Archive for the ‘News and Reviews’ Category

Nebraskans oppose Keystone XL Pipeline

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

By Mitch Smith

NELIGH, Neb. — From the edge of a rye field teeming with grasshoppers, Willie Nelson and Neil Young sang on Saturday in opposition to the proposed Keystone XL project, warning through lyrics that a “company wants to build a tar sand pipeline where it don’t belong.”

The site of the concert — a patch of farmland where 26 acres of corn were harvested early to create a makeshift parking lot — was as unlikely as the coalition of Nebraskans who have united against Keystone XL and made this state the legal and emotional center of the pipeline opposition.

“I’ve told them, ‘You’ll have to haul me out from in front of that bulldozer, because I’m going to protect this farm,’ ” said Art Tanderup, who with his wife, Helen, hosted the concert. Their land in the rolling hills of northeast Nebraska would be directly along the pipeline route.

It has been six years since TransCanada, an energy company, first proposed this 1,179-mile crude-oil pipeline to southern Nebraska from Alberta. In that time, a group of Nebraska farmers, ranchers, Native Americans and city-dwelling environmentalists has held meeting after meeting to rally opposition to the pipeline and forge a delicate trust as it worked toward a common goal.


The Ridgefield Playhouse for the 14th Anniversary Gala (9/17/14)

Monday, September 29th, 2014


It was an effervescent sold-out crowd that packed The Ridgefield Playhouse for the 14th Anniversary Gala on September 17 to see Willie Nelson, up-close-and-personal with his Family band.


In an evening brimming with dinner courtesy of area food establishments, an open bar, silent and live auctions and honorees, it was the social event of the season.

Photo: Scott Vincent

Tony Award winner and Ridgefield resident Debbie Gravitte received the Arts Volunteer Award from Broadway star Harvey Fierstein, and Allison Stockel was honored for her 10th year volunteering her time as Executive Director of The Ridgefield Playhouse. The event also marked the establishment of The Allison Stockel Fund, to benefit the endowment of the not-for-profit performing arts center, with an initial amount of $250,000. The Fund was created to help sustain the Playhouse for the future. Checks may be made payable to The Ridgefield Playhouse for the benefit of The Allison Stockel Fund and sent to Julie Paltauf at the Playhouse.

The Ridgefield Playhouse is a not-for-profit performing arts center located at 80 East Ridge, parallel to Main Street, Ridgefield, CT; 203-438-5795,

Willie Nelson, Neil Young, support the Keystone XL Pipeline fighters (9/27/2014)

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

photo: Mark Davis
by: Joe Duggan

NELIGH, Neb. — Music legends Willie Nelson and Neil Young delivered Saturday on a promise to comfort opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline while also pleasing a few project supporters who ventured into a crowded Nebraska farm field.

A familiar duo in the Farm Aid series of benefit concerts, Nelson and Young teamed up to give a musical assist to pipeline fighters. They performed just one number together, incorporating a few anti-pipeline verses into the folk anthem “This Land Is Your Land.”

“That tar-sand oil ain’t good for drinking,” Young sang.

Even those who didn’t sing along as the chorus railed against new fossil fuel development and corporate influence said the concert offered an all-around good vibe.

Mike Nash of Omaha said it was easier for him to overlook politics that he doesn’t necessarily agree with when the politics come from two music icons in such a unique venue.

“Love the people here, love the show, everybody’s getting along,” he said as Nelson strummed the opening of “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.”

During a pre-concert press conference, Young said the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline symbolizes the larger choice that the world faces between fossil fuels and renewable energy. A native of Canada, Young, 68, urged the United States to take decisive action on climate change.

“America has a chance to stand up and lead the world like we used to,” Young said to a throng of reporters covering the event. “So we’re not just standing here complaining about problems, but finding solutions.”

Jane Kleeb, the lead organizer of the Harvest the Hope concert, said Nelson and Young helped the show sell 8,000 tickets at $50 each. The proceeds, after roughly $100,000 in expenses are deducted, will benefit three pipeline opponents: Bold Nebraska, the Indigenous Environmental Network and the Cowboy and Indian Alliance.

“These boots and moccasins are going to stop this pipeline,” said Kleeb, executive director of Bold Nebraska, an environmental advocacy group.

The day’s events brought together leaders from several of the seven bands of the Great Sioux Nation in South Dakota and the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma. The proposed path of the pipeline crosses historical tribal lands in South Dakota as well as the Ponca Trail of Tears in Nebraska, the path the Ponca people following during their forced march to Oklahoma’s Indian Territory.

Nelson, 81, suggested his participation in the event was motivated by his longstanding advocacy for farmers and his admiration for Native American people.

“We’re here for the farmers and ranchers, the cowboys and Indians,” he said. “And we’ve always been there. Thank you for coming out to help us help them.”

Sunny skies and a strong southerly breeze settled over the day as thousands made their way down a gravel road north of Neligh to the concert site in a farm field.

Art and Helen Tanderup, whose 160-acre farm lies on the path of the pipeline, hosted the event. The Tanderups are among roughly 100 Nebraska landowners who have refused to sign easement agreements with pipeline company Trans­Canada Corp. About 400 other Nebraska landowners have signed easements.

For six years, TransCanada has been seeking approval from the U.S. State Department to build a 36-inch-wide pipeline that would carry 830,000 barrels a day of mostly heavy Canadian oil to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The southern part of the project is done, so now the company wants to build a 1,200-mile stretch between western Canada’s oil sands region to Steele City, Nebraska.

President Barack Obama must approve the project because it crosses international borders. His administration has put the project on hold while the Nebraska Supreme Court reviews the legality of the state law used to route the pipeline. The court is not expected to issue an opinion until after November’s elections.

Pipeline supporters say it will provide well-paying construction jobs as it is built and property tax revenues to counties along the project’s path. And they say it will reduce America’s reliance on offshore oil by tapping into Canada’s vast oil reserves.

Opponents argue that a major spill would contaminate water in the continent’s largest underground aquifer and devastate private property. They also say mining and burning the heavy Canadian oil, known as bitumen, adds significantly to the greenhouse gases affecting global climate change.

