Archive for the ‘News and Reviews’ Category

Willie Nelson in Japan (February 1984)

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019


Feb. 21, 1984

American country western singer Willie Nelson, surrounded by a troop of photographers, speaks to the press in Tokyo, as he kicked off his five-city tour in Japan.  He said he intends to offer “both standard and original jazz” to the Japanese audience.

Willie Nelson & Family in Concert in (March 19, 2019)

Monday, February 18th, 2019

Being 85 hasn’t appeared to slow down the Red Headed Stranger at all.

In fact, Willie Nelson was honored with his eighth Grammy award on Sunday during the 61st Grammy Awards for best traditional pop album for “My Way.”

West Texans will have the chance to see the star perform live with Willie Nelson & Family next week.

Willie Nelson & Family are scheduled to perform Tuesday at the Wagner Noel Performing Arts Center. Nelson’s prolific career includes music, moves and helping found Farm Aid in 1985.

Nelson’s new Grammy is his eighth and he has been nominated a whopping 51 times.

This year his album beat out “Love Is Here To Stay” by Tony Bennett and Diana Krall, “Nat “King” Cole & Me” by Gregory Porter, “Standards (Deluxe)” by Seal and “The Music… The Mem’ries…The Magic!” by Barbra Streisand.

It was a big week for Nelson as he was also honored Feb. 6 at the Recording Academy’s Procucers & Engineers Wing 12th Annual Celebration in Santa Monica, Calif., for his years of “artistic achievements and creative genius.”

The Associated Press reported that Kacey Musgraves, Dave Matthews and Lukas Nelson saluted the outlaw king of country music with tributes and performances.

The 85-year-old Texas singer-songwriter was a man of few words when he was presented with a plaque, jokingly asking if he was graduating. He thanked all the producers and engineers, adding that “I’m glad they liked me ‘cause they could have really screwed me up.”

Nelson was nominated for two Grammys: best traditional pop vocal album for “My Way,” a covers album of Frank Sinatra; and best American roots performance for “Last Man Standing.”

Musgraves, who was also a big winner during Sunday night’s Grammy’s including winning album of the year, had much more to say about the “Red-Headed Stranger.”

She said her fellow Texan has an ability to bring together people, no matter their differences: “Underdogs, outliers, Republicans, rappers, presidents. Everyone loves Willie,” Musgraves said.

Nelson’s songs are so iconic, “they’re never going to die, and let’s get real: He’s probably not either,” she said Matthews was joined by two of Nelson’s sons, Micah and Lukas, to help cover songs like “Crazy,” and “I Thought About You, Lord.” Lukas Nelson, who worked on the soundtrack and film for “A Star Is Born” with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, can sing a dead-on impersonation of his father’s unique high singing style.

Nelson was born in Abbott, Texas, and during the 1960s he wrote for Ray Price, Patsy Cline and Billy Walker. He aligned with Waylon Jennings in the 1970s and met critical acclaim with his album “Red Headed Stranger” and the song “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.”

His first Grammy win came in 1975 for “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.”

His 1982 hit “Always on My Mind” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008.

Willie Nelson, enduring legend

Monday, February 18th, 2019
photo:  Mike Brooks
by:  Mike Brooks

Willie Nelson can’t keep up this kind of schedule any more.   Or can he?

The wear and tear of 60 years on the road  shows, like the hundreds of names scratched into the soundboard of his vintage Martin N-20 acoustic guitar. Standing in clear bright stage lights in front of a paired down band, he embraces every nick and dent like the Alamo embraces bullet holes. And like that old mission, he has become an important piece of the mythology of Texas. Willie Nelson, Texas icon and last of the outlaws, finishes a signature tune, looks you in the eyes and smiles. Overwhelming odds don’t matter. We’re from Texas.

Willie Nelson at a sold out Bomb Factory, Dallas Texas.

by:  Mike Brooks

See slide show with lots more photos at Dallas Observer website.

Willie Nelson & Family in El Paso on Valentines Day

Sunday, February 10th, 2019

Musicians including Lyle Lovett, Margo Price, Jason Isbell and Jack Johnson share stories about their friendship with Willie Nelson at a tribute concert to the country legend.
by:  Maria Cortes Gonzales

The iconic Willie Nelson, whose career spans six decades, will bring his concert to the Sun City on Valentine’s Day.

The legendary singer, who turned 85 in April, is known not only for his raspy, unmistakable voice and remarkable song writing but also as a businessman, activist and author. His book,  “It’s A Long Story: My Life,” landed him on the New York Times’ bestsellers list when it was published in 2015.

Here are five things to know about the singer with braided hair before you head out to the “Willie Nelson & Family” concert at the Abraham Chavez Theatre.

Daughter Paula Nelson is a singer and a host for Willie’s Roadhouse channel (named after her father) on Sirius. Daughter Amy and sons Micah and Lukas, often perform with their dad. Lukas has his own backing band, Promise of the Real.

In 2017, Lukas released an album, “Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real,” demonstrating he is coming into his own. He also has dabbled into acting, getting a small part in the 2018 film, “A Star is Born” and helped Bradley Cooper behind the scenes.

His music: Willie Nelson has had 200-plus albums. And he continues to be quite prolific. Last year, he released “Last Man Standing,” to celebrate his birthday. It is comprised of songs entirely penned by Nelson and his longtime collaborator Buddy Cannon.

On the album, he mentions friends like Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and Ray Price and wonders why he is one of the last men still standing.

