Archive for the ‘News and Reviews’ Category

Willie Nelson on undocumented children being held in Texas, “Treat those kids like they were your kids.”

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

by: DeeDee Garcia Blase

“I guess the closer you are to the situation, the more extreme emotions you have about it, but it seems to me the old golden rule, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ or ‘treat other people like you want to be treated’ … Treat those kids like they were your kids.”– Willie Nelson

Known for his  country outlaw music with Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard and others, at one time “they called Willie crazy, but nowadays they call him a saint.” This is indeed true when Tejanas and Tejanos saw Willie rise to the occasion as hate toward refugee children reached a fevered pitch in Murrieta, California,-immigrant protestors were terrorizing the children as they blocked buses while spewing  anti-Mexican rhetoric (even though these kids were from Central America). The anti-immigrant hate speech carried over to the border convoy caught in Texas of more anti-immigrant protesters.

Many of us were deeply affected with a painful reminder of the broken immigration system that could have prevented this situation. The Democratic-led Senate passed immigration reform over one year ago, and the likes of Speaker Boehner who is in control of the House of Representatives continue to block the vote at the House level with no signs of forward progress to fix the broken system. Now President Obama has no choice but to do what he can within his legal purview and jurisdiction in light of immigration inaction by the House.

I have believed for some time how a musician can be more influential than a political pundit. Politics is something of a bore — it can be dark, complex with evil tentacles tempting people to support bad motives. Political pundits seem to be losing their edge as their columns and/or opinions are only worth their salt for a day or two because political mundane topics equate to a loss of interest leading to further lack of knowledge. That said, it is the norm for people to equate music to joyful, peaceful memories and/or things they can relate to — and this is why when someone like Willie Nelson chimes in on political matters, the ripple affect is massive news for Texas that can permeate forever.

As a Texas-born woman, I am grateful and feel indebted to Willie for his bravery in support of these small and young refugee children. When I heard wind of the news via the San Antonio Express, immigration activists were on a high for days and felt it’s power in the Spirit world.

According to the Rolling Stone:

Nelson also offered his thoughts on the 60,000 Central American children who have crossed the Texas border in the past year who are now sleeping in makeshift holding cells. “I’ve been watching, and the only thing we can do is take care of those kids, whatever it takes,” says Nelson. “Take them in, give them some medical attention. I’m sure there are homes all over the country that would be glad to take care of one or two kids.

“They’re scared,” adds Nelson, whose parents left him to be raised by his grandparents when he was an infant. “They’re being mistreated. And it’s not a good way to start off your life. But it’s a good opportunity for us to show a little bit of humanitarianism and take care of those kids. I know a lot of people want to send them back. I guess the closer you are to the situation, the more extreme emotions you have about it, but it seems to me the old golden rule, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ or ‘treat other people like you want to be treated’ … Treat those kids like they were your kids.”

I hope Willie secures several generations of music enthusiasts from one of the fastest growing demographics in our Nation. I am confident Tejanos, Chicanos and Latinos will not forget his compassionate Texas act signaled during dire neighborly times. This is not a bad Tejano spot to be for Willie’s continued legendary status particularly whenRegional Mexican music is the top-selling genre of Latin music in the United States.

No stranger to activism, he has a strong history of supporting his community most notably Farm Aid when Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp organized the first Farm Aid concert in 1985 to raise awareness about the loss of family farms and to raise funds to keep farm families on their land.

Mere political pundits forget the “unity” message when they increase divisiveness in our “United” States. Many of them add fuel to the fire when stubborn lines are drawn between Democrats and Republicans when resolutions ought to be based on the issues — not necessarily the team you are on when toeing the party line. The United States is essentially one big team, and it appears that Texas Willie Nelson fully understands that. Nelson embraces love, life, and positive political messages. Musicians who have a sincere concern for the direction of our nation ought to rise up as Willie did. As such, musicians who courageously stand up for life and love will benefit with a growing demographic who will innately be loyal to the artists who have compassion for their community and children.

Maybe it’s time we got back to the basics of love.

Note: Dedicated to Mark Lane who held steady even though he received death threats for taking in refugee children.

Willie Nelson & Family @ Texas A&M (November 17, 2014)

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

By: Robert C. Borden

Earlier this summer when MSC OPAS announced its new season, it promised a “big-name” mystery concert. Everyone was left to guess who it might be.

The mystery was solved on Sunday when OPAS announced Willie Nelson & Family Live in Concert on Nov. 17. Nelson will perform at 7:30 p.m. in Rudder Auditorium at Texas A&M University.

Tickets range from $30 to $150. OPAS Main Stage season ticket purchasers will have the first chance to buy tickets when they go on sale later this month. Season ticket holders will be notified by mail soon. Should any tickets remain, they will go on sale at 10 a.m. Sept. 5 at the MSC Box Office.

Season tickets to all four OPAS series for the 2014-2015 season are still are available at the Box Office at 979-845-1234. For more information, go to

Anne Black, OPAS executive director, said Sunday afternoon, “Willie Nelson is a living legend. We are terribly excited to add this concert featuring Willie and his talented family to our season.

“Everyone loves Willie and the music he has created throughout his remarkable career. We expect demand for tickets to this one-night-only engagement will be very high.”

Now 81, Nelson has had a storied career for the past six decades. He has recorded more than 200 albums, including the classic Red Headed Stranger and Stardust. He has written such massive hits as Crazy and Night Life. In October, he released To All the Girls, featuring 18 duets with singers such as Dolly Parton, Mavis Staples, Loretta Lynn, Sheryl Crow, Wynonna Judd, Roseanne Cash, Alison Krauss, Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert and Norah Jones.

