As far as Mike Reilly is concerned, the Pure Prairie League has played only one bad show in the past 49-and-a-half years of its existence.
“Even then, I don’t think the audience noticed,” said the band’s longtime bassist and singer of the unnamed gig. “We play and record our music and people pay their hard-earned cash to come see us. We want to honor and respect that.”
Pure Prairie League will show how much Park City audiences mean to the band when it plays a string of concerts from Friday to Sunday at the Egyptian Theatre.
“This is our sixth three-day residency in the last eight years,” Reilly said. “It’s becoming a happy habit for us. It’s also a joy to come back to Park City.”
I think we brought out the real flavor of these songs that wasn’t on the albums all those years ago…” Mike Reilley, Pure Prairie League singer and bassist
The bassist promised the concerts will include their hits like “Amie,” “Let Me Love You Tonight” and “Two Lane Highway,” as well as other fan favorites and deep cuts such as “Woman” and “Angel No. 9,” that the band hasn’t played since 1973.
“We’re having more fun than ever reinvesting in these songs,” Reilly said. “We’ve always tried to keep current with our material, but the others are just great songs. And with the band we have now, it really lights those tunes up. They sound better than they did on the records. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, but I think we brought out the real flavor of these songs that wasn’t on the albums all those years ago.”
Keeping up the high quality of music is a responsibility Reilly doesn’t intend to shirk.
“That’s just the way we do it,” he said. “If something doesn’t sound good to us, we’ll just keep working on it. It’s important to show respect to these songs.”
The only real challenges of playing in a band that has been around for almost five decades is making sure it continues to book concerts and that it has the personnel to play them.
“A band is like a marriage,” Reilly said. “If it doesn’t grow, it stagnates and you fall out of love, and that puts it in danger of breaking up.”
Pure Prairie League started unofficially in 1965 with singer and guitarist Craig Fuller, drummer Tom McGrail, guitarist Jim Caughlan and steel guitarist John David Call. McGrail named the band after a temperance union that figures into the plot of “Dodge City,” a Western starring Errol Flynn.Errol Flynn film “Dodge City.”
Throughout the years, band members have come and gone, and at one point featured an upcoming singer-songwriter named Vince Gill.
The band’s lineup currently consists of founding member Call, Reilly, guitarist Donnie Lee Clark, drummer Scott Thompson and keyboardist Rand Harper.
“This band has always been able to bounce back stronger every time we’ve had a change,” he said. “We’ve just always moved forward.”
One of the reasons why the band has been able to continue is the quality of its members, according to Reilly.
“Rule No. 1 for a bass player, and any musician as far as I’m concerned, is to play with cats who can play better than you,” he said. “Whenever I looked to put in the band, whether they were a singer, songwriter or instrumentalist, I looked for those who really played better than me, which really isn’t a stretch. That makes everybody’s game stand up and say howdy.”
Reilly’s standards have paid off throughout the years when it comes to the band’s current audience.
“We have those our age who were in college back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, as well as young kids whose parents raised them on our music,” he said “We also kids who just like the older stuff better than what’s coming out these days. I hate to use the overused word like synergy, but there are a whole lot of things that come together for this monster that’s called Pure Prairie League. We’re just lucky to be long for the ride.”
In addition to prioritizing their audience, Pure Prairie League also raises awareness of nonprofits like Autism Speaks and Donate Life.
“These charities are important for me because they’re personal,” Reilly said. “My youngest son is autistic. I had (a liver) transplant in 2006. We feel that you have to give back one way or another.”
Looking down the road, Reilly said the band may record a new album.
“We’ve got two or three new songs in the set, and we are looking for a chance to record them in the studio,” he said. “We have been recording all of our live shows so we can see what we can put together from there.”