In September, he also released “My Way,” a collection of classics originally made famous by Frank Sinatra, a close friend and musical colleague. In an interview with Harvey Levin’s “OBJECTified,” Nelson said he often liked to listen to Sinatra to pick up on his phrasing, saying his was scary or not understood by some people.

What he likes to play: Most likely, Nelson will play songs from his new album as well as favorites like “On the Road Again.” But he also enjoys singing gospel songs, as he grew up going to a Methodist church and listening to hymns.

He also enjoys playing Sinatra classics, such as his flawless rendition of “My Way.”

Vote ‘Em Out: Nelson doesn’t shy away from taking a stand when needed. And in 2018, he had ties to El Paso with his support of State Rep. Beto O’Rourke. Much bigger than a concert, nearly 55,000 people crammed into the Auditorium Shores in Austin in September for the Turn Out For Texas rally.

O’Rourke joined Nelson to sing “On the Road Again,” and the crooner debuted a new song to mark the occasion, “Vote ‘Em Out.”

“If you don’t like who’s in there, vote ’em out,” he sang. “That’s what election day is all about, and the biggest gun we’ve got is called the ballot box. So if you don’t like who’s in there, vote ’em out.”

In 2015, he launched his own cannabis company, Willie’s Reserve, which sells marijuana, accessories and edibles in states where marijuana is legal.

And most recently, he launched Willie’s Remedy, a line that includes several items rich in cannaidiol (CBD), a derivative of hemp which won’t get the consumer high. CBD has been lauded for its health benefits.

The line debuted with a CBD-infused coffee, a Colombian whole-bean blend.

María Cortés González may be reached at 546-6150;; @EPTMaria on Twitter.

Make plans

Who: “Willie Nelson & Family” concert

When: 8 p.m. Feb. 14.

Where: Abraham Chavez Theatre

Tickets: $39.75 to $129.75 excluding fees, available at, charge-by-phone at 800-745-3000 and the Plaza Theatre Box Office.

What’s always on Willie Nelson’s mind?

Monday, January 28th, 2019

photo:  Taylor Hill
by:  Bonnie Stiernberg

In honor of his receiving the 2019 Producers & Engineers Wing Award, we take a look at some important causes closest to the country troubadour’s heart.

At 85, Willie Nelson would be forgiven for resting on his laurels, but the legendary country outlaw shows no signs of slowing down. He remains as engaged as ever, releasing not one but two studio albums last year and passionately championing charities and causes close to his heart.

In addition to his prolific output, Nelson has long been known as one of music’s biggest activists and philanthropists. On Feb. 6, the eight-time GRAMMY winner will be honored with the 2019 Producers and Engineers Wing Award to celebrate his artistic achievements. As Recording Academy President Neil Portnow said, Nelson “has inspired generations of musicians and fans, and continues to set precedents of excellence within the music community”—but his work outside the music community is remarkable as well. So to highlight all the important work he’s done advocating outside the industry, we’re taking a look at some of his favorite causes.

Farm Aid

Perhaps Nelson’s best-known cause, Farm Aid has been active for over 30 years, beginning in 1985 as a benefit concert organized by him, John Mellencamp and Neil Young to raise money for family farmers. After the first Farm Aid concert raised over $9 million, Nelson and Mellencamp brought farmers to testify before Congress, sparking the passage of the Agricultural Credit Act of 1987 to help save family farms from foreclosure. Farm Aid’s farm disaster fund helps provide money to farmers who lost their crops through natural disasters. The organization’s board of directors includes Nelson, Mellencamp, Young and Dave Matthews, and they work together to put on the annual fundraiser concert, which will enter its 34th year in 2019.

Half Nelson, new restaurant opening in Davenport in March

Sunday, January 27th, 2019

The Half Nelson
The Half Nelson is expected to open in early March at 312 E. 2nd St., Davenport.
by:  Amanda Hancock

The view of what’s inside may be hidden from passersby on East 2nd Street in downtown Davenport, but the paper coverings show something: The face — well, half of it — of country singer Willie Nelson.

His black-and-white profile is accompanied by this messaging: “Even half a nelson can be recognized as a country legend. Half Nelson. A new restaurant. Legendary. Soon.”

The sign is hinting at the eatery — called The Half Nelson — expected to open in early March, said co-owner Matthew Osborn.

“Our goal in opening this is to bring something a little bit more contemporary than other offerings in the Quad-Cities,” he said. “You go to Des Moines or Chicago and the restaurants are serving more of the moment food styles and trends, and less meat and potatoes.”

The idea surfaced several years ago for Osborn, a 28-year-old Davenport native who has long had a role in his family’s restaurant business. His parents, Mike and Carla Osborn, own Miss Mamie’s Catfish House in Moline and Mo Brady’s Steakhouse on Brady Street in Davenport.

“This business is basically all I know,” Osborn said. “When it gets in your blood, it can be the most exciting work you can do.”

He’s especially excited about opening The Half Nelson.

“This restaurant will be different from those in every way,” he said, comparing it to his family’s other restaurants.

After landing on the location, Osborn said inspiration struck — for the design, menu and name — of the restaurant, which will also feature an outdoor dining area.

The 4,000-square-foot Half Nelson takes up the east half of the historic building at 321 E. 2nd St., Davenport. It was built in 1922 by the N.O. Nelson Manufacturing Co., a Missouri-based manufacturer of plumbing and heating systems.

“One of the jumping off points was the history of the building,” he said. “It was built in the 1920s. A lot of inspiration came from that time frame of the first half of the century.”

The menu, which includes lunch and dinner and a unique bar program, draws influence from regional trends and ethnic cuisine as well as seasonality of ingredients. Osborn said the restaurant will serve plenty of vegetarian options, “beyond just big salads.”

