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‘Steinbeck of songwriting’ performing Aug. 4 and 5

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I can do a flawless Nanci Griffith impersonation. It's spooky. I have listened to her CDs for so long that I have memorized her mini-intro-ductions, and I can wow my mother and father at the dinner table with my hard work.

So, when I was supposed to interview Nanci last week, I was trying to decide if I should introduce myself to her using this amazing talent. But, when the interview fell through due to her need for "emergency dental work" (that's one I've never heard before), you can just imagine how deflated I was. I wouldn't be able to awe my idol with this skill I've been born with.

But, you know, perhaps using my gift of impersonation wouldn't have been such a great idea. I mean, the interview could have ended with my saying, "Hello Nanci, this is Nanci." "You're a freak," she might have said and hung up right there.

Nanci is my idol, not only because of her fabulous, one-of-a-kind, little fairy voice, but because she is the John Steinbeck of songwriting. Take her song "Trouble in the Fields," for example. "All this trouble in our fields, if this rain can fall, these wounds can heal, they'll never take our native soil. What if we sell that new John Deere? And then we'll work these crops with sweat and tears. You'll be the mule, I'll be the plow, come harvest time, we'll work it out. There's still a lot of love, here in these troubled fields."

Nanci's songs are about people working the land in the Dust Bowl, making ends meet. She sings of girls and boys who have known each other since they were teens and five-and-dime stores where people can fall in love over a vanilla Coke. Griffith's songs paint pictures of small towns, miners' daughters, getting by and flying away. Her words give voice to the ordinary people who walk the streets of America unnoticed, the amazing stories behind them and the bleak futures ahead.

Nanci Griffith's goal when she began her career was to be like Harlan Howard, the legendary music writer who created "I Fall to Pieces." It seems that Griffith, a Texan with a golden voice, has achieved her goal.

Though her name hasn't spread like wildfire in the United States, Griffith has established herself as the queen of "folkabilly." A combination of folk music and country, her songs have been covered by country stars Kathy Mattea, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson and Suzy Bogguss.

Recently, Griffith's 20-year career became challenged when she contracted cancer, and the storyteller relied heavily on her will to reach another musical plateau. Through her battle with the disease, Griffith created "The Dustbowl Symphony."

This project was what Nanci said was "a retrospective of 20-odd years of my songwriting and shaping those songs with the colors I had always wanted to hear in them." (Of course, she said this in a press release and not to me.)

Griffith worked with the London Symphony Orchestra and its conductor, Andrew Jackman, and revived her past hits with a new life, passing them from simple folkabilly tunes into legendary songs. Griffith was joined by the members of her Blue Moon Orchestra, Sonny Curtis from Buddy Holly's Crickets, Beth Nielsen and Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish.

For two nights — Friday, Aug. 4, at 7:30 p.m. in Abravanel Hall and Saturday, Aug. 5, at 7:30 p.m. at Deer Valley — Griffith will perform music from "The Dustbowl Symphony" with the Utah Symphony Orchestra.

Tickets are $13-$29. For the Friday night performance, they can be purchased through ArtTix (801-355-ARTS or 1-888-451-ARTS) and the ArtTix outlets at Abravanel Hall or the Capitol Theater. Tickets for the Deer Valley concert can be purchased through ArtTix and the following Park City vendors: Park City Reservations, (435-649-5900); High Mountain Properties, (800-239-6144); and Deer Valley Signatures, (435-645-6923) or in person at 625 Main St. or Silver Lake Village.

Griffith said at a Snowbird concert a few years back that songwriting was like putting her hand out the window of a moving car and catching a song as it flies by.

Songs must fly by her window all the time.


E-MAIL: lu@desnews.com