“I’m sure Minneapolis, you’re thinking: What the hell is he doing? We already have Prairie Home Companion," John C. Reilly, who was in the 2006 movie “A Prairie Home Companion,” said on Saturday night in Minneapolis. “What the hell do we need him for?”
The actor, known for “Boogie Nights,” “Chicago” and “The Aviator,” then explained that you shouldn’t let people tell you who you are, “if you’ve got a short story in you, or a painting,” do it.
So he put together John C. Reilly & Friends, a modest acoustic show that frankly was more Grand Ole Opry than “A Prairie Home Companion.” For 1 ¾ hours in front of maybe 200 people at the Woman’s Club, he and his pals offered old-timey music, vintage country, folk, bluegrass and spirituals – songs associated with George Jones, Phil Ochs, the Delmore Brothers, the Carter Family, Woody Guthrie, Ray Price and others.
The amiable and gently funny Reilly proved to be a capable low-key vocalist but his friends – Becky Stark, Tom Brosseau, Dan Bern and Willie Watson (of Old Crow Medicine Show)—were accomplished vocalists. (Sebastian Steinberg of Soul Coughing fame played upright bass.) They sang in different combinations and permutations, filling the Woman’s Club with harmonies, humor and homespun truths.
Watson, on banjo and acoustic guitar, was the only bona fide picker but all were strong lead vocalists and skillful harmony singers. The wonderful Stark, who sings with the Lavender Diamond,, seemed to connect with Reilly’s funny bone, both with their between-song patter (they duetted on Gogi Grant’s “Wayward Wind,” Faron Young’s “Step Aside,” Porter & Dolly’s “Making Plans,” Jones’ “Don’t Go”) and her facial gestures.
Brosseau, who is from Grand Forks, N.D., showed a choir-boy voice and some quick humor (example: “My grandma said: Come back to North Dakota. There’s a girl behind every tree.” There are no trees in North Dakota”).
Bern, known for his witty and topical songs in his cult-loved solo career, wrote much of the material for Reilly’s 2007 movie, “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” which was a parody of a Johnny Cash-like country singer. In fact, Reilly introduced him as “the man behind Dewey Cox.” But they didn’t do any Dewey Cox songs Saturday. Watson offered the night’s only original number, which he even admitted sounded old.
That old-timey sound was what John C. Reilly & Friends were all about -- from Dolly Parton’s “My Blue Tears” to the closing 1-2 punch of “Rock Island Line” and “Goodnight Irene.”