Singer-songwriter John Prine was a huge Stella’s fan, and it was usually his first stop when he came to town.
“He always ordered two eggs over-easy and bacon. He loved our hand-cut fries,” said Barbara Banno, who owns Stella’s restaurant on Beach Boulevard in Gulfport. “He was such a legend and so good to me and the employees here.”
The anecdote seems fitting for the three-time Grammy winner who, for five decades, chronicled everyday people and their lives, often with humor but always with deep insight into human nature. He was admired by countless artists, such as Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, Roseanne Cash and Bonnie Raitt, who had a hit of her own with his song “Angel From Montgomery” in 1974. Rolling Stone described Prine as “a singer who combined literary genius with a common touch.”
Prine, who owned a home in Gulfport since 2005, passed away in April of this year at the age of 73, due to complications from COVID-19. Yet he lives on in the hearts of those who loved his music – and now, in Gulfport, on a mural commissioned by Banno and painted by artist Kiersty Long.
“As president of the Gulfport Merchants Chamber, I knew Kiersty as one of the recipients of last year’s Rise & Shine Grant. She’s come leaps and bounds as an emerging artist. She really captured the essence of John Prine and Gulfport,” said Banno.
Also capturing the spirit of Gulfport are the lyrics to “In a Town this Size” from Prine’s 1999 album “In Spite of Ourselves” that Long painted into the mural:
“In a town this size, there’s no place to hide/Everywhere you go you meet someone you know/You can’t steal a kiss in a town like this/How the rumors do fly in a town this size/In a town this size, in a town this size.”
Long says “the lyrics seemed very Gulfport,” as does Prine standing in front of Boca Ciega Bay at sunset with seabirds and boats in the foreground and the Don CeSar Hotel in profile across the bay. Long painted the mural over the course of a month on the fence in the Art Village Courtyard, working mostly afternoons.
“I have been honored to pay my respects to this incredible singer-songwriter. Listening to his music the last month or so has been a real treat,” she posted on Facebook after putting the finishing touches on the mural this week.
Banno is planning an unveiling and a celebration on October 10 in the Village Courtyard. She’s working with the North End Taphouse on the event and plans to have musicians playing Prine’s music.
“We want to celebrate John and those who helped make the mural possible, such as Dan Walker and some of the businesses in the area,” said Banno. “There are people who live here who were close to John and we want them to be able to come out and celebrate his life. The Courtyard is a music venue known for its stage and music – there’s no one better to celebrate there than John Prine.”
“The mural was a way for me to express and share how much we loved John Prine, and I hope everyone who sees this mural realizes that,” said Banno. “His wife, Fiona, often came with him to have breakfast. I hope one day she can come and see the mural we did in his honor.”
When asked what her favorite John Prine song is, Banno said, “Angel From Montgomery.”
“Once I hear it, I can’t get it out of my head.”