“I think jobs are fine, but jobs are temporary. The environment is permanent,” said Susie Chandler, 66, a rancher who drove to Neligh from her home near the western Nebraska village of Keystone.

Michael Whatley of the pro-pipeline Consumer Energy Alliance said last week that Nelson and Young are hurting farmers with opposition to Keystone XL. Whatley said the transportation of oil by trains — oil that could be moved instead by the pipeline — contributes to rail congestion and blocks farmers from getting crops to market.

During the roughly 30-minute session with reporters before the show, Young and Nelson did not address the criticism.

Robert Johnston, an Antelope County landowner whose property also is crossed by the pipeline, said he backs the project. He said his support is tied to his use of petroleum products on his corn, soybean and alfalfa farm and the property tax benefits that the county would receive if the project were built.

Johnston didn’t plan to attend the show, but when his combine broke down while harvesting soybeans, he decided to head down to the Tanderup farm.

“I think it’s great, really,” he said. “What the heck. It’s just another example of the economic activity TransCanada has brought to Antelope County.”

The Tanderups harvested a good portion of their corn early to provide space for the concert­ and parking. Crews erected a stage in the corner of a plot of oats, and a stand of towering cottonwoods provided a sweeping backdrop for the stage and a jumbo screen.

Out in the field, people sat in bag chairs and on blankets. Some concertgoers sported cowboy hats, while others wore eagle feathers. Some danced in flip-flops while people next to them scooted in knee-high cowboy boots with jeans tucked inside. The audience ranged from infants to grandparents.

Performers such as Frank Waln, a Sicangu Lakota hip-hop artist from Rosebud, South Dakota, and Lukas and Micah Nelson, sons of Willie Nelson, warmed up the crowd.

Willie Nelson then took the stage and ran through most of his popular titles, such as “On the Road Again” and “You Are Always on My Mind.” He played for about 45 minutes.

Young’s set, which extended beyond an hour, included the well-known “Heart of Gold” and a new version of “Who’s Gonna Stand Up,” which he wrote about the Keystone XL pipeline.

With his guitar in hand and harmonica around his neck, Young urged Nebraskans not to give up. “This is never going to end, until we get it right.”

Read the article, see more photos:

Willie Nelson wows them in Webster

Friday, September 26th, 2014

Willie Nelson
photo: Steven King

by: Walter Bird Jr.

Some concerts go by fast. The really, really good ones last a while. They become great when the performer leaves fans begging for more. Consider it mission accomplished, then, for Willie Nelson, who stopped by Indian Ranch with his “family” for a special show Saturday, Sept. 20 – one day before the venue hosted its last concert of the season.

Playing and sounding not at all like his age – he turned 81 in April – and sporting his trademark pigtails and bandanas, Nelson strode unassumingly, if a little slowly, onto the stage about a half hour after the scheduled 2 p.m. start time. He would not leave for another hour and a half. Twenty-eight songs later, Nelson stood with his beaten up, but fine-sounding acoustic guitar raised aloft in his right hand. He basked for a moment in the last of several standing ovations earned through a set that had an audience of young, old and everything in between clapping, cheering and singing along pretty much start to finish. He certainly left Chris Young, once again wrapping up the concert season at Indian Ranch with a Sunday, Sept. 21 appearance, with big shoes to fill.

Nelson’s almost 90-minute-on-the-nose set before a sellout crowd of 3,000-plus had something old, something new, and even something blue, considering he sang the somber “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” He is backed by one of the most trusted and reliable bands in the business, the “family,” featuring Nelson’s sister, Bobbie Nelson, on piano; brothers Paul and Billy English on drums (Billy joined the band to help on drums after his brother suffered a stroke four years ago; Mickey Raphael on harmonica; and bassist Kevin Smith, who came on board in 2011 after the death of former bass player, Bee Spears. The band requires no set list, no nod from Nelson, no cue to know what comes next. In concert, it is song after song after song, save for maybe a “Thank you very much” or “Here’s a little Hank Williams.” The members all know which song comes next, when to do their thing and when to just sit back and let Nelson do his thing.

Oh, and how Nelson does his thing. When talking about great guitarists, Nelson’s is not a name often mentioned, but when it comes to acoustics, it is hard to imagine many coming close to the mastery exhibited by the man in pigtails. Nelson had ample opportunity to show off some fine finger picking on songs such as “Nigh Life” and “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” the latter from the 1980 film, “Honeysuckle Rose.” He earned several standing ovations, and for much of the last part of the concert, had fans on their feet – even under the pavilion, where signs reminded them there was “No Standing” were rightly ignored. How can you sit when Nelson and family are rolling their way through “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “I’ll Fly Away” and, quite fittingly, “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die?”

The latter was appropriate, as the familiar scent of marijuana was detectable during the show. The song also led into the closing number – and the 28th song of the set – “I Saw the Light.”

By that point, the crowd had become putty in Nelson’s hands; it did not take long, actually. From the opening number, “Whiskey River,” which took fans on a time machine back to 1973 and the album “Shotgun Willie,” Nelson proved he wasn’t just showing up. He appeared genuinely psyched to appear at Indian Ranch for the first time in about 20 years. He strummed his way into 1993’s “Still is Still Moving to Me” and had the crowd hootin’ and hollerin’ with “Beer For My Horses.” Nelson then paid homage to his friend and fellow Highwayman Waylong Jennings, with “Good Hearted Woman” (Nelson and Kris Kristofferson are the two lone surviving members of The Highwaymen, with Jennings and Johnny Cash now passed). Pacing the show with precision, Nelson slowed things down with “Funny How Time Slips Away” and “Crazy,” the song he recorded, but was most famously sung by Patsy Cline. Things picked up with “Nightlife,” before Bobbie Nelson treated the fans to “Down Yonder” on piano. “Me and Paul” came next, with no truer words spoken as Nelson crooned, “It’s been rough and rocky travelin’, but I’m finally standing upright on the ground.”