Willie Nelson, by the Numbers

Sunday, August 17th, 2014

by:  John Papendick

Here is a by-the-numbers look at Willie Nelson, who will perform tonight at the Brown County Fair in Aberdeen:

• 16,391: Days between Nelson concerts in Aberdeen (Oct. 1, 1969-Aug. 16, 2014), or 44 years, 10 months and 16 days.

• 150: Albums (69 studio, 42 compilation, 28 collaboration, 11 live)

• 81: Years old (born April 29, 1933).

• 57: Years ago his first single “No Place For Me” was released.

• 36: Years between being on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine (July 1978-August 2014).

• 33: Dollars difference in some ticket prices to see Nelson in Aberdeen. In 1969, $2. In 2014, $35.

• 28: Years between No. 1 country albums (2014 with “Band of Brothers”-1986 with “The Promiseland”).

• 25: Songs have hit No. 1 on the U.S. music charts.

• 22: Years ago, Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson recorded The Highwaymen in Aberdeen, Scotland.

• 15: Albums have hit No. 1 on the U.S. music charts.

• 10: Nelson shows this month in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and South Dakota.

Read entire article here.

Willie Nelson educates about family farms, biofuels, marijuana

Sunday, August 17th, 2014

by Scott Waltman

Willie Nelson will step onto the stage tonight at the Brown County Fair as an undisputed legend of American music who has released more than 200 albums, 15 of which have topped the charts.

He’s a seven-time Grammy winner and a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

He’s the writer of Patsy Cline’s smash “Crazy” as well as many of his own hits, including “On the Road Again” and “If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time.”

He’s sold more than 40 million albums in his home country alone.

He’s recorded with Bob Dylan, Merle Haggard, Paul Simon, Sinead O’Connor, Johnny Cash, Ray Price, Waylon Jennings, Wynton Marsalis, Norah Jones, Snoop Dogg, Sheryl Crow and countless others.

He’s sold Bibles, spent a stretch in the Air Force and been in trouble with the law for failure to pay taxes and lay off marijuana.

He’s a fifth-degree black belt in the martial art of GongKwon Yusu and sometimes lives in a green community in Hawaii in a home that gets its energy from solar panels.

And he’s a vocal advocate of rural America, family farms and biofuels, issues that bind him to the residents of the corn-covered Dakota prairies almost as much as his iconic music.

Chuck Beck, director of communications for the Sioux Falls-based American Collation for Ethanol, said it’s nice for the biofuel and ethanol industry to have a proponent as popular as Nelson.

“It’s very helpful when you have advocates like Willie Nelson who have a broad stage and are well-known throughout the world and can talk about their (support) of biofuels,” Beck said.

The ethanol industry would like to expand in southern markets, in places such as Texas, Alabama and Louisiana, where country music is king. Nelson’s chatter about biofuels could be a boon to that endeavor, Beck said.

In 2012, under an agreement between Nelson and Pacific Biodiesel, a biofuel called BioWillie was made available at a retail pump in Maui, Hawaii. A previous Nelson-themed biofuel endeavor wasn’t particularly successful, but it didn’t cool Nelson’s support.

“Biodiesel seems to answer a lot of our prayers,” Nelson wrote in his 2007 book “On the Clean Road Again: Biodiesel and the Future of the Family Farm.”

“Not only can it help the U.S. economy, our unwanted dependence on foreign oil and the gasping environment, it could also help the family farmers out of this tragic dilemma they have found themselves in through no fault of their own,” he wrote.

“We hope his endorsement doesn’t go up in smoke,” Beck quipped.

Ah, yes. Consider that an acknowledgement of Nelson’s vocal support of the legalization of marijuana — a cash crop, of sorts.

While South Dakota will likely be one of the last states to ease marijuana laws, 21 states and the District of Columbia have, as of April 22, legalized pot in some way, mostly for medical use, according to the It reports that Colorado and Washington have legalized marijuana for both medical and recreational use.

Not a big drinker nowadays, Nelson doesn’t hide the fact that he regularly smokes marijuana.

“Cigarettes killed my mother, my dad, half my family, so don’t tell me about health when you’re talking about legalizing marijuana, because it’s not dangerous health-wise. I’m the canary in the mine, and I’m still healthy. Had I stayed with alcohol, I would have been dead or in prison somewhere today,” he said in a 2012 story published in The Guardian.

Nelson is also commonly quoted talking about the health benefits of medical marijuana and how legalizing pot could be a revenue stream for the government.

That might not be the type of talk that will garner tons of favor with South Dakota farmers and ranchers. But as a founder of Farm Aid, Nelson’s ag credibility is safe. And it’s not lost on ag-industry organizations.

Mike Traxinger, a Claremont-area native, is the corporate attorney for the Aberdeen-based Wheat Growers cooperative. He’s previously worked for South Dakota Farmers Union and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is a fifth-generation South Dakotan.

Given Brown County’s strong history of farming, it’s nice that the fair’s featured performer is an advocate of family farms and rural issues, Traxinger said.

His new job has given Traxinger the chance to return to the family farm. Without events like Farm Aid, that’s an opportunity that might not be available to many people, he said.

Traxinger said he might go to tonight’s concert. He said his parents, who farm near Houghton, are going.

Nelson appeals to multiple generations of music fans, many of whom make their living on the farms that feed the nation, Traxinger said.

That’s a point that doesn’t seem lost on Nelson, who also understands the importance of agriculture beyond rural states like South Dakota.

“The fight to save family farms isn’t just about farmers,” Nelson is quoted as saying on the Farm Aid website. “It’s about making sure there is a safe and healthy food supply for all of us. It’s about jobs, from Main Street to Wall Street. It’s about a better America.”

