Lyle Lovett gets top billing, but when it comes to songwriting, his co-performers this Saturday night at the Heymann Center ' John Hiatt, Joe Ely and Guy Clark ' are headliners in their own right. Sixty-four-year-old Texan Clark is the elder statesman of the group, the man who wrote the classic "Desperados Waiting For a Train" and was an early inspiration for Lovett. Eclectic rocker Joe Ely also hails from the Lone Star State, and his blue-collar anthems like "The Road Goes On Forever" spurred Bruce Springsteen to co-write with Ely. Meanwhile, Indiana native John Hiatt's sharply drawn compositions like "Have a Little Faith in Me" have been covered by everyone from Bonnie Raitt to Bob Dylan.

A solo show by any of the four performers is an event not to be missed ' making their special joint appearance in Lafayette a rare and special occasion. In an acoustic format without a backing band, the quartet will share the stage, pulling up chairs and swapping songs in the campfire tradition. In their collective hands, it's songwriting as literature, with melodies providing the underpinning for poignant chronicles of hopes and dreams. Whether it's the black humor of Lovett's "L.A. County," the yearning of Ely's "Just to Get to You," Hiatt's coming-of-middle age anthem "Slow Turning," or Clark's travelogue "Bus to Baton Rouge," the songs are masterful American poetry.

It's a mutual respect for the craft of songwriting ' and each other ' that bring Lovett, Hiatt, Ely and Clark together. The show's finales on recent tour stops is proof; the quartet has paid homage to Woody Guthrie with ensemble versions of Guthrie's "Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad" and "This Land is Your Land." Legendary troubadour Guthrie would be proud.

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