Rodney Crowell, Roseanne Cash and Guy Clark -- offered a truly special evening of country music at the Birchmere Saturday night. For their fans, who began lining up outside the club as early as 2 p.m., the show was more than worth the wait. The Birchmere's intimate listening atmosphere proved the perfect context for the simple acoustic presentation of these artists' often extraordinarily beautiful and moving songs.

Accompanied only by acoustic guitars, Crowell, Cash and Clark turned the club into a big living room, chummily trading songs, confiding their inspirations to the audience and encouraging one another. It was the songs themselves -- from Clark's colorful folk tales to Crowell's hot country-rock to Cash's gorgeous ballads -- that really mattered. It wasn't just the crowd that was struck by the force of the songs, however. When Clark finished his poignant autobiographical remembrance, "Desperados Waiting for the Train," both Crowell and Cash were visibly moved.

With her husband Crowell adding some nice guitar fills and harmonies, Cash provided some of the evening's most dramatic moments. Her sultry voice was mesmerizing on haunting minor-key ballads like "Seven Year Ache." Throughout, Crowell's and Cash's mostly romantic material and sweet voices were complemented by Clark's dry baritone and vivid musical stories like "Randall Knife."

While Crowell's and Cash's material carried a more polished sheen, songs like Crowell's "Shame on the Moon" and Cash's "What Would I Give" conveyed a tough emotional realism and sophistication rarely heard in Nashville.