States that have legalized marijuana in some measure:

• Alaska
• Arizona
• California
• Colorado
• Connecticut
• Delaware
• Hawaii
• Illinois
• Maine
• Maryland
• Massachusetts
• Michigan
• Minnesota
• Montana
• Nevada
• New Hampshire
• New Jersey
• New Mexico
• New York
• Oregon
• Rhode Island
• Vermont
• Washington

Willie Nelson & Family in Milwaukee (8/13; 8/14)

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

photo: John Schulze

Willie Nelson sold out both of the shows he performed in Milwaukee without effort. The demand for Nelson, now 81 years young, seemingly never wanes. He’s one of the figures in country music who has always played by his own rules and is respected for doing just that. While legend is a title that one might be quick to adorn Nelson with, it hardly defines him as a whole. Nelson recently returned to songwriting with his new album “Band Of Brothers,” and continues to redefine himself and his legacy.

Nelson opened up the Aug. 14 show with his classic “Whiskey River,” and after jamming it out with his band moved on to “Beer For My Horses,” a song he recorded with Toby Keith that was released back in 2003. Nelson of course was joined onstage by his trusted Martin N-20 guitar he named Trigger after Roy Rogers’ horse. Weathered, autographed, well loved, and a bit broken in all the right places, Trigger is about as iconic as guitars get in country music. Nelson paid tribute to Waylon Jennings in his third song of the night, “Good Hearted Woman.”

Nelson became famous in an era of country music that focused on radio, honky tonks and the Grand Ole Opry.  The available avenues for up and coming musicians were limited. In perspective, however, the number of musicians looking for record deals was also limited. Nelson recorded his first single in 1956 and in less than 10 years became a member of the Grand Ole Opry.   In 1969 Nelson acquired Trigger and the Martin guitar has been with him ever since.

“Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die”, by Willie Nelson

Saturday, August 16th, 2014
by: David Downs

Poet-philosopher and outlaw country music legend Willie Nelson released memoir Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die Nov. 13 in hardcover. The breezy, funny chapbook mixes never-before-heard stories, life lessons, and loads of jokes; with a foreword by author, singer, and cult provocateur Kinky Friedman.

An author of 35 books himself, Kinky took a few minutes to chat with Smell the Truth via phone from his ranch in Texas, where he was preparing for the second phase of his Bi-Polar Tour, which starts Nov. 30 in Kansas City, MO. and ends Dec. 20 in Eugene, OR.

Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die began as a co-writing project with Willie, Kinky says, but Nelson’s editor wanted one star, and Willie didn’t want an editor at all.

“The editor only wanted one voice, then Willie says ‘I’m not going to write it if you’re not going to write it’. It was like Tom Sawyer painting a fence. I had to write 27,000 words of which the foreword is all that survived.

“But that title makes sense and is brilliant and a great statement,” Friedman says. “The book gives you some insights into Willie’s actual mind, which are always interesting and diverting and funny and enlightening. It’s music. It’s jokes. It’s a story about farting on an airplane – things like that. And it’s kind of where he is today.

“He is pushing 80 and he was concerned about his mortality – as anybody would be,” Friedman said. “God knows how you feel at that age. Most of Willie’s friends and contemporaries are dead. He’s got some real wisdom.”

“Something about what he is doing is working. He is really honestly connecting with people in a way that’s different than most artists or entertainers. Everybody thinks that they’re Willie’s friend and that’s true, from the doorman, to the guy loading the garbage truck. I’ve been around with Dylan. People are in awe of Bob Dylan, but they certainly don’t come over and say, ‘Hey, Bob, how are you? My name’s Bill.’ And it’s a good thing they don’t.”

Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die is easy to pick up and put down, making it great light reading over the holiday vacation. Here’s Nelson:

on exercise:
“Work out, work out, and work out.”

on drug legalization:
“Addiction should be treated as a disease.”

and on President Obama:
“I think that once you become President, the first thing you realize is that you can’t do shit.”

Friedman shares Nelson’s point of view on legalized pot, saying “we got prisons full of people that shouldn’t be there, meanwhile all the pedophiles and politicians run around free.”

And Friedman echoes Nelson’s contempt for corporate Nashville country music.

“Somebody is recording this shit and somebody is listening to it, I guess, and it must be making money, but I can’t think of any classics, anything great that have been written in the past 30 years in Nashville,” Friedman says.Like the book, Friedman’s Bi-Polar tour – which pulls into San Francisco Dec. 18– mixes songs, stories, jokes, and politics. Friedman says exploring another run for Governor of Texas.

“I think we really got a good shot at it. It’s a giant step down from musician to politician and I would only take it for Texas.”

Friedman’s also hawking a new solo CD, Live From Woodstock, a new tequila Kinky Friedman’s Man in Black Tequila, and branded cigar the Kinky Cristo. The music, the tequila, and the cigar all pack Kinky’s trademark punch and sting.

“It’s something that really got to zing for me to feel it,” he said. “We’re a homogenized, sanitized, trivialized culture already. I only have two tastebuds left but they are having a hell of a party.”


Willie Nelson & Family in Springfield, IL (August 12, 2014)

Friday, August 8th, 2014
  • Willie Nelson performs Tuesday at Sangamon Auditorium.

    Country music legend Willie Nelson is 81 years old and probably more active than people half his age.

    Last year, Nelson was scheduled to perform at Sangamon Auditorium, but that show was postponed after Nelson wasn’t feeling well after the most recent Farm Aid fundraising concert. That postponed show was rescheduled for Tuesday at the auditorium at the University of Illinois Springfield (see accompanying information for details).

    That may have been the only thing that slowed down the singer who made “On the Road Again,” “Whiskey River,” “Always On My Mind” and many, many other big hits.

