Blame it on TRIO

Liz McKay, curator of the art for Trio 2020, presents Marianne Huebner’s paintings with help from Mark Bumgarner, Michael Robertson, and Jim Hamilton.

If a writer’s lucky, a book takes on a life of its own out in the world. Four years after its original publication and two years after the paperback version hit the streets, John Prine: In Spite of Himself continues to take me to unexpected places. One of them was my ancestral homeland: Spartanburg, South Carolina. (My mother’s family was from nearby Anderson.) I headed down I-85 from Greensboro recently to attend my first trade show by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) and talk about the book.

But this was no ordinary reading: It was a gathering of phenomenal talent brought together by Shari Smith of Working Title Farm in Boone, North Carolina. She began her TRIO project in 2015, and invited me to participate for its final year in 2020. Here’s how Shari describes TRIO: “One book is given to both a songwriter and a visual artist. They write a song and create a work of art inspired by the book they read fulfilling their TRIO. Each TRIO will travel to museums, galleries, and literary events throughout the following year.”

The TRIO 2020 launch at SIBA showcased those books, songs, and pieces of art, with the audience treated to performances by the likes of Rod Picott, Kay and Patrick Crouch (new friends I met through Shari), and John Jorgensen. John’s a legendary guitarist and multi-instrumentalist who has toured or recorded with everyone from Johnny Cash to Luciano Pavarotti. He also happened to play on one of Prine’s best albums, The Missing Years. Radney Foster was on the bill for Spartanburg as both an author and songwriter, but a dental emergency forced him to cancel at the last minute. Other authors for TRIO 2020 include Rodney Crowell, Shari herself, Dixie Gamble, Nicole Sarrocco, and Tamara Saviano, whose Without Getting Killed or Caught: The Life and Music of Guy Clark was recently named one of “Ten Essential Music Biographies.”

The Spartanburg event gave me my first glimpse at the paintings created by Marianne Huebner, which beautifully capture the earthy, deceptively simple nature of Prine’s songs. Songwriter Sarah Aili recorded a gorgeous, impassioned version of Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” to round out my part of TRIO 2020.

The SIBA show in Spartanburg was just a warmup. Watch the TRIO Facebook page for gatherings across the Southeast in the coming year.

There’s another exciting new development with John Prine: In Spite of Himself that’s not quite ready for unveiling. For more on that, watch this space.

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