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Stupid Stories: John Prine - My First Concert

It was a good time... except for nearly being killed for being a Yankee

John Prine on campus of Georgia State College - November 12, 1975 Photo by Tom Hill/WireImage

This is a Dallas, Texas story. I spent my summer months in high school and part of college working for my brother Jim who owned a company in Dallas. Most of that time I spent installing professional sound systems and fire alarm systems.

18 years old, and I’m living in Dallas, Texas. I didn’t have any friends, because brother Jim was a workaholic, and my social skills were shit at best.

One night on a whim I decided to go see John Prine in concert. Jim’s house is in Duncanville, which is in South Dallas. Texas is a messy place when it comes to alcohol and therefore concerts. There are dry counties where there is no alcohol, which means no bars and no honky tonks. Then there are wet counties where everything fun happens. My understanding is that this is because of Southern Baptists who like to pretend they’re living in a heavenly paradise should they vote themselves dry. The concert was at a bar in one of the wet counties in North Dallas. I forget the name. I tried to do some research, find it, but you’d be surprised at how sparse these things are.

It was the first real concert I’d ever attended. I went by myself. You could drink at 18 back then when the country had the mindset that if you were old enough to die for your country you were old enough to legally consume alcohol. One of the arguments against moving the drinking age to 21 was that it would be an excuse for young people to put off maturity for a few more years. You can argue about how that turned out in the comments section.

I had a few beers. Not many since I had to drive back to Duncanville. At one point, John Prine said he was taking a break, and the bar announced that everyone had to move into the beer garden before the second show could start. The entire place got up, herded outside into a beer garden which was very crowded. The bar then closed the double doors leaving everyone standing around, packed like sardines. I thought it was odd.

I was about 10 – 12 feet away from the main door when an enormous man three people away said in an inebriated, loud voice with a Texas accent, “I smell a Yankee.” He looked around and started sniffing in the air. He repeated his comment, louder this time.

”I smell a Yankee. When I find him it ain’t gonna be good.”

Everyone around me got tense. The guy stood head and shoulder above all.

He bent down to the guy next to him, grabbed him by the shirt collar and lifted him off the ground.

”You a Yankee?”

In a Texas accent, the man replied, “I ain’t no Yankee.”

The giant proceeded to sniff the air, then grab another man by the shirt collar. He repeated his question. The man, in a Texan accent, repeated his refusal.

He was moving in my direction.

You might, at this time, be wondering what a Yankee is. I wondered this too when I lived in Texas. I got my answer one night when I was working with a bunch of electricians at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field, where I helped install the fire alarm system and professional sound system in 1982-1983 (this is another story, nearly got killed there three times). I asked the electricians. Nice guys, electricians:

“What is a Yankee?”

“Everyone who is not from Texas.”

“That doesn’t make sense. People from the South can’t be Yankees.”

“They are Southerners.”

“What about people from Oklahoma?”

“They’re Oklahomans.”

“So I get this straight - There are Texans, Southerners, and Oklahomans, and everyone else is a Yankee?”

The electricians debated this between them for a couple minutes, then agreed this was the correct approach.

Being from Nebraska I am therefore a Yankee.

I knew this by instinct as this mountain man moved toward me, still picking guys up, asking them his question, then setting them down. I could say things like “y’all”, “reckon’”, “fixin’”, “jeet” and add extra vowels to words like “hair” and “oil”, but my twang wasn’t good enough to fool him. I had a vision of him seeing past my ruse and squeezing my neck until my head popped off.

He took another step and he was right next to me. He tapped me on the shoulder so that I would turn to look at him because I was trying like hell to pretend he wasn’t there. His giant hands reached out to grab me.

At that moment the door swung open and one of the bar staff yelled out that it was time for the second show. I looked at the giant, and said nothing but gave a motion with my hand that he could go in before I did. He stepped in front of me while I checked myself to make sure I hadn’t wet my pants. He nodded his head in appreciation, then said, “Fucking Yankees” as he walked back into the bar.

We all went in to watch John Prine sing some more.

I went into work the next day and told my coworkers about going to the John Prine concert at this bar. They didn’t care about John Prine. All they cared about is that I’d gone alone. “You don’t go to that bar alone, Jon. People get beat up and shot there all the time. It’s not a place you ever go alone again. You are a crazy person.”

As you may or may not know, John Prine passed away last week from complications from Covid-19.

John Prine wasn’t Bob Dylan. He was much less irritating. He sang folk-country. He sang protest. He told stories in his songs. Many, like “Sam Stone” are sad stories. Some, like “The other side of town”, are damned good reflections on life. I have included a few here for your perusal.

Maybe this one is appropriate for everyone dealing with their spouses during self-isolation, quarantine, working at home, etc.

And then probably his most famous songs:

What was your first concert, and how’d it go?