The country-rock band will play its classics, as well as new music, Sunday at the Greenwich Odeum in East Greenwich.
The number didn’t seem real to Mike Reilly until he had a new stage backdrop and tour T-shirts made for his band, Pure Prairie League.
“I looked at them and thought, ‘Fifty years! Jesus!’” laughs Reilly, who has been the bassist for the country rock group since the early 1970s. The group continues to play about 50 shows a year, including one on Sunday at the Greenwich Odeum.
Despite that golden milestone, Reilly says that when the band members gather to play — either in concert, at rehearsal or to test songs for their next album — time seems nonexistent. Sure, they’re older and have more life experience than the teenagers they once were, hailing from the region straddling southern Ohio and northern Kentucky. But the connection they make when playing tunes like “Amie” and “Falling In and Out of Love” hasn’t changed a bit.
Or, depending on how Reilly chooses to look at it, the band has changed completely — and for the better.
“We’re a totally new band every time we play,” Reilly says, referring to the life force of their music. “We’ve dragged out songs that we haven’t played since 1972 or ’73, and they feel new and fun.”
Pure Prairie League continues to generate music — two brand-new pieces are on the current tour set list, with two more coming by May — but Reilly says they are branded with the band’s iconic sound.
″‘Old Friend’ could have been on one of our albums in the 1970s, and ‘Modern Problems’ could have been from the Vince Gill years,” he says, referring to the period when the country star served as the band’s lead singer. “We try to expand musically, but it always feels and sounds like Pure Prairie League.”
If you go …
What: Pure Prairie League, with guest Marielle Kraft
When: Sunday, 7 p.m.
Where: The Greenwich Odeum, 59 Main St., East Greenwich
Information: (401) 885-4000, greenwichodeum.com
The band is credited with blending strains of country and rock ‘n’ roll for a new country-rock genre that became popular in the early to mid-1970s, but Reilly downplays their role in the movement. He points to bands like Poco, the Burrito Brothers, The Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash as being more pronounced with that style.
“It was just the music we liked. We were playing rock ‘n’ roll that showed the influence of where we grew up. We played it the way we felt it,” Reilly says. “Our sound, too, was more Midwestern and country than the California folk sound from Poco and Crosby, Stills & Nash. We blended in bluegrass and R&B.”
Back in the day, Pure Prairie League was popular on the college concert circuit, and the fans who fell in love with that Midwestern sound back then fill the seats at their concerts today. They like the smooth sound and real lyrics.
“We’ve had many people tell us that we were the soundtrack of their lives,” Reilly says, adding that while the musicians’ “sensibilities as writers have changed” with age, the subjects they write about have not.
“We always write about experiences. ‘Old Friend’ was originally a letter Donnie [Clark] wrote to a friend of his. We write about what touches people. That’s an artist’s responsibility.”
Pure Prairie League plays the Greenwich Odeum, 59 Main St., East Greenwich, on Sunday, Feb. 23, at 7 p.m. For more information, go to greenwichodeum.com.