Indeed, Nelson did not sit or rest once during the show. He took off his black cowboy hat after one or two songs and did not put it back until the end. In between, he tossed out some bandanas – only after wearing them first, of course – and kept the crowd under his spell. When he launched into “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” 10 songs into the show, Nelson let the audience fill in the chorus. He went into “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” “On The Road Again” and “You Were Always On My Mind,” before performing a three-song tribute to Hank Williams with “Jambalaya [on the Bayou]“, “Hey, Good Lookin'”, and “Move it on Over.”

From there, it was time for a little “Georgia on My Mind,” which gave way to “Band of Brothers,” from Nelson’s latest, self-titled album earlier this year. Nelson pulled out Billy Joe Shaver’s “Georgia on a Fast Train” and his own “I Never Cared for You” before hitting the homestretch, which included “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” an instrumental interlude and “I’ll Fly Away.” As he tore through the final two songs, “Roll Me Up …” and “I Saw the Light,” one couldn’t help but wonder whether Nelson was gracing the Indian Ranch stage for the final time. What better way to do it than by walking off with arms raised triumphantly. One expects the younger bands and musicians to play long and hard, but Nelson schooled them on this day – 81 and going strong, and yes, “standing upright on the ground.”

Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson’s Performance at Armadillo World Headquarters (1972) “#1 Most Significant in Austin Music History”

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

by: Michael Corcoran

his concert was the Big Bang of modern Austin Music, the show that begat the “progressive country” movement that put Austin on the map as the anti-Nashville. Willie Nelson had discovered, on previous trips to Austin, especially the musically-thrilling financial disaster that was the Dripping Springs Reunion in March 1972, that Texas hippies loved country music. After years of wearing a suit and short hair, trying to get the country mainstream to accept him, Willie said “screw it” and moved to where his true audience was.


One of the longhairs who loved his music was Armadillo World Headquarters ringleader Eddie Wilson, who wore out the grooves of Willie’s Live At Panther Hall album while homesick in the Bay Area for a month. When Wilson returned to Austin and the Armadillo and heard Willie, wife Connie and the kids had moved to nearby Riverside Drive, he made it his mission to book the straight-laced Nelson into his hippie beer joint. It wasn’t hard, as Willie stopped by the Armadillo soon after getting his utilities turned on. “I’ve been looking for you,” Eddie said. “Well, you found me,” answered Willie.

You have to realize that 1972 was still the Sixties in Austin, with the thick air of conflict whenever crewcutted rednecks and longhaired peaceniks were in the same establishment. It was jocks vs. nerds, bullies against the passive, with the war in Vietnam drawing a line that felt like a moat. But the debut of Willie and his band, with the wildly popular bluegrass stoners Greezy Wheels opening, brought both sides together without incident. As conducted by Willie, who had just started growing out his hair, two quite divergent groups of people realized, through the shared experience of music, that they had more in common than they had thought. A cliché brought to life on Aug. 12, 1965, when the Vulcan Gas Company merged with the Broken Spoke.

As the creator of songs (“Crazy,” “Hello Walls” etc.) that made a lot of people a lot of money, Willie came with heavy music business connections, which was something the Austin music scene needed badly, lest all this heartfelt music disappear at the end of the night. He bought a complex on Academy Drive near South Congress Avenue and opened Arlyn Studio- Austin’s first world class recording facility- and the Austin Opera House, which took over as the best place to see shows after the Armadillo closed on New Year’s Eve 1980.

After Willie’s successful debut at the Armadillo, he started getting his country rebel friends like Waylon Jennings to play there, and stoked a national fascination with “Waylon and Willie and the boys.” Austin earned an identity in the ‘70s as the capital of outlaw country music. Then came the Vaughan Brothers and Clifford Antone and the blues. Then came all the indie rock guitar bands.

There’s been amazing music in town since the German singing societies in the late 1800s. This is the town of the Lomax family, who saved folk songs like children in burning buildings, where Kenneth Threadgill gave a foul-mouthed free spirit named Janis Joplin a place to sing. The wealth of live music continues today, with nurturing venues like the Mohawk, Beerland, the Continental Club, Hole In the Wall and on and on keeping the legacy alive. Willie didn’t start great live music in Austin, but he became its spiritual leader. Like his close friend Coach Darrell Royal, Willie set a high standard. It’s OK if you

 Read about the other 24:

Willie Nelson and Maureen Dowd

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

photo:  James Minchin
by:  Maureen Dowd

WASHINGTON — WHEN Willie Nelson invites you to get high with him on his bus, you go.

The man is the patron saint of pot, after all, and I’m the poster girl for bad pot trips.

It seemed like a match made in hash heaven.

When Nelson sang at the 9:30 club in D.C. one recent night, I ventured onto the Honeysuckle Rose, as his tour bus and home-away-from-home is called.

I was feeling pretty shy about meeting him. The 81-year-old Redheaded Stranger is an icon, one of America’s top songwriters and, as Rolling Stone said, “a hippie’s hippie and a redneck’s redneck.” The Smithsonian wants his guitar, “Trigger.”

I needed a marijuana Miyagi, and who better than Nelson, who has a second-degree black belt in taekwondo and a first-degree black belt in helping Norml push for pot legalization?

Willie Nelson, a music icon, also happens to be the patron saint of pot and, at 81, a font of knowledge on the subject. Credit James Minchin/Sony Music Entertainment

“Maybe she’ll read the label now!” he said, laughing, adding that I was welcome to get high on his bus “anytime.”

So that’s how I found myself, before Nelson’s show here, sitting opposite him in a booth on the bus as he drank black coffee out of a pottery cup, beneath a bulletin board filled with family photos.

His eyes were brass-colored, to use Loretta Lynn’s description. His long pigtails were graying. His green T-shirt bore the logo of his son’s band, Promise of the Real.

So, Sensei, if I ever decide to give legal pot a whirl again, what do I need to know?

“The same thing that happened to you happened to me one or two times when I was not aware of how much strength was in whatever I was eating,” Nelson said, in his honeyed voice. “One time, I ate a bunch of cookies that, I knew they were laced but I didn’t worry about it. I just wanted to see what it would do, and I overdid it, naturally, and I was laying there, and it felt like the flesh was falling off my bones.

