"I can't think of a better place to end this tour than here in Oslo, Norway," Emmylou Harris, host for this night's event in the capital's prestigious Konserthus, told the capacity audience. She was thinking about the fact that she had visited Oslo in 1997 as a specially invited artist by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), when the organization received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. Then Emmylou commenced to invite her fellow artists — John Prine, Elvis Costello, Steve Earle and Nanci Griffith — onstage with five chairs next to each other for, as she explained, "what we in Nashville call a guitar pull, not to be confused with a tractor pull."
For the next three hours (including a short intermission), the songs just rolled out — songs that to a great extent define our concept of the modern singer-songwriter. "Red Dirt Girl," "More Than I Can Do," "Angel From Montgomery," "Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness," "Indoor Fireworks," "Shipbuilding," "Fort Worth Blues," "All The Best," "The Sins Of Memphisto," "It's A Hard Life Wherever You Go" and "St. Olav's Gate" — the last of those being Tom Russell's ode to an unknown girl from Bergen — add up to a song publisher's wet dream.
Yet amid this near-gridlock of great songs, an unannounced outsider nearly stole the show. Bobby Muller, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, spoke for ten minutes about this modern plague that disguises itself as a military weapon. Muller, himself crippled by a bullet, explained what makes landmines different from most other instruments used in war. The short version: They are cheap to buy, they stay around for years after conflicts have ended, they are never aimed at a target that can hide, and they don't discriminate between soldiers and civilians, children and adults. Though 120 countries have signed a treaty to rid the world of landmines, many important countries, among them the U.S., Russia, China, Israel and Egypt, have failed to ratify the Ottawa convention.
Although the artists made a point of the amount of sad songs done this evening, the concert had its humorous moments. Not surprisingly, Prine collected the most laughs. A new song, probably named "The Other Side Of Town," about a man escaping (in his mind) a nagging woman, was vintage emphatic Prine.
Costello also stayed in character with acerbic wit; a new song titled "Alibi" was presented with explosive delivery. Costello also rendered his contribution to the 1999 Gram Parsons tribute album Return Of The Grievous Angel — but this time Costello got to play the Parsons part on "Sleepless Nights" against the other original star, Emmylou Harris.