Few names in country and folk music are met with such deep reverence as that of Emmylou Harris. Over the course of her over forty-year career, Harris placed 45 singles in the Billboard Country Top 40, sold over 15 million albums worldwide, took home twelve Grammy trophies and three CMAs, and was enshrined in the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008.
Along with her substantial accomplishments in music, every bit as worthy of recognition is what a big-hearted, giving person Harris constantly proves herself to be in supporting causes that are important to her. These include animal rescue and adoption – something Harris has often shown to be near and dear to her heart. A passionate animal lover, Harris will participate in the first annual Woofstock at the Fontanel Mansion in Nashville, Tennessee – a two-day charity event to be held on August 17-18
I was able to catch up with the lovely Miss Emmylou right between her getting back from playing festivals in Montana, and having to jet off to Norway the next day. We spoke with her about her recent and upcoming pursuits during my fan-struck telephone conversation with her.
Ben Foster: I think it’s such a great thing what you’re doing for all these dogs at Woofstock, and I can tell you’re someone who really genuinely and passionately cares about animals. To begin with, I’d like to hear you describe your connection to animals, and what has caused you to be the passionate animal lover that we all know you to be.
Emmylou Harris: I guess it goes to my childhood. My father and my mother and my grandparents, aunts, uncles, pretty much everyone in my family were animal people. My father was actually studying veterinary medicine at the University of Virginia when World War II broke out, and he signed up for the Marine Corps. But all of my family kind of instilled a love and respect for animals, and we always had companion animals when I was growing up.
But then I became an adult, and I went on the road, and really didn’t think about having animals. It just didn’t seem like it was a practical thing to do. But then when I moved to Nashville I had a couple of cats, but it still seemed like a dog would be traveling a lot, which would not work out. Little did I know how great it is to have a dog on the road with you. I think it was 1992 I adopted a dog named Bonaparte from Nashville Humane. We already had a small dog that was my daughter’s. But I had gotten Bonaparte as sort of companion for her dog, and he just turned out to be this great traveling dog, so for ten years, whenever it was convenient, or whenever I was on a bus tour (which was a lot), he would travel with me. Even when I was away doing an album, like when I was in New Orleans or when I went off to San Francisco, and I was going to be someplace I long time, I would bring him with me. When he died very suddenly in 2002, he was only 11. Even though we had other animals in our home, I was very close to this dog, and didn’t really think about getting another dog for myself.
But somehow I felt like I wanted to get more involved in animal rescue since he had been a rescue, so it was as a memorial to Bonaparte that I started Bonaparte’s Retreat. I thought I could connect with Nashville Humane because I had a big backyard, that I could build a small rescue which runs as a common area. Initially we were going to take three dogs. I think we went up to six, but because I’m so limited by space I can only have so many dogs on the property. But we’ve been going eight years now. We’ve developed a relationship with some foster homes, foster parents in the community, so we probably deal with about twenty dogs at a time. We pretty much put our effort into rescuing from Metro Animal Control because these dogs have such a short window of time before they’re put down, whereas Nashville Humane, although we still have a good relationship with them, they’re pretty much a low-kill shelter, and we know that those dogs are probably safe until we find a home, whereas the dogs at Metro by law only have a certain window of time. If nobody adopts them, then a perfectly healthy dog that can give so much joy to a family somewhere gets put down. It’s really quite heartbreaking.
Yeah, it’s very sad to see a dog’s life cut short like that.
Well, there’s no reason for it. If we could extend the foster programs, if we could get more people to spay and neuter their pets, Nashville could become a no-kill city. There are several around the country, and it’s just going to take a lot of effort and communication, and people coming together to decide they’re going to do that. The people and communities that are involved in dog rescue are really trying to make that happen.
So what do animal lovers have to look forward to at this year’s Woofstock?
Well, this is our first year. It’s going to be a daytime event. The doors will open at ten. It’s at Fontanel, which is Barbara Mandrell’s old home place, and they have concerts there at night. We’re going to be at the front of the property, and we we’re going to have music starting at eleven. I’m going to be playing, Buddy Miller, Shawn Camp, Ella Mae Bowen, and the Whites - I’m real excited about that – Mike Farris and I2 South. Sam Bush is going to make an appearance. Obviously there will be food and drink on the property. I’m going to have Emmylou’s Closet, which are a lot of clothes that I don’t wear anymore for sale. We’re going to have auction items. We’re going to have lots of little kiddie pools around for the dogs to get cooled off. There are walking trails; There’s a creek. There are going to be a lot of different booths up of different animal products, and things that people can purchase.
We’re just hoping it’s going to be a really nice time for families to come to bring their dogs, and to just have a good time outside, and they’ll listen to some music. Nashville Humane will be there, and Metro Animal Control will be there with dogs for adoption, as well as obviously Bonaparte’s Retreat. We’re testing the waters. We want to make this an annual event – something that people can say “Oh, when is Woofstock this year?” We’ll always have music, and try to keep it local because we’ve got enough great musicians and great communities where we can showcase, and strut our stuff as well as our mutts!
