- The Washington Times - Monday, August 30, 2004

Everything old is new again, the saying goes, and old songwriters who made their mark protesting Vietnam are finding new currency in their greatest hits from the ‘70s.

Witness Kris Kristofferson, Air Force brat, Rhodes scholar, helicopter pilot, movie star, songwriter. Mr. Kristofferson is briefly touring (six appearances within as many weeks), and opened Friday night at Wolf Trap for fellow ‘70s songwriting icon John Prine. He followed that with an appearance Saturday at the Philadelphia Folk Festival, and he has two September dates scheduled for the Midwest.

Both men had songs famously covered by women. Mr. Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” was a signature and breakaway hit for Bonnie Raitt. Mr. Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” became a musical memorial for Janis Joplin, although Roger Miller took the song, co-written by Mr. Kristofferson and Fred Foster, into the Top 20 on the country charts in 1969.

Mr. Kristofferson and Mr. Prine are probably best known, however, for their biting social commentary. Mr. Prine drew cheers from a full house at the Filene Center when he introduced “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore,” saying he was performing the tune “by special request of our president.

“It seems he was getting nostalgic for his draft-dodging days,” Mr. Prine added, as many in the crowd rose to their feet and applauded.

More political barbs followed. Later in the program, Mr. Prine sang a new song, “Some Humans Ain’t Human,” written just 10 days earlier, which includes the lyrics “some [jerk] from Texas starts his own war in Iraq.” As with “Decal,” the line drew cheers and Mr. Prine said he planned to record it this week for a new CD expected early next year (Fortunately, for him, there was no mass exodus of patrons like the one that befell Linda Ronstadt in Las Vegas recently when she dedicated “Desperado” to “Fahrenheit 9/11” filmmaker Michael Moore).

Aside from that new entry, though, Mr. Prine’s show was virtually the same one he gave April 1 at the District’s Warner Theatre — right down to the song order and patter between the tunes. This time he brought out singer Maura O’Connell as a surprise guest, trading verses with her on “Angel From Montgomery.”

Similarly, Mr. Kristofferson’s opening set remained true to his dark themes of the past 35 years.

Accompanied only by himself fingerpicking a brown sunburst Gibson guitar and occasionally playing a racked harmonica, Mr. Kristofferson, 68, ran through 15 songs in 51 minutes.

Six of the tunes came from his 1970 eponymous first LP: “Darby’s Castle,” “Best of All Possible Worlds” and “Casey’s Last Ride,” along with several other standards that he wrote, including “Me and Bobby McGee,” “Help Me Make it Through the Night,” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down” — 1970’s country music song of the year for the late Johnny Cash.

Mr. Kristofferson (who will be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame during “The 38th Annual CMA Awards” airing Nov. 9 on CBS) ended just about every song by saying “thank you,” through the microphone just before playing the final chords, failing to let the spell he was weaving with his words fully settle into his listeners.

Although he seemed to be enjoying himself, his performance lacked any visible energy — and the drone of Mr. Prine’s fans socializing on the lawn didn’t help.

About halfway through his program, Mr. Kristofferson introduced “The Circle,” one of two new compositions he performed from his album, “Broken Freedom Song: Live in San Francisco.” The song was recorded in 2002 and issued on Mr. Prine’s “Oh Boy” label.

He said “The Circle” was inspired by the U.S. bombing of Baghdad by President Clinton which killed Iraqi artist Layla al-Attar. It ended with the lyrics repeating, “I want nothing but the end of the war,” a refrain that drew some cheers and one loud “boo” from the upper loge seats.

Settling into his anti-war theme, Mr. Kristofferson sang “Anthem ‘84,” one of three songs he performed from his 1986 “Repossessed” album, an allegorical anti-war song written “as a love song from a soldier to an old girlfriend,” he said.

Mr. Kristofferson concluded his performance with “The Silver Tongued Devil and I,” the title of his 1971 album, and a selection from his 1990 LP, “Third World Warrior.”

At the end of the night, Mr. Prine called him back to the stage to sing along on “The Great Compromise,” Mr. Prine’s Vietnam-era allegory, and “Paradise,” perhaps Mr. Prine’s most-covered song.

For raspy songwriters not known for their singing prowess, the two traded verses and harmonized surprisingly well on the choruses.

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