    Since the last time Nelson was scheduled to perform in Springfield:

    He released his first album of mostly new material that he wrote himself since 1996. “Band of Brothers” features nine new Nelson-composed songs.

    He was inducted in the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame as part of its inaugural class – and was inducted by friend and recent Academy Award winner, actor Matthew McConaughey.

    “There would be no Austin City Limits without Willie Nelson,” McConaughey said.

    Nelson was the first Austin City Limits performer in 1974 on what is now the longest-running television music program in the U.S. It airs on PBS.

    Fellow country icons Emmylou Harris and Lyle Lovett joined the “Red Headed Stranger” on stage for a string of hits including “On the Road Again” and “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”

    “It means a lot. It’s Austin City Limits and Austin — the music capital of the world,” Nelson said on his bus before the show.

    Blues rockers Buddy Guy and Kenny Wayne Shepherd ended the night by joining Nelson on stage for a blistering rendition of “Texas Flood.”

    Austin, Texas, had previously celebrated Nelson with a street named after him, and an 8-foot bronze likeness.

    And shortly after the Austin City Limits honor, Nelson received his fifth-degree black belt in the martial art of Gong Kwon Yu Sul.

    Nelson didn’t show off his chops but Grand Master Sam Um assured a packed room that the “Red Headed Stranger” could hold his own against anyone. As is typically the case wherever Nelson goes, other celebrities were close: this time Austin resident Lance Armstrong tiptoed past parents of other students to see his fellow Texan honored.

    “Honestly, I was surprised to be getting this degree,” Nelson said on his bus before the ceremony. “I don’t know what else is out there. I never thought about anything beyond second-degree black belt.”

    The singer gives martial arts a lot of credit for his clean bill of health. Although off stage he’s more famously known for more mellow interests — like smoking pot — Nelson said he stays physical whenever possible. He’s also a runner and avid bike rider.

    “I’m pretty healthy at 81. I think a lot of it has to do with the exercise that you do,” Nelson said. “I think martial arts is one of the best exercises you can do. Mentally, spiritually, physically, everything. I’m sure that’s helped.”

    When Nelson initially showed up to his studio, Um said he worried about the musician’s heart because of his age. Then the instructor got a glimpse of his lifestyle over the next 20 years.“He has more stamina than I do,” Um said.

    Nelson donated many of his platinum records, manuscripts and creative documents to the University of Texas.  UT’s Dolph Briscoe Center for American History on Thursday announced Nelson’s gift.  The Willie Nelson Collection in Austin will be the focus of an upcoming exhibit. UT officials say the collection includes letters and photos from fellow musicians including Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard and Lionel Richie. The items also pay tribute to Nelson’s fans and their gifts and notes to him over the years.

    Associated Press writer Paul J. Weber contributed to this article.Read article here.

Willie Nelson & Family and Alison Krauss & Union Station (Detroit) (July 13, 2014)

Sunday, July 13th, 2014



• Willie Nelson and Alison Krauss & Union Station
• 7:30 p.m. Sunday, July 13
• Freedom Hill Amphitheatre, 14900 Metropolitan Pkwy., Sterling Heights
• Tickets are $45-$79.50 pavilion, $10 lawn|
• Call 586-268-5100 or
by:   Gary Graff

A Willie Nelson appearance usually gets folks excited simply because he’s an American music icon. But it’s even more exciting when he’s adding new songs to his legendary repertoire.

Nelson’s new “Band of Brothers” marks the first album in nearly two decades to feature primarily his own material — nine of 14 tracks, in fact. And Nelson is quick to credit album producer and co-writer Buddy Cannon for getting him back into writing mode.

“He produced the album, but he’s also a great writer and we’re good together,” Nelson, 81, explains. “We had a sort of formula that worked. I’d come up with an idea I’d send him, just me and the guitar, just one take on it, and he would take that into the studio and hire musicians and cut the whole track from that, then I’d go back and put my vocal on it.

“So it was an easy album to cut, really.”

Nelson even has another album he plans to release later this year, which he recorded with his regular band and features “about eight or nine originals” including “Back To Earth” and “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen” as well a version of Irving Berlin’s “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” But he adds that the was never particularly concerned about the lack of new songs he was releasing during the interim.

“With writing, some days you feel like doing it, some days you don’t,” explains Nelson, who also recorded songs by Vince Gill, Billy Joe Shaver, Billy Burnette and others for “Band of Brothers.”

“A lot of times you get an idea and you have to write about it, or at least I do. The ones you HAVE to write are usually the ones that become the best songs.”

WIllie Nelson: Band of Brothers

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

Willie Nelson

Band of Brothers (Sony / Legacy Recordings)

Phases & Stages

by: Tim Steagall

“Well, it seems that I’ve been here before/ So if this means that there is more – bring it on.”

So intones a familiar, reedy voice, none the worse for wear over 81 years and delivering the titular punch line with characteristic Lone Star Zen: laissez-faire delivery of steel resolve. Halfway through the first verse of the first song on the first album of predominantly self-penned material since 1996, Willie Nelson sounds downright pugilistic. On the occasion of his last set of originals, Spirit (inhale “Twisted Williemania,” Feb. 9, 1996), Abbott’s favorite son invited us aboard his bus the Honeysuckle Rose after having just been dropped by his label of 18 years, Columbia Records. For the better part of the next two decades, he then concentrated on his Louis Armstrong-like interpretive and duet skills – anyone, anytime, any place – occasionally hitting when paired with a Toby Keith (“Beer for My Horses”).