“We’re inspired by old-school things like a beef wellington and figuring out a way to make it more interesting,” he said.

Osborn said he was set on opening the restaurant in downtown Davenport. When it opens, The Half Nelson, which is across the street from Great River Brewery, will be the latest in a string of developments in downtown Davenport over the last few years.

“We’ve seen it transform slowly over the past 10 years and then really pick up pace in the last year or two,” Osborn said. “It seemed like a good opportunity to be part of something that was trending in the right direction.”

“As you can see, a lot of people feel the same way,” Osborn added, as he looked out the window of his restaurant. “When we started looking three years ago, there were at least a dozen options downtown. Now you’d be hard-pressed to find buildings available.”

The Half Nelson’s next-door neighbor, Bootleg Hill Honey Meads, opened in November and Roam, a coffee-shop/restaurant/cocktail bar, opened nearby on East River Drive in late December.

Other relatively recent additions to the area include Abernathy’s, the Triple Crown Whiskey Bar and Raccoon Motel, Armored Gardens and Ruby’s Beers, Bikes & Brats.

A Half-Century of HonkyTonk (Willie Nelson, Ray Price, Merle Haggard)

Saturday, January 26th, 2019


Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard” that just would have been easy business. And, put in terms of copyright and back catalog, it would have been a follow-through on “Pancho and Lefty,”  the hit record they made together almost 25 years ago. But to triangulate them with Ray Price, as the new record “Last of the Breed” does, is to structure a summit meeting on honky-tonk singing.

Photographs by Michael Falco for The New York Times

The three singers are connected by lots of small sum items  like the fact that Mr. Nelson used to be Mr. Price’s bass player  but also in one big way. They are all magnetized toward the sound of Bob Will’s Texas swing. Mr. Haggard, for his part, seems drawn to the kind of front man Wills was: a sporadic fiddle player, spontaneous organizer of arrangements and agent of the unpredictable. Mr. Price, for his part, long ago adapted Will’s twin-fiddle breaks, folding them into nearly all his honky-tonk hits of the 1950s and ’60s. As for Mr. Nelson, a Texan, a country singer and an improviser, Wills is part of his light and air.

“Last of the Breed” came out last week on Lost Highway Records. The inevitable short and gentlemanly tour that followed.  Mr. Price is 81, Mr. Haggard 69, Mr. Nelson 73  would naturally be the live version of the record. Right? There are 22 songs on the album, from the repertory of their favorite 40s and 50s country songwriters. Wouldn’t it be enough to take that and round it off with some extras? Sure. But what happened at Radio City Music Hall on Thursday was infinitely better.

The beginning of the show was Mr. Price’s, and he played a half-hour set with his backup band, the Cherokee Cowboys. In a gray suit and red tie and moving with slow grace, he sang in his latter-day vocal style over his early-days music. The music was ironbound, honky-tonk shuffles with a steel guitar and twin fiddles; that vocal style was a crisp baritone that never bent notes, ennobling every phrase of “Crazy Arms” or”I Won’t Mention It Again” or “The Other Woman (in My Life), making the deadbeats and emotional anarchists in the songs like stand-up guys.

After a pause Mr. Haggard appeared, with the Western-swing band Asleep at the Wheel as his backup. He looked itchy and inscrutable. He picked up his fiddle, and things got deep very quickly. He ordered up “Take Me Back to Tulsa” singing in his relaxed, froggy voice, picking the order of soloists, and the band heated up in the out-chorus. They played an old public-domain blues, still warming up the fingers. Then began about 45 minutes of music that represented the best of what you can get, on the best of nights, from experienced, ornery types.

Song after song, with endless differences in the shadings and rhythms of his vocal phrasing, and with modest, clear-minded guitar solos, Mr. Haggard made copyright a dead issue. He used his restlessness to melt down his hits, to undo them and turn them back into process and possibility. He worked within the changing spaces of a flexible band; he sang the first verse of “Sing Me Back Home” by himself. He smuggled the line “Honey, don’t worry about what George Bush does” into the lyrics of “That’s the Way Love Goes”; he ordered solos in “Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink”; he engaged Mickey Raphael, the harmonica player from Mr. Nelson’s band, who played short solos and obbligatos as if he were another guitarist.

Mr. Nelson arrived, smiley but wearing a similar inscrutability, and together the two continued the weird work that Mr. Haggard had begun.

“Pancho and Lefty” was served in a businesslike way. But then came “Ramblin’ Fever” with a slashing solo from Mr. Nelson’s heavily distressed guitar, and the demonstration of both singers lethal, discussion-ending baritone voices. Cleaning off the table before dessert, Freddie Powers, an excellent soft-tenor Texas singer who has worked with both Mr. Nelson and Mr. Haggard, sang “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.”

Mr. Price reappeared for a few songs from the record, including two from the great ark of Wills (“Roly Poly” and “Please Don’t Leave Me Any More Darlin’ and a rising-to-the-occasion version of “Night Life” in which he and the band slowly surged to a thundering final chorus. This was a more orderly part of the show: elegant, old school, moving.

The evening finally turned into the hero-worship stage, with Mr. Nelson taking over. You probably know the coordinates: amiable-vagabond music (“Whiskey River” and “On the Road Again”) and a funny new song called “You Don’t Think I’m Funny Anymore.” It was all better than good. But that delicate, tenebrous, alchemical middle section of the concert: that was something else, something unknowable.

