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Steve Earle: Songwriter uses stage to get his point across

FARGO Steve Earle is one of America's most prominent living songwriters. So it's a strange twist that on his current tour, which brings him to the Fargo Theatre on Saturday night, he's singing someone else's songs. Earle's latest album, the Gramm...

Steve Earle
Singer/songwriter Steve Earle has never shied away from expressing his personal and political views in his songs or between numbers from the stage. Special to The Forum

FARGO

Steve Earle is one of America's most prominent living songwriters. So it's a strange twist that on his current tour, which brings him to the Fargo Theatre on Saturday night, he's singing someone else's songs.

Earle's latest album, the Grammy-nominated "Townes," pays tribute to his mentor, guitarist/singer/songwriter and tragic figure Townes van Zandt by covering 15 of the late artist's tunes.

"Townes van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world, and I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that," Earle once proclaimed.

Earle is nothing if not passionate. Add to that a double shot of indifference about what people think and what you get on his albums, in the few interviews he grants and onstage, is a straight shot of his opinions.

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As those who've seen his previous shows at the Fargo Theatre (with the Bluegrass Dukes in 1999 or when he played with his wife, Allison Moorer, in 2008) can attest, the singer is more than just a bit outspoken. Saturday should be no different.

So what can ticketholders look forward to? Judging from recent shows and favored topics for the singer, here's a few of his favorite talking points and the songs that may accompany them.

(Those who can't make it to the Fargo Theatre can still see Earle perform live on that night's "Austin City Limits," airing at 10 p.m. on Channel 13 in Fargo-Moorhead).

Townes Van Zandt

Of course Earle will talk about his former mentor. He met Townes when the late singer badgered the teenager during a show in the early '70s, requesting the country classic "Wabash Cannonball." Earle told National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" in May that he still doesn't know the song, but played Van Zandt's own "Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold" to shut up his heroic heckler.

The song is one that Earle covered on "Townes" with his son Justin Townes Earle, who played the Fargo-Moorhead Community Theatre in June.

The elder Earle even wrote a musical eulogy, "Fort Worth Blues," after Van Zandt died in '97.

Jail

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Earle is no stranger to the penal system, and his fans are no stranger to his anti-death-penalty views. Even before he went to jail in the early '90s for heroin possession, he'd taken a sympathetic view in "Billy Austin." Lately he's drawn on his prison knowledge as an introduction to Van Zandt's best-known song, "Pancho and Lefty."

Politics

Earle has never shied away from politics, calling his stance "well to the left of a Democrat." He criticized the Reagan administration and the war on drugs on "Copperhead Road." He released 2004's "The Revolution Starts Now" as an attack on the Bush administration and the war in Iraq with tracks like "Rich Man's War."

He's explained his anti-war views leading into the Civil War-era "Dixieland." Still, he's been critical of Obama accepting the Nobel Peace while escalating troop deployment to Afghanistan. Referring to himself as an optimist, he sums up his hopes for peace in the song "Jerusalem."

'Copperhead Road'

The song is now 22 years old, a staple of his sets but still gets the biggest response - including loud requests all through the night. Those suggestions are quickly cut down by Earle's vicious wit, and the song is generally saved for the finale, so save your voice, this guy knows how to handle hecklers.

If you go

What: Steve Earle

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When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Fargo Theatre, 314 Broadway

Info: Tickets are $27.50 and $33. (800) 514-3849

On TV

If you don't catch Earle at the Fargo Theatre on Saturday night, you can still see him on that evening's "Austin City Limits," which airs at 10 p.m. on Channel 13 in Fargo-Moorhead.

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

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