Now, Nelson’s Band of Brothers debuts at No. 1 on Billboard‘s Country Albums rankings and No. 5 overall, breaking several of his own career highs. All he needed to revive his commercial fortunes was to obey his calling: songwriting. Remember, having penned deathless standards including “Hello, Walls,” “Crazy,” “Night Life,” and “Funny How Time Slips Away,” the Red-Headed Stranger didn’t make his name on his braids. While Band of Brothers‘ new ones are co-writes with the producer Buddy Cannon, the lyrics are clearly Nelson’s, which taken as a whole constitute as deeply personal a document as any he’s authored. One key track, “Guitar in the Corner,” acknowledges writer’s block before turning it into a metaphor for a faltering relationship: “There’s a guitar in the corner/ That used to have a song/ I would hold it while it played me/ And I would sing along.” Two plays later, Nelson’s hitting “The Wall,” singing of spending “Half my life ridin’ on a rocket/ One world to the next then on and on,” afterward resolving to make improvements: “Taking things to make it make me better/ Remembering things I never knew I’d knew.”

Accompanying Western grooves that harness all the compositions into a cohesive ride – each accessorized with the bandleader’s Django Reinhardt-loving acoustic guitar solos – most of the lyrics speak of broken-down romance, with lines as telling as those in “Send Me a Picture” (“Send me a picture when we were together/ When we held the world in the palm of our hands/ When life had a future forever and ever”). Elsewhere, his interpretive muscles flex hard, as with Billy Joe Shaver’s modern country protest, “Hard to Be an Outlaw”: “Singin’ ’bout the back roads that they never have been down/ They go and call it country but that ain’t the way it sounds”. Even then, Band of Brothers belongs solely to Willie Nelson. This is the sound of rust being ground out, cylinders squeaking back to life, engines and carburetors opening wide on the road again.


Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

by:  Dave Thomas

By Dave Thomas

FORT WORTH — “I think we’re tied for the most bras tossed onstage,” Dierks Bentley told the Willie Nelson Fourth of July Picnic crowd. “Austin is right up there with you.”

So, Austin, we have that going for us.

No, actually, we lost that record in short order. Of course such a record seems dubious, if I were Dierks Bentley, I’d say that at every show.

And he probably does. A human super ball of energy, Bentley had the crowd in the palm of his hand early. He never missed a chance to say “Fort Worth” and by the time he sang the extra verse to “Am I The Only One” — about good times at the Picnic — he had an army.

Who could top that?

Easy, the guy whose name is on the show.

Coming out at 9:50 p.m. to a crowd that Billy Bob’s Texas says topped 10,000 (though I would guess significantly more), Willie Nelson hit the opening chords of “Whiskey River,” the Texas flag dropped down behind him and he let loose about 75 minutes of old hits and new songs. The elder statesman of the Picnic, Willie is as cool as John Lee Hooker. He ran through his standard opening numbers — including a run of “Ain’t it Funny,” “Crazy” and “Night Life” that was accompanied by fireworks in the distance — and found his way to newer songs “Breathe,” “Bring it On” and “Band of Brothers.”

By the time Willie returned to old standards such as “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to Be Cowboys” and “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” — the sea of fans at the south stage had begun to recede a bit — glassy-eyed and limping faithful who were clearly thinking “OK, we’ve seen Willie, now we can go” were doing just that.

There’s no doubt, the Picnic is an endurance test for folks who want to take it all in. And with only 13 artists (outnumbered 2-1 by official sponsors), it didn’t seem right to miss anyone. So by mid-afternoon you’d have sad sights: An older woman hobbling in cowboy boots alongside a shell-shocked man. Angrily red sunburned faces of the stubborn and ghost-pale faces of  those who were a swoon away from being carted away by the EMS. On the other hand, there was that fellow in black leather, looking like David Allan Coe did in the 1970s, eating a fudgsicle and walking through the crowd like somebody’s bad dream. Some folks are impervious.

That doesn’t include David Allan Coe in the 2010s. He limped out with a walker, sat down in a chair and was handed an ’80s-style hair-metal guitar full of sharp points, and he launched into Merle Haggard’s “Rambling Fever.” After that, we entered the Coe Medley Zone and we never left. I think one song was “My Long Hair Never Covered up The Ride.” Nine years ago in this very spot, Coe was a force of nature — love him or hate him, you couldn’t take your eyes off him. A decade and a serious car wreck later, he’s fighting onward, but it seems uphill now.

The Picnic has been losing regular performers faster than it has been gaining them. It picked up Jamey Johnson a few years back, but more are needed. I don’t know how long the Picnic will go on, but for however long that is, Ryan Bingham should be at every one. Bingham’s unpretentious style (write excellent songs, step up to mike, sing the hell out of them) fits in perfectly alongside the legends he followed. And his fans loved him for it, every song (“Dollar a Day,” “Dylan’s Hard Rain,” “Sunrise,” “Country Roads”) was greeted with a huge “whoooo” of appreciation.

At the soft opening of “Day is Done,” Bingham’s rasp rattled the North Forty like a small earthquake. By the time he hit the middle of “Bread and Water,” an American flag was waving above outstretched hands at the right of the stage and suspicious puffs of smoke were floating above the left side. One of the benefits of a 75-minute set is the opportunity for the rarest of Picnic things: An encore. And Bingham, in an inspired move, closed his with Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.”

After dozens of Picnics — he made his debut 40 years ago at the same College Station Picnic where Robert Earl Keen’s car caught on fire — Ray Wylie Hubbard totally gets it: Hit the crowd hard with what they want and don’t stop hitting until the set is over. If they never catch their breath, they’ll never notice they are baking in a dusty field. “Rabbit” quickly lead to “Snake Farm” anad “Drunken Poets Dream.” By the team we got to the sing-along of “Redneck Mother” beers were held high, waving in not-quite-unison.

