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What’s Up Interview: Mike Reilly of Pure Prairie League

One of FM radio’s most iconic songs is one that was almost never a hit. “Amie” was first released in 1972 on Pure Prairie League’s second album Bustin’ Out. Other albums followed as the song became a favorite “album cut” on the radio, until it was finally released as a single in 1975. It became a staple of country-rock, and a clinic in songwriting.

Best known for iconic hits like “Amie,” and “Let Me Love You Tonight,” along with their Norman Rockwell-inspired cowboy album covers, Pure Prairie League recently celebrated fifty years together as a band. They are playing Woonsocket’s Stadium Theatre Friday, February 11, along with fellow travelers Atlanta Rhythm Section. Tickets available here.

I recently spoke to Mike Reilly, lead singer and guitarist for the band about PPL’s history and influence on today’s artists. He’s excited about Friday’s show.

“The audiences in the Providence area are always great, we’re looking forward to having a great time and getting back out there and starting the year off right,” he said. Like many bands, they had an unexpected hiatus during the pandemic.

“From February of 2020 through June of 2021, we were off,” said Reilly, “as that was the height of the first wave of the pandemic. We went back out in June and did about 30 dates, till the end of the year.”

Reilly is as surprised as anyone that the band is still going strong after 50+ years.

“Nobody back in the early days in the 70s when the band formed, nobody even dreamed that we’d get a lifetime of work out of it. It’s just one of those things that you don’t think about, and the next thing you know your 10-20 years down the road, and you’re still doing it,” explained Reilly.

The band gained traction on the East Coast college circuit (as it was known in the 70’s) regularly playing shows to sold-out campus venues. In those days, bands frequently achieved regional notoriety before gaining national fame.

 “We were lucky we got some breaks early on, we built up a fan base with a lot of hard work at all the colleges,” noted Reilly. “That kind of cemented Pure Prairie League’s base. The Northeast was always a stronghold for the band because for some reason people in the northeast just kind of latched on to the music, because it sounded more Midwestern, and not necessarily California.”

A lot has changed in the world since then, especially in the music industry.

“The business end of the music business has undergone a complete paradigm shift. In the early days of the music business in the 60s and in the early 70s, before the big disco scare, people made a business of music, but they didn’t turn it into a bean-counting juggernaut – it was more about the music and the musicians and the fans. And then, all of the sudden, the attorneys and accountants got a hold of it and turned it into the music business. It almost spelled the end, but the fans kept things alive,” said Reilly.

Over a long career, Reilly recalled a favorite show from 50 years ago. “The first show I played in 1972 with Pure Prairie League was at the Bull Island, IL Soda Pop Festival in front of 350,000 – 400,000 people. It was the whole Woodstock lineup with Ravi Shankar, Jefferson Airplane, Canned Heat … that was pretty amazing, seeing people as far as you could see,” he recalled.

The core fan base for Pure Prairie League is still the boomer crowd who grew up around the music, but all ages can be seen in the audience at shows.

“The crowds that come to see us are those that grew up with us, saw us in college in 70s and 80s, they’re showing up at the shows. But we get three generations a lot at the shows, we’ve got young people, their parents and grandparents basically spoon-fed them on Pure Prairie League music and that type of music,” said Reilly.

With the pandemic subsiding, the band is planning to release some new music.

“We’ve been working on some new tunes during the pandemic and we’ll play a couple on stage. I’ve also been pouring through dozens and dozens of shows and am in the process of putting together a live album from the last few years and will be using upcoming shows to add to that as well.”

For tickets and more on the show, click here.