Willie Nelson Celebrated By George Strait, Margo Price & More at ‘Willie: Life & Songs Of An American Outlaw’

Sunday, January 20th, 2019

Photo:  Al Wagner
by:  Isaak weeks

Willie Nelson and George Strait perform at Willie: Life & Songs Of An American Outlaw at Bridgestone Arena on Jan. 12, 2018 in Nashville, Tenn.
Given the universal appeal and introspective catharsis that marks the best of Willie Nelson’s work, the sheer range of talent who took the stage to celebrate the life and career of Nelson at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena for Willie: Life & Songs Of An American Outlaw should have come as no surprise.

As the dozens of guest performers — from old friends like Kris Kristofferson and Emmylou Harris, to fresher upstarts like the Avett Brothers and Margo Price — came together at the end of the roughly four-hour commemoration to follow Nelson in a closing medley of “On the Road Again” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” it became even more apparent just how ubiquitous the outlaw legend’s hits have become over the last 50 years.Aid

“I think everybody in America grew up with Willie Nelson to some degree,” the Hawaii-born Jack Johnson told Billboard on the red carpet before the event, where he was on hand to perform his song “Willie Got Me Stoned.”

“He was on my radar as a kid just from my parents playing his records around the house, but shortly after I started putting out albums in 2001, I had a chance to jam with Willie at his house one island over from me. Willie is empathetic to the mixture of cultures that come together to create music in Hawaii, and I think that respect to a melting pot of influences has been felt throughout his career.”

The following five performances were highlights of a night that was recorded and is slated to be aired as a major broadcast special on A&E Network in 2019.

A pair of Margo Price duets

A nominee for Best New Artist at this year’s Grammy Awards, the current Queen of Americana took the lead mic on a rendition of the 1978 hit “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” alongside Outlaw legend Bobby Bare. It proved to be merely a warmup to a barn-burner of a moment when Bare exited and Steve Earle appeared to join her for a rousing recreation of the Phases and Stages era “Sister’s Coming Home.”

Lukas and Micah Nelson’s trilogy

While Lukas is arguably better known around Nashville, thanks to his appearances at various local events in the wake of the release of the 2017 album Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real and his work on A Star Is Born, Micah stunned those unfamiliar with his vocal talents in the future-folk project Particle Kid by embracing the classical and Spanish influences found within the gospel-tinged “I Thought About You, Lord.” He then accompanied his brother on a pair of their father’s standards that span across his career, as Lukas’ talent shined through “Time of the Preacher” (from Willie’s 1975 commercial breakthrough Red Headed Stranger) and “The Songwriters,” a cut from Willie’s 2014 album Band of Brothers.

Alison Krauss stuns

Having previously recorded a cover of Nelson’s 1981 hit “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” for an extended edition of her 2017 release Windy City, Krauss’ vocals filled every corner of the arena, as the audience put away cell phones and stopped speaking in mid-conversation to appreciate a master at work. To quote Vince Gill, who walked onstage to perform “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” as Krauss exited: “Damn, damn, damn!”

Willie Nelson performs in concert during the Luck Reunion at Luck, Texas on March 16, 2017 in Spicewood, Texas. 

When the bearded Johnson took the stage, several people in the crowd excitedly mistook the singer for Chris Stapleton, who had opened the show earlier with a rousing rendition of “Whiskey River.” The difference between Stapleton’s performance — which was a crowd pleaser, don’t get me wrong — and what the audience witnessed from Johnson’s handling of the oft-covered “Georgia on My Mind” was that the latter resulted in a standing ovation that began a full minute before the final lyrics were bellowed by an artist that deserves much more recognition than he currently has.

George Strait finally sings one with Willie

It’s remarkable to realize that, before last night’s performance, George Strait and Nelson had never performed together. The two reigned as key talents in country music in the ’80s, and Willie has made a career out of performing duets with fellow legends on multiple projects. It made sense, then, that the first time they would share a stage Strait would mark the occasion by debuting a new song seemingly titled “I Ain’t Never Got to Sing One With Willie.” The tune, making light of the two entering their twilight years as performers, had the two arguing over whether this occasion finally made Strait’s career or ruined it.

Stars gather at tribute for Willie Nelson in Nashville last night

Sunday, January 13th, 2019

photo:  Jason Kempin
by:  Joseph Hudak

TV tapings can be a drag. But amid the set changes and staged introductions from host Ed Helms at Saturday night’s all-star tribute to Willie Nelson in Nashville, there were some true moments of musical spontaneity — particularly from the guest of honor.

Titled Willie: Life & Songs of an American Outlaw and produced by Blackbird Presents, the concert, which will air sometime this year on A&E, assembled a powerful cast of guest artists to pay tribute to the 85-year-old. George Strait, Kris Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris, Jimmy Buffett, Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and Eric Church all performed songs from, about or popularized by Nelson, often in collaboration with the Country Music Hall of Fame member himself.

Chris Stapleton opened the evening — like Nelson has been doing since the Seventies — with Johnny Bush’s “Whiskey River,” adding extra muscle to the song with his patented growl and establishing the tone of the tribute: these wouldn’t be paint-by-number re-creations. Rather, the Nelson catalog had room to breathe, thanks to bandleader Don Was’s versatile A-list house band, which included Amanda Shires, Jamey Johnson, Audley Freed, Paul Franklin and Nelson’s longtime harmonica player Mickey Raphael.

Margo Price, with an assist from Bobby Bare, offered a rowdy “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” Steve Earle, with Price, cow-punked “Sister’s Coming Home” and Lee Ann Womack added a hint of Countrypolitan to “Three Days.” Following a sublime reading of “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys,” Lyle Lovett even picked up the tempo, joining Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson for a full and funky “Shotgun Willie.”