Do you have any other upcoming projects that you would like to give your fans a little teaser for?
Oh yeah! Actually Rodney Crowell and I just finished a duet record, and it’s going to be coming out sometime early next year. It’s a duet record that we talked about probably since the first day we met, and sat down and sang old George Jones songs together. That’s going to be coming out, and I guess that’s the only thing I have definite. I know that there’s talk about re-releasing Wrecking Ball with extra tracks, and I will say that on October 24 at Marathon Music Works in Nashville, Daniel Lanois, Brian Blade, and Malcolm Burn and myself - the original musicians on Wrecking Ball, we’re actually going to perform Wrecking Ball, along with some other music.
How exciting! That was quite a landmark album for you back in ’95.
Yeah, it sure was.
And we sure do love Rodney Crowell, so that duet record sure is something for us to look forward to. Speaking of Rodney, you recently got to participate in his KIN project with Mary Karr.
I love that record! I love that record.
Oh yes, he’s an amazing songwriter. Lots of great songs and great artists.
Yeah, it really is. I’m excited about the record, but also the idea of us going out and doing shows together. We actually just did a benefit in Montana. He sat in on my set at the Red Ants Pants Festival - it’s in White Sulfur Springs, Montana. So we just did that. I just got home from that on Sunday, and I’m leaving for Norway tomorrow.
It sounds like you sure are keeping busy.
Well, I am keeping busy, and I feel like I kind of have two jobs now, you know with the dog rescue, and the music which I still love, and being able to put my time and effort and energy into something else that I’m really passionate about. I feel really really blessed to be able to do it, but it does keep me busy!
Speaking of your music, earlier this year you celebrated your 20th anniversary as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. What does that milestone mean to you?
Well you know, when you look on those milestones, you say “Twenty years? Was it really twenty years?” When you keep busy, it can seem like just yesterday. But that was wonderful because I had all pals there. Rodney was there, and the Whites, and I got Shawn Colvin. I’ve been wanting to get her on the Grand Ole Opry because she does just about the best version ever of Lefty Frizzell’s “That’s the Way Love Goes,” and I said “Girl, you have got to come sing that on the Grand Ole Opry!” It was a really wonderful night, and I do love to perform at the Opry, especially when it’s at the Ryman. There’s something so special about that venue.
In March of this year, how did it feel to be given the Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award for being a pioneer in the country music genre?
Well, it’s always good to be a pioneer! As long I don’t have to be in the covered wagon! So that was a really great honor. It was.
In looking back on all that you’ve accomplished over the course of your career – having hits on the charts, winning awards, being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, what moments stand out as being most meaningful to you?
You know, I don’t really know if you could pick one. Obviously, everything kind of started with meeting Gram Parsons, and going out on that first tour, and being sort of thrown in the water – or being out in the water with no paddle, learning about country music, playing in a country band. It really set me on the path that I’m still on today, and I’ve just been able to work with so many great musicians, all of the band members I’ve had, and you know Rodney’s one of them. Then being able to actually get to work with heroes like Bob Dylan and Neil Young and Mark Knopfler and Roy Orbison. Sometimes I have to pinch myself. But really I’m just grateful that I still love music, that I still have the opportunity to go out there and work, and that the fans are still coming to see me. You know, I must be doing something right. I don’t know how, but I just want to keep doing it until I can’t do it anymore.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the music scene today. What artists do you enjoy listening to, mainstream or otherwise?
Well you know, I just kind of listen to my buddies that are around town. I’m a huge fan of Buddy Miller obviously, somebody that I’ve been fortunate enough to work with. We go out with Patty Griffin and Shawn Colvin,and do the three girls with their Buddy, so I’m always up on what they’re doing. They’re just really a lot of good music happening right now that’s maybe a little outside the mainstream, but that’s okay because I think everybody’s able to hear all this stuff now. You don’t just have to listen to what’s on Top 40 radio to really hear some great music.
Absolutely, and it’s so great to see talented artists finding ways to succeed without the support of radio even.
Oh, and I did want to say that in September I’m going to do a TV show with Mumford & Sons that I’m really looking forward to because I love their stuff.
Oh wow! That’s so exciting
It’s called Crossroads. I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’re doing to do something!
They did a great version of “The Boxer” on Jerry Douglas’s new record, didn’t they?
Oh yeah, I was talking to Marcus and he told me about that. I can’t wait to hear it.
Well, we’ll look forward to seeing that! That must be a very exciting thing you’ve got coming up.
Yeah, its’ always good to collaborate with people. Keeps you fresh!
And you sure do have some talented buddies!
Yeah, I do. I’m a lucky girl!
For more information on Emmylou Harris, visit www.emmylouharris.com
For more information on Woofstock, visit www.woofstockatfontanel.com