“Honestly, I don’t do edibles,” he continued. “I’d rather do it the old-fashioned way, because I don’t enjoy the high that the body gets. Although I realize there’s a lot of other people who have to have it that way, like the children that they’re bringing to Colorado right now for medical treatments. Those kids can’t smoke. So for those people, God bless ’em, we’re for it.”

Eager not to seem like a complete idiot, I burbled that, despite the assumption of many that I gobbled the whole candy bar, I had only taken a small bite off the end, and then when nothing seemed to be happening, another nibble.

Nelson humored me as I also pointed out that the labels last winter did not feature the information that would have saved me from my night of dread.

Now, however, Colorado and Washington State have passed emergency rules to get better labeling and portion control on edibles, whose highs kick in more slowly and can be more intense than when the drug is smoked. Activists are also pushing to make sure there are stamps or shapes to distinguish pot snacks — which had, heretofore, been designed to mimic regular snacks — so that children don’t mistakenly ingest them.

Its whimsical first billboard in Denver shows a bandjaxed redhead in a hotel room — which is far too neat to be mine — with the warning: “Don’t let a candy bar ruin your vacation. With edibles, start low and go slow.”

I asked Nelson about Jerry Brown’s contention that a nation of potheads would threaten American superiority.

“I never listened to him that much,” he said, sweetly.

He showed me his pot vaporizer, noting: “Everybody’s got to kill their own snakes, as they say. I found out that pot is the best thing for me because I needed something to slow me down a little bit.” He was such a mean drunk, he said, that if he’d kept drinking heavily, “there’s no telling how many people I would have killed by now.”

I asked him about the time he was staying in the Carter White House — on bond from a pot bust — and took a joint up to the roof.

“It happened a long time ago,” he said, adding slyly, “I’m sure it happened.”

Did he also indulge in the Lincoln Bedroom?

“In what?” he replied, mischievously. “I wouldn’t do anything Lincoln wouldn’t have done.”

Given all the horrors in the world now, I said, maybe President Obama needs to chill out by reuniting the Choom Gang.

“I would think,” Nelson said, laughing, “he would sneak off somewhere.”

Lukas Nelson, Neil Young, Micah Nelson, “Rockin’ in the Free World” (Farm Aid 2014)

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

photo: Mary Francis Andrews


by: Mary Francis Andrews

photo: Mary Francis Andrews

Willie Nelson: Everything and More, in Pittsburg, PA (9/16/2014)

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

photo: Bill Wade
by:  Scott Mervi

Sometimes legends disappoint you. Other times they are everything they are advertised to be, and more. That was Willie Nelson Tuesday night at the Benedum.

His first trip into our city limits since he played Heinz Hall 14 years ago brought him back to a theater where fans could savor every precious note.

This legend is 81 years old and, dare I say, still near the height of his powers, with a national treasure of a voice aged like a top-shelf whiskey.

A recent profile of him in Rolling Stone dropped a word — rubato — that may be unfamiliar even to hardcore music fans. It was used by producer Jerry Wexler to describe the rare way he uses meter in his phrasing, comparable to the likes of Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles (and, I would add, Bob Dylan).

Nobody delivers a lyric quite the same way as Willie — the way he makes it to the end of the line at his own pace — and he’s written many a good one, going back 50 years.

His set list Tuesday was the jukebox from the roadhouse in some honky tonk heaven. Backed by his understated five-piece band — including drummer Paul English using a single snare, sister Bobbie on piano and soulful harp sidekick Michey Raphael — he offered all the poetry, simplicity and authenticity we expect.

When he first arrived on stage, in black T-shirt, jeans and cowboy hat, doing the traditional opening of “Whiskey River,” his Trigger sounded a little funny. That’s his ancient guitar with the hole in it.

It jumped out of the mix sharp and tinny and even sounding slightly out of tune. It was borderline jarringly punk.

As the songs rolled on — “Still is Still Moving to Me,” “Beer for My Horses,” “Good Hearted Woman” — Trigger managed to settle more into flow. Willie is an offbeat, atypical virtuoso, but there are few guitarists who are more direct and expressive with the notes they choose and abrupt changes in volume and tempo.

Although he has a fine new album out in “Band of Brothers,” he didn’t bother with that. It was all classic — “Crazy.” “Nightlife (Ain’t No Good Life,” “Help Me Make it Through the Night,” one stunning song after and another. “Me and Paul,” about his misadventures with his drummer, was rollicking and hilarious. “Always on My Mind” was slow, gorgeous and bittersweet. His lovely take on “Georgia” was perfectly paired with chugging cover of Billy Joe Shaver’s “I Been to Georgia on a Fast

Train.” As usual, he didn’t say much beyond “thank you’s” and band introductions but he was smiling and friendly, and had fun throwing his bandannas out to the crowd.

The climax of the set took him back to his roots with a mix of Hank Williams (“Jambalaya,” “Hey Good Lookin’,” “Move it on Over”) and gospel (“Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” “I Saw the Light”) with daughter Amy joining on vocals.

There have been a lot of so-called “country” concerts around here this summer. There aren’t many things more real, more American and more good for the soul than a Willie Nelson concert.

Set List

Whiskey River
Still Is Still Moving to Me
Beer for My Horses
Good Hearted Woman
Funny How Time Slips Away
Nightlife (Ain’t No Good Life)
Piano instrumental
Me and Paul
Help Me Make it Through the Night
Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys (Ed Bruce cover)
Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground
On the Road Again
You Were Always On My Mind
Shoeshine Man
I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train
He Can’t Tell Me What To Do
I Never Cared for You
Piano Instrumental
Hey Good Lookin’
Move It on Over
Will the Circle Be Unbroken
Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die
I Saw the Light


Farm Aid 2014 Surprises (Rolling Stone)

Monday, September 15th, 2014

Dave Matthews, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson
Farm Aid Press Conference
by: Erin Manning

Twenty thousand music fans and farmers showed up to the Walnut Creek Ampitheater in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Saturday for Farm Aid 2014, where organizers Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews were joined by an eclectic list of performers in the effort to support small family farms, locally and nationwide. Now in its 29th year, Farm Aid has evolved into much more than a yearly benefit concert, but rather a year-round support system for small farmers and nonprofit groups. Saturday’s festivities included a farming expo with seminars from and for local farmers, vendors and exhibitors, as well as food supplied by local family farms for the festival’s Homegrown Concessions area. Many of the performers were deeply involved in the agricultural education element of the fest: Delta Rae’s Brittany Hölljes led a discussion about connections between urban and rural farms. NOLA’s Preservation Hall Jazz band did a briefing on the similar issues facing fishers and farmers.