Earlier in the day, Charley Pride came out in a purple shirt and got a royal reception to match. The country legend got the biggest roar of the early afternoon, opening with “Six Days on the Road” before getting to what everyone was waiting for: “Is Anybody Going to San Antone.” Pride worked the stage, microphone in one hand and a white towel in the other to mop the sweat from his head, never missing a note while he did so. It took him awhile to get warmed up — 20 minutes in I was wishing terribly he’d get a bonus 20 minutes — but once he did, he was mesmerizing.

The Willie Picnic crowd seems to love a legend we haven’t seen very often, and Willie has a long history of making them part of his show. The crowd ate up “All I have to Offer You (Is Me)” and “Mountain of Love” and he gave the fans in the front little waves before we got our first hair-stand-on-end moment of the day: a patriotic song — which I’ll guess is called “America the Great.” It was one of the great Picnic moments that I’ve seen in the past decade.

Pride gave us all we came to see, ending with “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” and working that warmed-up voice with “Kaw-Liga.”

It’s as if Johnny Bush saw Leon Russell’s fiery set at last year’s show and took it as a personal challenge. Bush, who is the traditional country music heart of the Picnic, came out with “There Stands the Glass” and didn’t slow down from there. He joked with the crowd a moment: “I talked to Willie yesterday and he said next year we’re going to do the Fourth of July Picnic in February.” But then it was one great hit after another: “Undo the Right,” “Pipeliner Blues” and “All the Rage in Paris” — an excellent new song he wrote with Randy Rogers.

After an instrumental break — if twin fiddles don’t stir your soul, you ain’t in the right place — he closed with hits “Green Snakes” and “Whiskey River.”

There was drama early in the day when a fellow passed out at the front of the south stage about halfway through Folk Uke’s set. Cathy Guthrie and Amy Nelson stopped the show and called for EMS services, who quickly revived the older gentlemen and hustled him off to the medical tent (later, I would find myself standing next to him at the Ray Wylie Hubbard set — rock on, dude). When it was obvious that the man was not in real trouble, the Nelson family quickly turned comedy team.

“That’s OK, the song wasn’t very good anyway,” Amy said. Brother Micah joked, “My solo was so bad he passed out.”

Micah was sitting in on Folk Uke’s set of charmingly profane and profanely charming songs before bringing out his band Insects vs. Robots. The comedy would continue during the set change: “I have a really offensive joke,” Micah told the crowd. “Can you handle it? Is this America?”

We won’t tell you the joke, for much the same reason we won’t tell you what songs Folk Uke played, but it led right in to Insects vs. Robots, which brought the “I like this, but what the heck is it?” to the Picnic for the second year. Their set consisted of 2 extended jams, the last ending with the whole band wailin’ out of tune, which was as close and as far as this Picnic would get to Waylon Jennings.

Amber Digby’s traditional country set the tone for the hundreds filing in during the opening hour. Not sure why her and her 7-piece band got a full hour (during the Luckenbach hour this would’ve been split up into four local acts, each overjoyed to be there), but Digby made the most of it, including an inspired closing song: Johnny Paycheck’s “If I’m Going to Sink (Might as Well Go to the Bottom).”

For those of you keeping track of such things, beer was running $6 a 16-ounce bottle, and if you spent too much money, you might have ended up like the girl who ran up and puked into the trashcan I was standing next to. The beer wasn’t the only overpriced thing: Official Willie T-shirts started at $40 and climbed from there.

Back to Dierks Bentley: He came out to “5-1-5-0″ and soon beach balls were bouncing everywhere. Bentley snagged one from mid-air and held it before him like a he had lopped it off of someone’s neck. The crowd went nuts. Actually, the crowd was nuts the whole show, soaking in “Free and Easy” and “Tip it on Back” and, particularly, “Drunk on a Plane.”

Bentley is unstoppable, bringing a fan on stage for a beer-shotgunning contest, climbing down to the fence to high-five fans, grabbing a camera for a selfie. He tells us that he told Willie’s manager years back that his bucket list included playing Willie’s Fourth of July Picnic and Farm Aid. Halfway there. Another faux-encore leads to, of course, “What was I Thinking.”

Later, as Willie is winding down his set, starting with “Will the Circle be Unbroken” and leading into “I’ll Fly Away” and “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” he has been joined by the remaining stars of the day — Bentley and Johnson and Bingham are among them — for the traditional closing stretch. Willie sounds great, his voice about 20 years younger at this moment, when he starts up what will be the last song, Hank Williams’ “I Saw The Light.”

Done, Willie takes off Trigger and starts to head backstage as the band keeps the song going. Then Willie changes his mind, comes back to the mike and gives us one more refrain. It’s hard to tell from here, but he seems reluctant to leave the stage. Then he gives us all a little bow and a little wave and that’s it.

A sign? Will there be a 42nd annual Picnic? With Willie you never know.

About Dave Thomas

Dave Thomas has been a copy editor, designer and now web producer for the Austin American-Statesman since 2002.

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Willie Nelson’s timeless performance in Kansas City (7/6/14)

Monday, July 7th, 2014

photo: Ray Inman
by: Timothy Finn

A ticket to a Willie Nelson show can be a bit of a gamble. Ever the road warrior, Nelson, who turned 81 in April, is prone to an off night here and there. But when he’s on, he can still deliver a show for the ages.

Sunday night at Starlight Theatre, before a near sold-out crowd of 7,500-plus, Nelson was as on as he could possibly be, delivering an energetic 78-minute set filled with almost two dozen songs, all colored vividly by his inimitable vocal style and his nimble, genre-hopping way of playing guitar.