After joking that this was his first time performing inside the Bridgestone Arena, Sturgill Simpson paid tribute to Nelson with “Red Headed Rounder,” an unreleased song Merle Haggard wrote about his friend. Earlier, fellow Nashville boundary-pusher Jason Isbell nodded to Nelson’s blues influences with “Milk Cow Blues” and also found himself at the center of some entertainment news: The night’s co-host W. Earl Brown, who played Dan Dority on HBO’s Deadwood, confirmed that Isbell appears in the upcoming Deadwood Statehood movie.

But it was the more subdued, stripped-down performances that carried the most emotional weight, including a consecutive three-song set from three of country’s untouchable vocalists. Alison Krauss’s spine-tingling “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” earned a standing ovation, Vince Gill’s “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain” hushed the arena and Jamey Johnson’s booming “Georgia on My Mind” made us all wish — yet again — that he’d release new music of his own.

That less is more approach most applied to Nelson, a famously idiosyncratic vocalist who can get swallowed up by a large band. On Saturday, he was at his best when leading Harris and Rodney Crowell in “Til’ I Gain Control Again” and the entire cast in the finale medley of “On the Road Again,” “May the Circle Be Unbroken,” “I’ll Fly Away” and “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me.” While huge, swelling soundtracks play well in arenas and for TV, Nelson’s continued prowess would be better highlighted backed by a small combo or even his trusty Family Band.

Still, he was in his zone, particularly when playing guitar, on collaborations with Kristofferson and Eric Church (“Me and Bobby McGee”), Dave Matthews (“Crazy”) and George Strait. Remarkably, the Strait duets marked the first time the two Texas stars had ever performed together, and stood as the best of the evening’s pairings, including a spirited “Good Hearted Woman.”

But it was on the new Strait song “Sing One With Willie,” off Strait’s upcoming album, where the pair displayed a mischievous chemistry that underscored the camaraderie of the tribute show. A tongue-in-cheek lament written by Strait, Nelson, Bubba Strait and Buddy Cannon about how the King of Country has never been asked to duet with the Red Headed Stranger, the track found both men pining for the other.

“Now I’ve heard him with Merle, Waylon and Cash/Jones and Toby, that man is totally gracious,” Strait sang. “I’m thinking ‘Damn, why not me?’/we can even sing it on TV — just like him and ol’ Julio Iglesias.”


“Whiskey River,” Chris Stapleton
“Three Days,” Lee Ann Womack
“Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” Margo Price & Bobby Bare
“Sister’s Coming Home,” Steve Earle & Margo Price
“I Thought About You, Lord/Just As I Am/Time of the Preacher/Bandera/Hands on the Wheel,” Micah & Lukas Nelson
“Milk Cow Blues,” Jason Isbell
“A Song for You,” Nathaniel Rateliff
“My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys,” Lyle Lovett
“Shotgun Willie,” Lyle Lovett & Ray Benson
“Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” Alison Krauss
“Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” Vince Gill
“Georgia on My Mind,” Jamey Johnson
“Somebody Pick Up My Pieces,” Susan Tedeschi & Derek Trucks
“City of New Orleans,” Willie Nelson with Tedeschi/Trucks
“Bloody Mary Morning,” The Avett Brothers
“Willie Got There First,” The Avett Brothers
“Remember Me,” Norah Jones and the Little Willies
“I Gotta Get Drunk,” Norah Jones and the Little Willies
“Willie Got Me Stoned,” Jack Johnson
“Red Headed Rounder,” Sturgill Simpson
“Me and Paul,” Eric Church
“Night Life,” John Mellencamp
“Funny How Times Slips Away,” Dave Matthews

With Willie Nelson:
“Crazy,” Dave Matthews
“After the Fire Is Gone,” Sheryl Crow
“Pancho and Lefty,” Emmylou Harris
“Til’ I Gain Control Again,” Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell
“Me and Bobby McGee,” Kris Kristofferson, Eric Church
“The Harder They Come,” Jimmy Buffett
“Always on My Mind,” Chris Stapleton, Derek Trucks
“Song One With Willie,” George Strait
“Good Hearted Woman,” George Strait
“On the Road Again/May the Circle Be Unbroken/I’ll Fly Away,” full cast
“Roll Me Up and Smoke Me,” full cast

New Restaurant in Nashville: The Redheaded Stranger

Friday, December 28th, 2018
by:  Chris Chamberlain

Redheaded Stranger

Chef Bryan Lee Weaver has earned legions of fans for his work at Butcher & Bee, a Mediterranean-inspired eatery in East Nashville. However, the chef has a secret passion for the cuisine of the American Southwest, born from years working in kitchens in Colorado and California. In particular, Weaver is a big fan of a proper breakfast taco, and he has designed his next restaurant and bar project around that humble Southwestern classic dish as well as some fine smoked beef brisket and a green chile cheeseburger.

Named Red Headed Stranger after one of his musical heroes, Willie Nelson, Weaver is proud to have been granted permission to use the name by Willie’s granddaughter Raelyn Nelson. She also promised to be a regular customer at the Meridian St. restaurant when it opens early in the spring of 2019.

More Artists added to Willie Nelson Tribute Concert (January 12)

Monday, December 24th, 2018
by:  Dave Paulson

It was already guaranteed to be a huge night, but Willie Nelson’s all-star tribute concert in Nashville has just doubled in size.
Chris Stapleton, Emmylou Harris, Eric Church, Jimmy Buffett, Bobby Bare, Jamey Johnson, Lukas Nelson, Margo Price, Micah Nelson, Nathaniel Rateliff, Ray Benson, and Steve Earle have all been added to “Willie: Life & Songs Of An American Outlaw,” set to take place at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on January 12.

