It’s been almost 45 years since Pure Prairie League (PPL) formed and, although their touring pace has slowed down to only playing shows on the weekends, they’re still trying to surprise – and rock – their fans.
“The band is killing, hitting on all eight cylinders and we’re just having a great time,” said Mike Reilly, front man and bassist for PPL. “And the audiences are responding really well.”
Reilly said the group, made up of Reilly, pedal-steel guitarist John David Call, drummer Scott Thompson and guitarist Donnie Clark, are playing all of their hits, like “Amie,” “Let Me Love You Tonight” and “Two-Lane Highway,” in their current show.
But they are also digging into their 12-album catalog to see which of their songs would “fit the personality of the band as it is right now,” according to Reilly, and came up with songs like “Woman” and “Angel.” Reilly said the band is also rehearsing songs from their 1979 live album, Takin’ the Stage. They’ll be playing their hits and their deeper cuts at The Birchmere in Alexandria on Aug. 9.
“We’ve pulled out a bunch of songs out of our catalog that we haven’t done, oh god, since the early 70s,” Reilly said. “So getting the chance to play those songs again 40 years later and seeing how the audience responds has really been a treat for us.”
PPL’s audience is different now than it was back in the 70s, when mostly college kids who were enjoying the bluegrass revival of the mid-1970s were coming to their shows and buying their records.
According to Reilly, those people, now in their 50s and 60s, come to the shows with their children and grandchildren and passed down their music to younger generations. He said younger people come up to him all the time and say that they enjoy PPL’s music and that their parents turned them onto it.
“That proves to me that our music has kind of stood the test of time and it’s also something that’s been of value to kids these days that are listening to everything that they get bombarded with,” Reilly said. “I’m surprised that kids these days actually listen to the old stuff, but sooner or later you got to find out where all this music came from.”
Reilly, who joined PPL in 1972, said that he and the founders of the band, Craig Fuller, Tommy McGrail, Jim Caughlan and John David Call, were influenced by Poco, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, George Jones and Merle Haggard.
Now, younger generations of country, folk and alternative rock musicians, like Keith Urban, Zac Brown Band and Nickel Creek, have cited PPL as an influence and covered their songs.
Reilly said that PPL has also enjoyed a boost in popularity resulting from the resurgence of country music back into mainstream pop consciousness in the past several years.
“Well it’s always a shot in the arm when this music comes back around,” Reilly said. “It’s all on the wheel, it’s all cyclical.”
• For more information about Pure Prairie League, visit pureprairieleague.com.