Nelson headlined a bill that included Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit and Alison Krauss and Union Station.

Isbell, a former member of the Drive-By Truckers, is a Southerner whose songs typically are narratives thick with details and imagery. His music leans toward alternative country and ’70s country-rock. His 35-minute set included tracks off “Southeastern” his most recent studio album, including “Live Oak,” “Stockholm” and “Traveling Alone.”

Krauss followed with a set that showed off her porcelain voice and her band’s inexhaustible precision. She and her bluegrass band, Union Station — Jerry Douglas, Dan Tyminski, Ron Block and Barry Bales — have been together more than 20 years, and it shows.

Their harmonies and instrumentals were impeccable and spot-on, suffering no obvious dropped or misfired notes, including Douglas’ fiery instrumentals on the dobro on Paul Simon’s “American Tune” and Chick Corea’s “Spain.”

Her set included favorites like “The Lucky One,” “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You” and “Every Time You Say Goodbye,” plus two tracks from the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack: “Down to the River to Pray” and “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow,” featuring Tyminski on lead vocals.

Nelson followed with a set that featured many of the songs for which he is best known. He opened with “Whiskey River,” then barnstormed through almost two dozen songs.

He was in a spry mood all night, arousing some singalongs, waving to fans up front and tossing souvenirs into the crowd, including a bandana or two.

His voice was strong and agile throughout, and his guitar work was at times spectacular, whether plucking bluesy leads or strumming percussively and tossing some dissonance into the mix.

There were plenty of highlights: his jazzy rearrangements of “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Crazy” and “Night Life,” played back-to-back-to-back; the singalong that erupted during “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”; his covers of Waylon Jennings’ “Good Hearted Woman,” Billy Joe Shaver’s “Georgia on a Fast Train” and Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night”; Nelson’s version of Django Reinhardt’s instrumental “Nuages”; and his dazzling intro to “I Never Cared for You.”

Throughout, he shared the spotlight with his band, including his sister Bobbie Nelson on piano and blues harpist Mickey Raphael.

There was no official encore, but he closed the show by summoning his openers onstage to join him on several tunes. The last two of those came from different spiritual places: “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” a nod to Willie’s favorite habit, then Hank Williams’ gospel classic, “I Saw the Light.”

As that song drew to a close, Nelson put down his guitar and exited stage right, waving to the crowd, which showered him with a hero’s ovation. It was a fitting close to a superb show. On this warm summer evening, Willie Nelson was the light.

Set List:

Alison Krauss and Union Station: Let Me Touch You for Awhile; Dustbowl Children; Who’s Your Uncle; The Lucky One; Baby, Now That I’ve Found You; Ghost in This House; Rain Please Go Away; Sawing on the Strings; Wild Bill Jones; Every Time You Say Goodbye; Jerry Douglas instrumental (American Tune/Spain); Hey, Brother; The Boy Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn; Paper Airplane; I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow. Encore: When You Say Nothing at All; Whiskey Lullaby; Down to the River to Pray; Your Long Journey.

Willie Nelson: Whiskey River; Still Is Still Moving to Me; Beer for My Horses; Kansas City; Funny How Time Slips Away; Crazy; Night Life; Me and Paul; Shoeshine Man; Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys; Good Hearted Woman; Help Me Make It Through the Night; Georgia on My Mind; Georgia on a Fast Train; Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground; On the Road Again; Always on My Mind; Nuages; Bring It On; Band of Brothers; I Never Cared for You; Will the Circle Be Unbroken; I’ll Fly Away; Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die; I Saw the Light.


Willie Nelson’s ‘Band of Brothers’ (review)

Monday, July 7th, 2014

Willie Nelson’s “Band of Brothers”

Nelson’s first full album of predominantly new material since 1996 sees the country music singer-songwriter in fine form, displaying top-notch melodies and instrumentation, and unique vocals that have only become more characterful with age.

Highlights here include the confessional The Wall – replete with slide guiatrs and a ‘rear view mirror’ narrative, the rollicking honky tonk of Crazy Like Me, and the slow country rocker Band of Brothers – but the whole album is accomplished and stands up well to Nelson’s (and the genre’s) best work.

He may be 81 years of age, but this octogenarian has still got it.

Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic

Monday, July 7th, 2014

photo:  John Herring
by: Tiney Riccardi

Thousands of smiling, sun-kissed faces decked out in red, white and blue flooded the Fort Worth Stockyards Friday to experience a pair of Texas country legends – the musician in his 81st year and picnic in its 41st. The daylong event, which hosted an estimated 12,000 people according to Billy Bob’s Texas spokeswoman Amy McGehee, functioned like a miniature festival, with 12 acts across two stages and the blended scent of livestock and marijuana in the air.

As a first-year attendee, I received an earful from those that had attended the last two, five, even 16 consecutive years. If the group costumes, crisp cowboy hats and American flags repurposed as clothing were any indication, Willie’s Picnic has a charming sort of gravitational pull. One Red Headed Stranger look-alike was so convincing, he parted the crowd on his way through.

Musical offerings spanned the country spectrum with an impressive showcase of fusion styles including funk, gospel, swing and pop. Willie’s son Lukas Nelson took the stage as Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real midday, diverting the crowd’s mind from the oppressive heat with a sampling of slick guitar lines, African drum beats and improvised jam breaks.

Ryan Bingham was another stand out, whose raspy voice and soulful lyrics earned him the first encore of the concert. Bingham returned to the stage solo to play “Hallelujah” before rounding out the set with a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” backed by his full band.

