John Prine became only the second artist to receive the BMI Troubadour Award during an intimate dinner and ceremony Monday night at the music-rights management company’s headquarters in Nashville. An unofficial kickoff to AmericanaFest week, the event assembled some of the leading figures in the genre who count the folksinger-songwriter as a hero.
Following a speech that was expertly framed around Prine’s direct lyricism from Peter Cooper, senior director of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, songwriter Brandy Clark took the stage as the first of the night’s performers, offering a reading of Prine’s 1986 ballad “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness.”
Gillian Welch and David Rawlings followed, delivering a rendition of “It’s a Big Old Goofy World” as Prine looked on. While Welch likened it to “driving someone else’s car with them in the passenger seat,” having the guest of honor at the table directly in front of the stage didn’t deter them from adding their own original verse to the song, poking fun at the “goofy stuff between [Prine’s] ears.”
“I didn’t write any extra verses,” said Brandi Carlile, appearing after Welch and Rawlings to sing Prine’s oft-covered “Angel From Montgomery.” “But I’m still honored to join the chorus of people who have sung this amazing song.” That list notably includes Bonnie Raitt, who cut a signature version of the tune in 1974 and offered her congratulations via a video message.
Kacey Musgraves brought her full band — “the Kacey Musgraves Orchestra,” quipped the ceremony’s host Jody Williams, BMI’s vice-president of creative in Nashville — to re-create “I Just Want to Dance With You,” a song that George Strait turned into a Number One country hit in 1998. Musgraves recalled how she struck up a friendship with “John ‘Motherfucking’ Prine” after asking if she could “burn one” with him at the Station Inn 10 years ago.
The evening concluded with Robert Earl Keen — the inaugural recipient of the Troubadour Award — performing “Hello in There,” off Prine’s 1971 self-titled debut. “I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know one of your songs,” he said, going on to present Prine with the Troubadour honor: a silver cup and a custom Martin guitar.
Prine is a central figure to this week’s Americana Music Festival and Conference in Nashville, where he’s nominated for Artist of the Year at Wednesday night’s Americana Honors and Awards.