Woody Creeker and recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee John Oates is taking the stage today with Emmylou Harris and Shawn Colvin to give dogs some bones.
The trio is playing together to benefit two dog-rescue nonprofits: Friends of the Aspen Animal Shelter and Bonaparte’s Retreat Dog Rescue. Oates said the show at the Aspen District Theatre will be presented in the stripped-down acoustic style of the 7908 Aspen Songwriters Festival, putting all three artists on stage together with guitars for a night of swapping songs and stories.
“That was so much fun and such a great event,” Oates said of the local music festival, which has been on a break since 2012. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t continue it, but its not over; it’s just on hiatus. This event with Emmylou and Shawn is in the same spirit.”
Oates has played with Colvin previously but never with the legendary Harris, whom he met in Nashville, Tennessee (where he now divides his time with Woody Creek). Along with their musical tastes and careers, the pair found they also both were involved with animal rescue — Harris runs Bonaparte’s Retreat (named for Doc Watson’s song “Bonaparte’s Retreat”), and Oates and his wife, Aimee, are longtime animal-rescue advocates.
“We met through mutual friends and realized we had a lot in common, and rescue organizations are always looking for donations, so my wife came up with this idea,” Oates said.
Aimee is on the board of directors of the Aspen Animal Shelter, and she and her husband used its Woody Creek property as a rescue ranch for a variety of animals for the past 25 years.
“I was thinking about getting a place in town, and she was like, ‘I want to get a place where we can have animals,’” Oates said of the early days on the couple’s ranch. “I said, ‘Huh, like a parakeet?’ Little did I know I would end up with 6-foot birds and all of this.”
These days, they’ve pared down the menagerie of rescued animals to llamas, alpacas, emus and peacocks, along with dogs from the Aspen Animal Shelter.
Oates is staying busy these days. He is currently between spring and fall tours with Hall & Oates, playing a handful of solo shows and preparing the release of “Another Road to Follow,” a video follow-up to his “Good Road to Follow” solo album, released in March, which is part of an ongoing series of collaborations. He’s also, appropriately, doing a guest appearance on the new IFC comedy series “Garfunkel and Oates.”
When he’s not on tour with Darryl Hall as Hall & Oates — playing large venues with a full band and complex productions — Oates said he likes to pepper in small acoustic shows like this weekend’s benefit.
“It’s really 180 degrees in the other direction — I love that,” he said. “It’s the most pure form of performance: the songwriter and singer and the instrument,” he said. “That’s as elemental as it gets. To me, there’s a singular beauty in that. All the artifice is gone.”
The unplugged evening promises off-the-cuff performances from Oates, Harris and Colvin.
“There’s not much of a plan. I’m not asking them what they’re going to play. We’re just going to go with it,” Oates said. “And the crowd loves to hear about the backstory to songs. These types of shows give you the opportunity to tell that story and give the context.”
The results are often surprising with Oates’ material. The Hall & Oates hit “Maneater,” for instance, isn’t about a soulless woman, he said, but about New York City in the 1980s, with the Big Apple anthropomorphized.
“It was about me living in New York at the height of that insanity, hanging out with models and financiers and actors and that fast crowd,” he said. “If you actually listen to the lyrics, it’s about the mentality of New York, the idea of ‘He who dies with the most toys wins.’”
Oates said he’s never written a song about a dog. Harris does, however, have a canine-themed song, “Big Black Dog,” that’s likely to get some requests today.