority songs — including “Sam Stone,” “Spanish Pipedream” and “Angel from Montgomery” — that he says audiences would be disappointed not to hear at a Prine show. Leaving these hits for local friends Underhill Rose and the other artists on the bill to claim, he also let his collaborators nominate five of their personal favorites and was pleasantly surprised with the results.
“I actually then went and listened to these songs because I was like, ‘I don’t know their songs,’” Eckstine said. “It’s going to be a special part of the night. I’m learning new stuff and everybody’s choices are really unique.”
Joined by Savannah pedal steel guitarist Igor Fiksman, The Accomplices will open the show with six songs before ceding the stage to Atlanta folk duo City Mouse. Jason Bible of the Savannah alt-country group The Train Wrecks also lends his vocals and, in a nod to Prine, will occasionally step away from his band for solo songs and storytelling. A few condenser mics will be on the side of the stage for artists to perform individually.
“It adds to that dynamic of the intimacy of the listening room,” Eckstine said. “I think that’s my favorite part of the show. It keeps the flow moving, so it’s not just the same band and the same people the whole show.”
After an intermission, Underhill Rose get its chance to shine, followed by a few more numbers by The Accomplices and everyone coming out for a big finale encore of “Paradise,” where the lead singer from each group will sing a verse.
Contrary to the belief that tributes should generally occur when a band is no longer playing, Eckstine sees significant value in sharing one’s appreciation while a musical hero remains active — and the man who inspired the Altamont show seems to agree.
As a courtesy, Eckstine wrote to Prine’s management informing them of the show, and though they didn’t reply, Prine himself gave his blessing via an autographed photo and two words: “Thank you.”
IF YOU GO
What: A Tribute to John Prine.
When: 8 p.m. June 24.
Where: The Altamont Theatre, 18 Church St., Asheville.
Tickets: $17 advance, $20 day of show.