Gillian Welch: Telluride Bluegrass Festival, CO

Gillian Welch

As a part of Telluride, some stars give intimate performances in Elk Park. Gillian Welch, was doing one at noon-thirty on Friday. It listed a “special guest” but it was assumed that to be David. In reality Emmylou Harris came walking up the path to start the party. David and Gillian soon arrived, in their cowboy hats and Emmy was like “I feel like I need a hat, I have a hat, should I get it?”. Gil told her that her headband was just fine and Emmy joked that it was known to cause static.

Gillian Welch

They sang Orphan Girl and Gillian talked about how she entered it in a songwriting contest and it lost, but then a tape of it ended up in Emmylou’s hands and just look what happened.

They opened the floor for questions and someone asked about how they are classified as country, but their influences are so wide, how can they be “country”? Emmy answered that she didn’t know what was “country” anymore and that her musical tastes are wide. The only music she doesn’t understand is jazz, but she still bows down to it.

She said that she figured most people change music styles without even changing gears nowadays. She started into how the set list that her and Danny had prepared for the night before was a little like “War and Peace” so they decided to “cut their losses” and cut this next song from the set list, so she was going to play it now.

She played O Evangeline, to which she forgot some words, so she just hummed with her guitar for a bit. At the end of the song, she smiled and said “This is a workshop, so I’m workin’ on it”.

The next question was about the process of writing songs, and then, how long ago was Orphan Girl written.

Gil answered that she had no real process to write songs, and didn’t know anyone who did. They had to discuss when Orphan Girl was actually written, mainly because Emmylou knew she recorded it in January 1995. Gillian knew she came to Nashville in 1992. Therefore, the song would have had to have been written between the two, somewhere in 1993 it was decided.

Gillian called on someone else who asked about the difference between story songs and stream of consciousness songs. Gillian thought some and announced that it depends on what she was thinking when she wrote the song. Songs like Annabell had a ton of verses, but she had to whittle away until she decided what she wanted to say. Another part of the question dealt with how the writing process went for them, if they wrote lyrics or music first and how they recorded their work.

Gilllian said that it was best for her to get it all out in the first burst of inspiration or else a lot of perspiration had to be spent to finish it. She also said that she had piles of notebooks around.

Emmylou said that she likes the little Sony recorders, because she knows that the song will be out of her head right away and that Buddy Miller knew that her’s had stopped working so he got her one for her birthday off of eBay.


She started talking about a song that was new, that she wrote in Montreal with the McGarrigle sisters after watching a PBS special on the Carter Family. She said it was about AP and Sarah, and she wanted to call it “Wildwood Flower” but that was obviously taken, so she called it Sing The Wildwood Flower. It was a very pretty song, and in the middle it cut to an instrumental of Wildwood Flower.

Next question had to do with songs that didn’t work for whatever reason. Emmylou said that she keeps the “flawed songs and parts them out”. She also said the “good line or idea that got you into that mess will find a home somewhere.”

She said she never gets the music first, but writes with her guitar in hand, and that when she writes she figures even if nothing comes out of it, something may, and unless she had sat down to write, nothing at all would have. Gillian brought up “Elvis Presley Blues as a song that was a parts song, and they sang it.

Emmylou's Guitar

It was now MY turn to ask a question. Gillian called on me and Emmylou didn’t see, so she started into another song. Gil tapped her like “Let her ask the question” and Emmy stopped playing. I asked about how they were able to establish themselves over the other millions of songwriters in a business that eats both its’ young and old. Emmylou, mainly because she never had to really establish herself as a songwriter, because she was already established, kinda laughed and said “Write good songs?”. David talked about how when you’ve got a song you love to sing, and others like it too, you know you’ll make it. Gillian said (with Emmy’s help) that sometimes you just have to say “To hell with what everyone else wants me to write, I’m going to write what I want to” and that those songs sometimes turn out the best.

Emmylou then continued on her song she had started, saying that it came to her in a dream, and even though she doesn’t keep a dream journal or anything, she remembered it. She also said that she didn’t know what it was about, and if she did, she probably wouldn’t tell us. She played Michelangelo.

David brought up how sometimes he steals traditional melodies, such as in No One Knows My Name. Emmy quipped that “Dylan does it” and David said it was free and easy and no one really cared. Then Emmy said that the next one was a song she sings everytime she’s in Colorado and that it had a few lines from some badly conceived songs. She sang Boulder To Birmingham. Then she added, “and since we’re confessing, I actually stole some lines in that last song (Michelangelo) from the poem, “Beyond Keeping” by Carl Sandburg and that everyone should read it.

Directly following this appearance, they were all back for another round sitting in with David Bromberg. Emmylou sang Spanish Johnny and she had Meghann come help them with some old favorite.

Finally, later that night, during David Bromberg’s set, Emmylou and Gillian joined him for two songs, If You Don’t Love Me, Let Me Know and something about a car in Memphis. The girls were cute, Emmylou was freezing and she kept pulling her hands into her jacket. She was wearing a black duster, black sweater and a blueish full length skirt with the pants under it again. She did this cute little step dance clap thing with Gillian during the instrumental break. For the second encore, David, Gil and Emmy all came out. The song was I’ll Rise Again.

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