Wandering around the grounds could lead one to a snap pea “shell-off,” a DIY pepper jelly session or to a tent where flower crowns were being woven. Workshops like “Sustainable Fishing 101” were available for those wanting to learn, and for the teenagers just wanting to get high and roll around in the grass, there was Dave Matthews.

Here are some of our favorite moments from the big event.


“There’s a flood happening in Texas,” joked Willie Nelson, announcing the Stevie Ray Vaughn cover of “Texas Flood” he was about to launch into with his son Lukas, right before Gary Clark Jr. strolled onstage and threw down the blues solo gauntlet. The repartee between the three transcended the generations and varied backgrounds of everyone onstage, including longtime harp man Mickey Raphael and veteran drummer Paul English, as well as Willie’s sister and lifelong piano player Bobbie Nelson, (the only female in the ten-person ensemble). “Good Hearted Woman” in honor of Waylon Jennings was next, during which Willie’s relaxed style of delivery proved (again), that he’s still riding the chill wave harder than anyone.

Read the entire article, see more great photos and videos!  here —
Follow us: @rollingstone on Twitter | RollingStone on Facebook





Read more:

Farm Aid Heads South (Raleigh, NC) (9/13/2014)

Monday, September 15th, 2014

By Thom Duffy

Farm Aid, the annual benefit concert to support America’s family farmers, headed south this year, drawing 20,000 fans to the Walnut Creek Amphitheatre in Raleigh, N.C., on Saturday, and the move shaped both the music and the message of the event. Now in it’s 29th year, Farm Aid is the longest-running concert for a cause in pop-music history.

Neil Young Protests Fracking & Corporate America in New Crazy Horse Song

Farm Aid’s four guiding stars — Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews — are the perennial headliners of the all-day affair. But acclaimed Southern additions to the bill this year included guitarist extraordinaire Jack White, now based in Nashville; bluesman Gary Clark Jr., born and bred in Austin, Texas; the alt-pop-Americana sextet Delta Rae, making their North Carolina homecoming after a two-year tour; singer/songwriter Todd Snider, who honed his career in Memphis; and the mighty Preservation Hall Jazz Band, marching in from New Orleans.

They were joined by returning Farm Aid favorites Carlene Carter, Jamey Johnson, Jesse Lenat and members of the extended Nelson musical clan: son Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real; Insects vs Robots, featuring son Micah Nelson; and granddaughter Raelyn Nelson and her band, in their Farm Aid debut.

More than a concert, Farm Aid serves as an annual gathering of activists focused on the “good food” movement, environmentalism and social-justice battles. Many farmers and activists travel to the event each year to network, share strategies, listen to the music and eat great family farm food on a menu that Farm Aid has trademarked as “Homegrown.”

This year, Farm Aid organizers aligned their mission of preserving family farms with another struggle with deep roots in North Carolina and the South: the civil-rights movement.

“We all felt that we could not come to this region that has such a profound history without taking note of it,” says Carolyn Mugar, executive director of Farm Aid. “Civil-rights activists have become examples for all of us, in how to organize and how to work. So we had a two-day gathering [earlier in the week] bringing people together, many of whom are based in the civil-rights movement. They are farmers and farm advocates now.”

Among those activists is African-American dairy farmer Dorathy Barker of Olusanya Farm in Oxford, N.C., who described the discrimination she faced from bankers as she sought financing for her farm. “It didn’t take long for me to realize they were pissing in my face — and it wasn’t raining,” said Barker. She and her husband Phillip are leaders in Operation Spring Plant to advocate for African-American and low-income farmers.

“Corporate domination and corporate control is what’s running farmers into the ground,” said Scott Marlow of the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA, an advocacy organization aligned with Farm Aid, at a morning press conference that preceded the concert.

Neil Young echoed that view. “All of the things we’re talking about here are all about power,” said Young, “It’s all about corporations telling us what to do.”

As Farm Aid’s focus shifted from speeches to music, Willie Nelson offered his annual benediction by singing the Lord’s Prayer to open the show. Lenat, at the start of the bill, showcased his upcoming album Son of a Cactus Farmer, while the Raelyn Nelson Band sparkled, proving that more than family ties earned her a spot on the lineup. Likewise, delightful contrasts came from Micah Nelson’s eclectic folk ensemble Insects vs Robots and Lukas Nelson’s muscular Promises of the Real. Lukas’ performance of Paul Simon’s “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” was a standout moment.

In songs like “Can’t Complain” and “Statistician’s Blues” during his early afternoon set, Todd Snider showed that he may the finest bard of both pathos and humor since John Prine. Carlene Carter, stepdaughter of Johnny Cash and granddaughter of country music pioneer Mother Maybelle Carter, introduced “Carter Girl,” the title track of her latest album, which celebrates her family’s history and legacy. Delta Rae, who hail from nearby Durham, N.C., were the hometown favorites and turned in a scorching set of harmonies. (Vocalist Brittany Holljes earlier in the day spoke about her love of getting her hands back in the dirt at the Raleigh City Farm).

The horns and brass, soul and sass of the amazing Preservation Hall Brass Band brought irresistible dance rhythms to the day just before Johnson and Clark stepped up to deliver their respective doses of rock and blues.

Ebet Roberts
Jack White and Lillie Mae Rische perform at Farm Aid on September 13, 2014 in Raleigh, North Carolina.
photo: Ebet Roberts

Jack White undeniably ignited the most excitement of the day, taking the stage in the late-afternoon light (Delta Rae’s Brittany Holljes ran to grab a spot near the stage front during his set). Sporting a new fade haircut with retro sideburns and decked out in suspenders, White stored his guitar picks in the antenna of an old tube television at center stage, whose blue static screen was projected across the backdrop. His set list spanned tracks from the White Stripes (“Icky Thump”) to the title track of this year’s Lazaretto album. White is possibly the only singer who can channel Robert Plant and Hank Williams in the same performance and yet create a magnificent roar and twang that’s entirely his own.