They join a roster that’s headlined, naturally, by the 85-year-old country legend himself, plus Alison Krauss, The Avett Brothers, George Strait, Jack Johnson, John Mellencamp, Kris Kristofferson, Lee Ann Womack, Lyle Lovett, Norah Jones and The Little Willies, Sheryl Crow, Susan Tedeschi & Derek Trucks, and Vince Gill.

The concert will be filmed for a TV special that will air later in 2019 on A&E — but fans can also purchase tickets via Ticketmaster and the Bridgestone Arena box office.

In 2018, Nelson released his 67th and 68th studio albums: the original “Last Man Standing” and the Frank Sinatra tribute “My Way.” On February 6, he’ll be honored by the Recording Academy’s Producers & Engineers Wing, days before the 2019 Grammy Awards.

2018 was a very good year for Willie Nelson (by Peter Blackstock)

Monday, December 24th, 2018
by:  Peter Blackstock

Year 85 in the life of Willie Nelson is just year five for “The Year in Willie,” our annual recap of Nelson’s many activities and accomplishments. I’ve been doing this each December since taking this job in 2014; with Willie, we never have any doubt that there will be plenty to write about.

So, let’s get started. We’ll begin on Jan. 1, 2018, at the same place where Willie’s year will reach its end in a couple of days.


The first two hours of the new year found Nelson onstage with his family band, celebrating sister Bobbie’s Jan. 1 birthday (she was 87 this year) and capping a three-night stand at ACL Live that also featured his sons Lukas and Micah Nelson and their bands. It all goes down again this weekend, with shows on Saturday, Sunday and New Year’s Eve. (At press time, just a few scattered balcony tickets remained.)

Things got a little dicey for Willie just after those 2017 year-end shows. On Jan. 6, he halted a concert in San Diego right after it started, telling the audience he wasn’t feeling well enough to continue. He canceled the rest of his January dates, later also calling off a stretch of February shows as he recovered from what his publicist called “a bad cold or the flu.”


With fans concerned for Willie’s health, his son Lukas stepped up to set folks’ minds at ease on Twitter. Posting a photo of Nelson giving a mighty high kick to a punching bag at his Hawaii residence, Lukas wrote: “My dad is a badass … resting in Maui and feeling much better, according to him … thanks to everyone who’s been asking how he is.”

Perhaps he was simply reaping the holistic benefits of Willie’s Reserve, the cannabis line he launched a couple of years ago. An early 2018 press release trumpeted a new “terpene-rich” strain called SunGrown and quoted Nelson’s optimism about the trend toward nationwide legalization of marijuana.

“We’re on the right side of history,” Nelson said. “People have spoken with their votes and their dollars. Now that we’ve proven regulating and taxing is good for individuals and business and states, it’s pretty clear that pot is good for America.”

Healthy and ready to roll again, Willie returned to Austin in mid-March for his annual Luck Reunion, held on his ranch in Spicewood west of Austin while South by Southwest hit its peak downtown. Guests including Courtney Marie Andrews, Lilly Hiatt, David Ramirez, Erika Wennerstrom, Kevn Kinney, Aaron Lee Tasjan and the Texas Gentlemen played earlier in the day before Willie’s sons Lukas and Micah and, eventually, Willie himself brought the Reunion to a rousing finish.

Back in Austin the next day, Nelson’s daughters Amy and Lana Nelson set up shop at Scoot Inn for a sneak-peek screening of clips from “King of the Roadies,” a documentary Amy is directing with her cousin Trevor Doyle Nelson. Its subject is Ben Dorcy, longtime roadie to Willie and other luminaries, who died in September 2017 at age 92.


Eight years Dorcy’s junior, Willie turned 85 on April 29 and celebrated with the aptly titled “Last Man Standing,” for which he co-wrote every song with producer Buddy Cannon. “It’s remarkable enough that Nelson has continued to tour and record regularly well into his 80s, but his recent increased songwriting activity, spurred largely by Cannon’s input and support, is something rarely if ever witnessed before,” I wrote in my review. The record reached No. 3 on Billboard’s Country Album Chart.

Also in April, platinum-selling folk-rocker Jack Johnson released the humorous single “Willie Got Me Stoned,” written about a night he played poker with Nelson and lost big time. Partial lyrics: “After Willie got me stoned, took me for everything I had/I had to walk home, I had no money for a cab.” (Johnson wrote it back in 2015 when he played Farm Aid with Willie.)


Though Nelson wasn’t in attendance at the May 25-27 opening weekend of “Outlaws & Armadillos” at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, he was featured prominently in artwork, historical displays and film clips at the impressive exhibit. Focusing on the 1970s relationship between Austin and Nashville’s music communities, “Outlaws & Armadillos” will be featured at the museum through February 2021.


A big hint that Willie was going to get a bit political in 2018 came when he tweeted directly to Donald Trump, via wife Annie’s Twitter handle, about immigrant children being separated from their parents on the Texas border. “Let’s go down to a border detention center together to better understand what’s happening down there,” Nelson challenged. A few days earlier, he’d told Rolling Stone magazine, “What’s going on at our southern border is outrageous.”