As the sun set, music hungry fans emerged from the air-conditioned Billy Bob’s Texas to see Nashville’s Dierks Bentley. In a backwards flat bill and baseball tee, Bentley riled up the audience with his frat-like swagger, flashing his abs and shotgunning beers with shirtless cowboys on stage.

But no one satisfied more than the headliner. Nelson’s performance was a communal source of enjoyment, as strangers linked arm-in-arm to sing the classics like “Whiskey River,” “On the Road Again” and “Still Is Still Moving to Me.” The set put the whole band’s talent on display. Willie’s sister Bobbie Nelson took the spotlight on grand piano during “Down Yonder,” and with sons Lukas and Micah on guitar and drums, the family paid tribute to Texas blues with a riveting cover of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Texas Flood.”

In his old age, Nelson seems to talk his lyrics more than sing them, but his musicianship on vocals and guitar was nonetheless on point. He didn’t tempt attendees with an encore, instead ending the show strongly with a cadence of guest artists including Lily Meola on “Will You Remember Mine.” Bentley and a camp of eight others joined Nelson for a rendition of gospel tune “I’ll Fly Away” and original “Roll Me Up.”

Fireworks crackled over downtown as Willie took a bow. Unquestionable, it will be worth attending future picnics just to see him take another.

Willie Nelson Going Strong: Band of Brothers (review)

Sunday, July 6th, 2014

Willie Nelson’s “Band of Brothers”
by: Dean Gordon-Smith

At 81 years old and 50-plus albums, Willie Nelson is a clear eyed reporter of world weary choices, moody regret and aw shucks bad assery.

On Band of Brothers, his first mainly original album in over a decade, Nelson reasserts his songwriting mastery in an album replete with his end-of-the-night chord patterns and western swing/country pop hybrid songs.

Nelson’s vigorous work ethic has kept his tremulous voice in solid form (as a vocal stylist, his shaky voice is singular.) Producer Buddy Cannon’s highlighting of Nelson’s voice and rickety, elegant guitar work dovetail sweetly into the relaxed songs of Band of Brothers – an unhurried collection of classic Nelson themes of camaraderie (Guitar in the Corner), the road (Band of Brothers) and wayward love (Wives and Girlfriends).

This album shines light on Nelson’s songs which, along with his voice, are ageless because they’ve always sounded old.

Both are strong and confident, shaded by darkness and humour: He’s no serious prophet but he’s a wry observer of basic situations who turns simple sentiments into roadside wisdom.

Nelson has always had an ear for the “whatever happens,” the type of view as heard on Used to Hear:

“I wish I wasn’t used to her back then, I could have picked a good girl who did not crave other men/ I wish I wasn’t used to her back then.”

Band of Brothers is focused on Nelson’s ensemble, playing western swing songs and easy excursions into bluesy sounds (The Git Go, Hard to Be an Outlaw).

His workhorse musical output has kept his vocal/guitar and songwriting skills vital and pleasantly weathered. This album hones in on all three of his talents with emphasis on the latter. He gives an insight to his longevity and drive on The Songwriters: “We write bridges, we cross ‘em and burn ‘em/Teach lessons but don’t bother to learn ‘em.”

Who needs a duet when Willie’s got Trigger?

Saturday, July 5th, 2014


another amazing photo by Jay Blakesberg

The Willie Nelson Duets We Would Love to See Happen

by: Darryl Smyers

Who needs a duet when Willie’s got Trigger? Well, we do actually.

Seeing that the legendary Willie Nelson is performing at his annual 4th of July picnic this Friday, we at DC9 thought it time to do some wishful thinking about dear Willie. The guy has always loved doing duets. He’s performed songs with (among others) Snoop Dog, Steven Colbert, Julio Iglesias, Kid Rock, Carlos Santana, Neil Young, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and Ray Charles.
As anyone can see from the above list, Nelson doesn’t mind mixing in the unexpected collaboration. Interestingly, he always seems to get it right even when the duet partner is well outside the country mainstream. We think Mr. Nelson would do well with duets with just about anyone. Here are some choice suggestions that we’d love to see happen.
1. Slayer
Nelson’s reedy tenor might not make it through the full-throttle roar of Slayer, but it would be fun to try. The speed metal version of “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” is crying to be made. Or perhaps it would simply make you cry.

2. Ice-T
I’m thinking Ice-T with Body Count banging away at “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys.” Of course, Ice-T would have to take time away from Law and Order and he hasn’t made an album with Body Count since 1994. But a guy can dream, can’t he?

3. Black Flag
This would be the real Black Flag with Henry Rollins, not the fake version currently being perpetrated by Greg Ginn. Who wouldn’t enjoy Nelson harmonizing with Rollins on “Whisky River?” This duet would get extra points seeing that Rollins abstains from drugs and alcohol and everyone knows Nelson’s predisposition for illegal substances.

4. Ministry
Al Jourgensen kind of looks like a demonic version of Nelson, so why not an industrialized, mutant version of “On the Road Again?” This would have needed to happen back in the ’80s when Ministry still mattered. It would have probably energized both Nelson and Jourgensen.

5. Toadies
This should have already happened. Hearing Fort Worth’s best rock band united with Nelson on a stomping version of “Crazy” would be an alt-country wet dream. I think a couple of publicists ought to start making some calls and make this happen.

6. Old 97′s
See above, but change the song to “Night Life.”

7. Roger McGuinn
Two of music’s most recognizable voices meld perfectly on a killer take of “Angels Flying Too Close to the Ground.” The song has already been covered by Bob Dylan and we know how McGuinn, the former Byrd, loves him some Dylan.

8. The Replacements
What else does Paul Westerberg have to do rather than duet with Willie on “City of New Orleans?” Westerberg cannot harmonize to save his life, but he’d stumble his way through it in prime Replacements tradition.