Dave Matthews played his traditional Farm Aid acoustic set of favorites like “Ants Marching” accompanied by the marvelously inventive Tim Reynolds. “My guitar isn’t even plugged in,” Matthews deadpanned.

With his vocals sounding stronger than they have in years, John Mellencamp captured the crowd with his power-chord pop hits, but also showcased “Troubled Man” from his forthcoming album Plain Spoken. Among Farm Aid’s four artist board members, Mellencamp has written some of his most best songs — “Small Town” and “Rain on the Scarecrow” — inspired by the struggle of family farms.

“Heart of Gold” opened Neil Young’s acoustic set, as a carved Indian at center stage gazed on, and Young sat at his old-fashioned, wood cabinet organ for the apt “Mother Earth.” But the high point of his set came as Young welcomed both Micah and Lukas Nelson out to add electric energy to “Rockin’ in the Free World.”

Willie Nelson’s finale was both understated and overwhelming. His guitar solo on “Angels Flying Too Close to the Ground” was a marvel to behold. Songs like “Whiskey River,” “On the Road Again” and “Always On My Mind” were reminders that Nelson is a national treasure — one who cares deeply about the state of his nation and the families who work the fields to keep it fed.

Farm Aid 2014 was streamed live on Willie Nelson’s SiriusXM channel, Willie’s Roadhouse (59) and in HD by Axis TV, presented by Amy’s Kitchen, a cooking school and specialty food shop in New York. Video highlights will be posted on

For the Farmers: Farm Aid 2014

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

by: Aaron Moody

RALEIGH — Farm Aid’s reach in supporting family farms is nationwide, but its annual concert Saturday allowed for a fair crop of local successes, too.

“We do move around the country, so we can showcase what is going on in their area and the work going on on the ground in those communities,” said Jennifer Fahy, Farm Aid’s communications director.

The outer shell of the Walnut Creek Amphitheatre featured event tents showcasing local vendors and exhibitors, and a long list of seminars including local farmers. There were also homegrown concession areas, with eats supplied by local family farms.

Topics ranged from building rural-to-urban connections to profitability tips. The largest tent was essentially a farming expo with organic compost companies, conservation groups and more.

“It’s a lot to take in – a lot of good stuff, though,” said Karen Crutchfield, an ex-poultry and cattle farmer from Arkansas who attended Farm Aid for the first time. “It’s got a lot of information for small farmers and large farmers to try.”

Daniel Dayton and Erika Gutierrez of Old Milburnie Farm near Knightdale helped lead one of the forums on small farms building relationships with restaurants and farmers markets.

“It’s a really emerging market,” Dayton said of the recent increase in interest for farmers markets in the eastern Wake County area. “People are definitely hungry for humanizing some of these markets that corporate isn’t taking over.”

Dayton, who with Gutierrez is in his second year farming about one and a quarter acres off Old Milburnie Road, said he gained as much as he shared during the concert weekend.

Some of the issues for his small farm aren’t problems for larger farms, he said.

“We’re building a network of support so we can feel like we’re grounded a little more,” he said. “A lot of the things we’re doing on our farm are low-tech and problem solving without much capital to invest.”

Talking openly with other small farmers helps to work out solutions, Dayton said.

“When you get around these young farmers, you can ask questions, like what are you doing to control this weed in this crop situation, and there’s a lot of people that are coming with really creative ideas and ways to deal with these issues without the infrastructure and machinery that people rely on in other farm situations,” Dayton said.

“That’s what’s great about Farm Aid – it gives people the opportunity to gain knowledge, share knowledge they’ve learned on their farm and work together to solve some of these problems that might be specific to a particular farm.”

A separate batch of locals was profiting in an entirely different way at the event.

With gates opening at noon, the concert lasted about twice as long as the typical Walnut Creek show. That meant a chance to score double for nonprofit groups working concession stands and earning a percentage of the sales to go toward their causes.

“We have about 20 groups of nonprofits that fill up the majority of the (concessions) stations on the regular,” said Dan Maxon, who oversees concessions for Aramark at Walnut Creek. “School bands, sports leagues, church groups – it’s an assortment.”

Wayne Vaughan, East Wake High School’s band booster club president, expected 30 people would cover two shifts at the five booths his group staffed. The crew is normally composed of band parents but on Saturday featured a handful of students who helped sell snacks.

It takes covering a shift at about 10 typical-length concerts to pay off the $400 band students owe annually, including travel expenses and competition fees.

Vaughan estimated the boosters would haul in about $3,000 total at the longer Farm Aid concert. With the band’s yearly budget being $55,000, the group stood to offset nearly a 16th of its total annual expenditures in a single day.

“It’s a really good event for a good cause, but from a financial standpoint, the increase in the number of people that come and the profitability of it is great,” Vaughan said. “We planned all year for it, and hopefully in the end it will be a really good event for us.”


Willie Nelson, bigger than ever, comes to Raleigh for Farm Aid

Friday, September 12th, 2014

photo: David McClister

When artists do phone interviews, they’re typically scheduled at set times. But that just ain’t how Willie Nelson rolls. The procedure involves placing a call to his representatives, who then try to track Nelson down and get him on the phone when he’s got the time and inclination to talk.

It took a few calls, but we spoke to Nelson recently from some far-off location on his never-ending tour, which comes to Raleigh Saturday as part of the big Farm Aid shindig. The man turned 81 years old in April, and he’s bigger than ever – back at No. 1 on the country charts for the first time since the mid-1980s with his latest album, “Band of Brothers” (Legacy Records). And he’s still out there singing and playing with his trusty and well-worn guitar Trigger (one of the most distinctive-sounding instruments in all of popular music).

Once we got Willie on the line, here’s how it went:

Q: What memories stand out from the 29 years’ worth of Farm Aid concerts that you’ve played?