Willie’s activism continued at his annual Fourth of July Picnic, which featured guests including Ryan Bingham, Margo Price and Edie Brickell & New Bohemians at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas. A surprise speaker late in the evening was U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, in the midst of his Senate campaign challenging Texas incumbent Ted Cruz. O’Rourke, who played in an El Paso punk band when he was younger, returned for the finale to play acoustic guitar and sing along on a couple of songs with Nelson and his band.

Also joining in that finale, and playing at the Picnic with his band Promise of the Real, was Lukas Nelson, who just a couple of days before taped the “Austin City Limits” TV show for the first time. It was a further sign of just how much Lukas has come into his own the past couple of years; he’s still very much his father’s son, but he’s becoming a star in his own right. He had a small part in the 2018 film “A Star Is Born” and did more work behind the scenes helping actor Bradley Cooper with his role.

Another cup of July news: Nelson introduced “Willie’s Remedy,” a new line of coffee infused with cannabidiol from “organically grown American hemp.” It went on sale in Colorado in September, but like Willie’s Reserve, it’s not available in Texas yet.


Two very different publications published intriguing pieces on Nelson. In the AARP Magazine, Nelson shared his core philosophy on life with writer Rich Cohen: “It’s simple,” Willie said. “Do what you want to do. If I don’t want to do it, forget it. But if I do want to do it, get out of my goddamn way.”

And an online song preview for the hip magazine Garden & Gun detailed Nelson’s involvement in “King of the Road: A Tribute to Roger Miller,” which came out Aug. 31. It features a version of Miller’s song “Old Friends” recorded in early 2016 with Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard, just before Haggard’s death in April of that year.


A month that felt like wall-to-wall Willie was topped by the Sept. 14 release of “My Way,” an album of standards commonly associated with Frank Sinatra. “At 85, Willie still swings with joy and wonder on the buoyant ‘A Foggy Day’ and the bouncing ‘Night and Day,‘” I wrote in my review. “But he’s best on more contemplative numbers: The wisdom of his years inhabits the reflective blue tones of ‘It Was a Very Good Year’ and the romantic bittersweetness of ‘I’ll Be Around.’”

The same day “My Way” came out, Willie’s pals in Asleep at the Wheel (who made 2009?s “Willie and the Wheel” album with him) released the disc “New Routes,” which concluded with “Willie Got There First.” Written by Seth Avett of the Avett Brothers, it featured both Seth and Scott Avett guesting with the band on a tune that paid tribute to Nelson’s legendary songwriting career.

Promoting “My Way,” Nelson appeared on ABC’s “The View” and “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” on CBS. On the latter program, Colbert left the studio to interview Willie on his bus. Responding to Colbert’s question as to whether fans boycotting his music because of his political activism bothered him, he responded, “Naw, not really. You know, it’s their prerogative. I might not like their music either, you know, so I don’t hold any grudges against people.”

Nelson played the 33rd Farm Aid concert in Hartford, Conn., on Sept. 22 before diving back into the Beto campaign in a big way, headlining a Sept. 29 rally for O’Rourke at Austin’s Auditorium Shores that drew more than 50,000 people.


At that O’Rourke event, Nelson debuted a simple but catchy new anthem called “Vote ’Em Out.” The message: “If you don’t like who’s in there, vote ’em out/That’s what Election Day is all about.” In October, he released it as a digital-only single for streaming and downloads. For all Nelson’s support of O’Rourke, Texas voters chose Cruz by a narrow margin in early November.


The historic music television program “Austin City Limits” launched way back in 1974 with a Willie Nelson performance, so the announcement that he’d tape the show again on Nov. 19 was a big deal. Willie’s made more than a dozen appearances on the show over the decades, but the last one with his own Family band had been in 2000.

Nelson kept it simple for what might be the last full-hour episode he’ll do for the program, though we’d bet he’ll still turn up as an occasional ringer in the program’s annual Hall of Fame all-star lineups. “His 18th appearance on the show had no frills, no guests, no tailored set list,” I wrote in my review. “The taping simply documented Willie as-is, because he IS ‘Austin City Limits.’” The episode will air Jan. 26 on Austin PBS affiliate KLRU-TV.


Early in the month, good news arrived: Both of Willie’s 2018 records got Grammy nominations. “My Way” is up for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album, a category he won two years ago for his Gershwins tribute disc “Summertime.” And the title track to “Last Man Standing” is nominated for Best American Roots Performance. The Grammys will be presented in Los Angeles on Feb. 10.

Meanwhile, Willie has a busy stretch ahead. A string of Southeast dates in early January lead up to a huge tribute show at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on Jan. 12. “Willie: Life & Songs of an American Outlaw” will feature more than two dozen performers, including George Strait, Chris Stapleton, Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, Jimmy Buffett, Alison Krauss, Lyle Lovett, Susan Tedeschi & Derek Trucks, Margo Price, Vince Gill, Sheryl Crow, Norah Jones, and Lukas and Micah Nelson.

Before that, though, are the New Year’s Eve shows back on the home front. Lukas, Micah, sister Bobbie, harmonica ace Mickey Raphael, drumming brothers Paul and Billy English, bassist Kevin Smith and maybe a spontaneous surprise guest will be on hand Saturday through Monday at ACL Live. They’ll ring in 2019 just like they did 2018, “insisting that the world keep turning our way.”

Willie Country (December 1986)

Saturday, December 1st, 2018


Willie Country
By Don Holland

Howdy! Willie Nelson came to Abbott on Wednesday, December 3, and it was not so long before he was surrounded by a lot of friends and fans who turned out to greet him. Willie was accompanied by his sister Bobbie who plays the piano when they perform with the band. They had come to Abbott to shoot some publicity photos to be used on the cover of a gospel music album that will be released in the future. The reason why they came to Abbott is to have the photos taken in front of the Methodist Church that Willie and Bobbie attended when growing up here in Abbott.