A: I guess the first one stands out because it seemed like a thing where it was time for it to happen, and a lot of people agreed. Out on the road, farmers still come to me to talk. Or they text, email, send letters. It’s still the same old thing after 30 years, the same problems. We need a farm bill that will take care of the small family farmer. Now it’s just the big corporations that get help, which seems to be accepted by everybody except me and the farmers and people concerned with where food comes from. I want organic food, and I want it for my kids and grandkids, too.

Q: The “Band of Brothers” title track has a chorus that says, “You can’t tell me what to do.” Who on earth tries to tell you what to do?

A: (laughing) Oh, I don’t think anybody seriously tries, at least not anymore. I probably need someone to tell me on occasion. But I don’t listen anyway, so it would be futile. Just as well nobody tries. I already know what I wanna do.

Q: You co-wrote nine of 14 songs on “Band of Brothers,” the most you’ve written on an album since the mid-1990s. What inspired this latest writing binge?

A: Buddy Cannon and I write well together, and that’s unusual – for me to write well with someone else. The last time was Hank Cochran 50 years ago. Buddy and I think along the same lines, and he’s a great musician and producer. We’ve had a lot of good luck together and we’re still writing a lot of songs. Got another album that’s supposed to come out later this year.

Q: The new album’s “I Thought I Left You,” which likens a former lover to measles and whooping cough, is pretty hilarious. How true-to-life is that one?

A: Pretty true. I think everybody who’s been through marriage, or more than one marriage, can relate to any of that stuff.

Q: Is it ever a burden being Willie, someone everybody thinks they know because of your music?

A: I think it’s what I started out to accomplish from the very first time I played guitar and a girl liked it. “Hell,” I thought, “this is what I wanna do.” It’s easy for me to play and sing and write, and I think it’s what I’m supposed to be doing.

Q: What do you think you’d have wound up doing if not for music?

A: Oh, I’d probably be a bank robber. Just kiddin’. I went to law school to be a lawyer, but I majored in dominoes. I think I was a better domino player than I would’ve been a lawyer.

Q: There was a need for lawyers when some of your entourage got arrested for marijuana possession in Duplin County in 2010.

A: That was a little bit of trouble. Nothing too serious. Through the years, things like that have happened quite a bit to me. But I’m a little bit more out there and more open about it than most people, I suppose.

Q: Patsy Cline made your career (and hers) when she covered “Crazy.” Did you two ever actually meet?

A: Oh yeah, her and I were great friends. We met in Nashville. I brought some songs from Texas that I’d written and one of them was “Crazy.” I was talking to Charlie Dick, her husband, and played that one. “That’s a great song and I’d love for her to do it,” he said. “Let’s go play it for her right now.” It was after 12 midnight and I didn’t want to go wake her up, but he made me do it. She loved it and recorded it the next week.

Q: So if anything ever happened to Trigger, what would you do?

A: After I finished killing somebody, whoever was responsible, I’d probably be in prison for a few years. Although most people would think I’d be justified, so I might get off. But Trigger’s doing good. Gets a little beat up now and then, and I have to have him fixed up. But he’s still barking pretty good.

Read more here:



Willie Nelson, Alman Brothers closeout Lockn Festival 2014

Monday, September 8th, 2014

photo: Autumn Perry
Alex Rohr

ARRINGTON – Soulful spirituals drifted through a sparsely wooded concert area at Lockn’ Sunday, drawing drowsy festivalgoers through a row of vendors to a late morning service.

Tents rustled and camp conversations turned from solos and musical transitions from the previous night’s shows, including Widespread Panic with Steve Winwood, Phil Lesh and Friends, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, to deciding to walk a few campground blocks to watch Keller Williams Grateful Gospel.

These gospel-style Grateful Dead covers provided an opportunity for a form of Sunday worship setting an old-style tone for the Nelson County festival’s final day that included country legend Willie Nelson and Southern blues-rock pioneer The Allman Brothers Band. The Allman Brothers are said to be toward the tail end of their final tour,

The band’s retirement foreshadows a nearing end to the era that birthed large music festivals in the 1970s. Large festivals such as Lockn’ are common among many genres.

The Allman Brothers are a bluesy example of the improvisational style of musicianship known as jamming exhibited by artists throughout the week-end. While a band starts with a particular song, musicians adjust and interpret the melodies and harmonies, sometimes transitioning seamlessly into other tunes. The method is com-mon to jazz.

Peter Horwitt, who visited Nelson County from Canada, said he came this far south to make sure he saw the band before they hung up their guitars.

“It means a lot to me,” said Horwitt, of Calgary, Alberta. “I’m not religious but it’s almost like a spiritual experience.”

Ron Butler, who came from Ontario with two friends, didn’t know the Allmans were calling it quits until after he bought a ticket.

“It’s an incredible experience to see something you grew up with and you love before it’s done,” Butler said.

The festival, which drew between 25,000 to 30,000 people, had been going logistically well, according to Lockn’ media representative Stacie Griffin. She focused mainly on the entrance issues that caused backups on U.S. 29 last year.

One change from early Saturday to early Sunday was an increase in searches of backpacks and folded blankets for alcohol in the main stage area.

Patrons were allowed to bring alcohol into the festival grounds, but not the main stage area where beer vendors bookended the field.

“I don’t think it’s a reaction to something,” Griffin said.

She said she believed the more meticulous search method was to deal with more day patrons coming to see Nelson and the Allmans.

Alcohol Beverage Control has come down on Lockn’ on accusations of violations in last year’s initial festival. Lockn’s ABC permit could be at risk next year.

One complaint by patrons was an extended wait in water lines around the car camping area toward the back of the venue. Only two of the fountain’s six spouts were working on the scorching Saturday and lines backed up further than previous days. The problem continued into Sunday. The fountain was near pay showers. The free water fountains generally worked at the festival.

Griffin said Sunday she hadn’t heard of the problem but said she would check on it immediately.

“It might just be a matter of nobody has reported it,” she said.

Most of the portable toilets were out of hand sanitizer by the festival’s sec-ond day. Extra portable toilets were brought in mid-festival.