Willie and Bobbie were dressed in their Sunday-go-to-meeting finest. You can see for yourself how sharp they looked in the photos that have been placed on various pagers of the paper.


Rev. Wayne Dunson, the present preacher at the Methodist Church, is the same one that preached there when Willie and Bobbie attended in their youth. He was in the area when Willie and Bobbie showed up and asked me to take a photo of him and Willie. “But, he whispered in my ear, I need to go over and change my coat before you take the picture. I don’t think it would look right with Willie looking more like a preacher than I do.”


Yours truly really enjoyed seeing Willie in Abbott. He had come through town several times during the past month or so and I was always out of town and missed him. Again, true to form, I was out of town, but Jan got on the telephone and had me located in Waco. My brother Ben found me as the screen printers where I was picking up some new T-shirts of Willie as the Red Headed Stranger, and got the message to me. I returned to Abbott immediately and was able to get the photos that you see in this issue.


While chatting with Willie, I asked him whether the movie entitled “The Red Headed Stranger” would be released. He said, “Plans are made to release it February 19, 1987.” So all of you fans stay on the lookout for the movie and remember you can get tee shirts and pictures of Willie as the Red Headed Stranger right here through the Souvenir Shop, either in person or by mail order.

Some of you no doubt read about the Susie Nelson Show that we had booked at the VFW Club in Cameron, Texas, this past November 15th. The show was very successful as the folks there enjoyed the music and singing of our stars Susie Nelson and her band and Chris Robbins with Stagecoach Symphony.

Several phoots that I took are included in thgis issue (page 7) for your eyeballs’ pleasure. Enjoy! Also, we appreciated a big fan of Willie’s coming to the show — Ann Willis of Temple. Ann showed me a lot of photos that she has taken around the countryside and we will try to run some of them in future editions.

Other recent visitors to Willie Nelson Country have come from Robards, Kentucky, Prag, Oklahoma; St. Joseph, Missouri; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Battle Creek, Michigan; Judsonia Arkansas; Jacksonville, Illionois; and Dallas, Garland, Red Oak, Mesquite, Austin, San Antonio, Temple Branson, Corsicana, Crossroads and Springtown, TX. Coming the longest distance was Lucas Wegmann from Newcastle, Main. We really enjoy meeting and visiting with Willie’s fans from all over the country!


British guitarist reacts to Willie Nelson’s SPELLBINDING delivery!

Thursday, November 29th, 2018

Willie Nelson & Family in Sugarland, TX (Nov. 25, 2018)

Tuesday, November 27th, 2018

photo:  Violeta Alvarez
by:  Jesse Sandejas, Jr.

Willie Nelson & Family
Smart Financial Centre
November 25, 2018

Last week, we reserved an entire day to show gratitude to those who’ve made lasting and favorable impressions on our lives. When Thanksgiving Day ended, we started searching for gifts to celebrate those we honor. Getting to see Willie Nelson perform live last night at Smart Financial Centre was the perfect holiday season mashup. It was a chance for an appreciative crowd to thank the man for six decades of music. It was also a gift for many in the audience to see the legendary songwriter and his band perform live.

Nelson’s uniquely familiar visage was first visible to the audience at 8:20 p.m. and it earned him a standing ovation before he ever played a note. He beckoned everyone to be seated, then tossed his jacket off with abandon and grabbed his guitar, Trigger, whose place in music history is as entrenched as Nelson’s. The show opened with “Whiskey River” and everything to follow flowed quickly as a rushing stream. Nelson packed 20 songs into a set which ended promptly at 9:20 p.m. and it was an hour Nelson’s Houston fans would forever cherish.

The show sped along because there wasn’t much stage banter between Willie and the crowd. He didn’t offer extended monologues on all he’s experienced in a legendary music career or uncommon personal life. After all this time, what more is there really to say? Everything anyone needed to know was in the music and in the exchanges of thanks the artist and audience shared between songs.

The backdrop was a Texas flag, broad as the entire stage, there just in case you forgot where you were, which was impossible. Maybe “Good Hearted Woman” put you two-steppin’ in a honky tonk. Perhaps “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” recalled the time you and your buddies warbled it on the tailgate parking lot before the team from Dallas lined up against your Houston Texans. Did you recall a tender moment when Willie sang “You Were Always on My Mind”? Whatever memories the songs retrieved, those memories all sounded like they took place in Texas.

Nelson’s voice sounded fine. Before the show, lots of folks warned he doesn’t sing so much as he recites his lyrics these days. He did go the narrative route on a tune or two – particularly “On the Road Again,” on which the audience did much of the heavy lifting. But, he also sang a lot. His voice was eloquent on a moving rendition of “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” and he was downright jazzy on “Still Is Still Moving to Me.”

The show was definitely a country show, but Nelson’s lifelong affair with jazz was evident all night, if not so much in song arrangements then certainly in his playing. He and his sister, Bobbie (whom he proudly introduced as a recent Texas Music Hall of Fame inductee) moved from the honky tonk to a backwoods juke joint for Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages.” On that one, he let Trigger roam around a bit and everyone in the crowd was treated to the guitar’s one-of-a-kind tone. It was as signature a moment as Nelson playing something like “Crazy” or “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” – neither of which made last night’s set list. If omitting those meant more time for the Nelson siblings to trade jazzy inflections on their instruments of choice, the trade was absolutely worth it.

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