At each night’s end, the dimming stage lights reflect off the plastic bottles and cups and aluminum cans littered throughout the main stage area. Griffin said Lockn’ started a trash for cash program this year in which volunteers can sign up to pick up trash for $3 a bag at a venue with $3 apples and $8 beers.

“You’re here, you fill up three trash bags, and there’s your dinner money,” Griffin said.

Patrons spoke highly of the festival, in particular the lineup. They also noted the higher number of vendors comparatively.

Griffin was also positive, saying negotiations for next year have already begun.

“We hope to be here for a long time,” she said.

Mickey Raphael Interview in The Weekender

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

by: Brad Patton


Who: Willie Nelson & Family with Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real
When: 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 11
Where: F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts, Public Square, Wilkes-Barre
Tickets: $47 to $97 plus fees
Available: From the Kirby Center box office at 570-826-1100 or from

Legendary singer-songwriter Willie Nelson, now 81 and showing no signs of slowing down, is about to go “on the road again.”

Flush with the success of his 69th studio album, “Band of Brothers,” which debuted at number one on the Country Albums chart and number five on the all genre Billboard 200 in June (his best showing in more than 30 years), Nelson is just about to fire up his “Honeysuckle Rose” tour bus for another round of concerts with his family, which includes his sister Bobbie on piano, Mickey Raphael on harmonica, drummers Paul and Billy English and bassist Kevin Smith.

On Thursday, Sept. 11, Nelson and his cohorts will make their seventh stop at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts. Nelson, who earned his Fifth Degree Black Belt in the art of Gong Kwon Yu Sul (a modern Korean martial arts system) in April, first appeared at the Wilkes-Barre theater in August 1988. His latest performance in May 2012 completely sold out, and the Sept. 11 show looks likely to do the same.

Expanding the Family even further, Nelson’s 24-year-old son Lukas and his band Promise of the Real will open the show.

For nearly 40 years, each time Nelson goes back on the road, harmonica virtuoso Raphael has been along for the ride.

“I’ve been doing some sessions and producing a Highwaymen boxed set,” said Raphael, 62, in a recent call from Nashville. “They’ll swing through and pick me up (soon).”

Raphael, who was originally from Dallas, Texas, played on the first two albums by B.W. Stevenson (best known for the original version of “My Maria”) and met Nelson in 1972 at a party thrown by University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal.

“He called me and said he was having a picking party after one of the ballgames, and that some of his friends would be there,” Raphael recalled. “His friends turned out to be people like Charley Pride and Willie Nelson – I didn’t really know who he was because I never really listened to country music. But he started singing like ‘Night Life’ and stuff like that, and then I kind of figured it out.”

Raphael said Nelson liked his playing and told him to come and sit in with him sometime. After a few gigs, Raphael moved from Dallas to Austin, then Nelson’s home base, and became a fixture at shows and in the studio, first appearing on Nelson’s classic 1975 album “Red Headed Stranger.”

Raphael said the band now plays about 120 to 130 shows a year, usually with a two-weeks on and two-weeks off schedule. The next tour begins on Sunday at the Lockn’ Music Festival in Arlington, Va., then on to two more shows before hitting the Kirby Center. The annual Farm Aid show follows on Sept. 13, this time at the Walnut Creek Amphitheatre in Raleigh, N.C.

Asked if there was any discussion about either playing or not playing on 9/11, Raphael responded: “Oh God no. You can’t just stop or they win. We played a benefit show right after it happened, so we were on a plane almost immediately afterwards. It will be an honor to play on that day in their memory.”

Raphael said the new album was kind of different from Nelson’s most recent ones in that nine of the 14 songs are new compositions and none of the tunes had been previously recorded by Nelson.

“He co-wrote a bunch of new songs with our producer Buddy Cannon, and it was the first time in many years that there were so many new tunes.”

Raphael said there are some tunes featuring Nelson and his sister Bobbie already in the can, and Nelson has been writing again. Besides the new material, the next release may be the boxed set Raphael is producing that features a 1990 concert by the Highwaymen supergroup (Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, the late Waylon Jennings and the late Johnny Cash).

“They were at the peak of their game when this show at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island was filmed,” he said. “Twenty-five songs came out on a DVD in the ‘90s, but there were 35 recorded and we have brought those other 10 up to speed and it is sounding great. The film will be transferred to HD and the music will come out on three CDs, including a new song we uncovered that has never been out before.”

As for the Kirby show, Raphael said there will probably be two or three songs from the new album mixed in with the classics. Asked if it is hard to put a setlist together since Nelson has so many iconic songs, Raphael just laughed.

“I wouldn’t know because there is no setlist,” he said. “There’s a certain pattern, like we always start with ‘Whiskey River,’ but after that, it’s whatever comes to the top of his head.

“Luckily I don’t play at the beginning of many songs, so I just wait and listen. We’ve been playing together so long, I don’t have to listen for long, and then we’re off and running.


Willie Nelson, songwriter, “Band of Brothers”

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

By Hiram Lee

Veteran country music artist Willie Nelson is now 81 years old. Approaching the sixth decade of his career, he continues to record and perform at an impressive pace. A talented singer, songwriter and guitarist, it is hard to think of another performer in the genre as well liked as he.

Nelson has been making music professionally since 1956. While he found little success as a recording artist in those first several years, he was able to establish himself quickly as a songwriter of note. Some of his early compositions have become standards recorded by large numbers of country, jazz and blues musicians. Nelson wrote “Crazy,” made famous in a legendary recording by Patsy Cline, and “Night Life,” which Ray Price recorded. “Hello Walls” became a hit for Faron Young and “Funny How Time Slips Away” was recorded by Billy Walker.

Like most country music performers, the Texas-born Nelson’s career eventually became centered in Nashville. But Nelson never quite fit in there. He grew frustrated with the constraints of the Nashville entertainment industry and moved back to Texas in the early 1970s. His clean-cut look gave way to long hair, jeans and a beard.

It was in Texas that Nelson’s music began to flourish. It attracted a larger audience, both from traditional country music fans as well as fans of rock n roll. While Nelson was by this time a renowned songwriter, many of his best-known songs as a recording artist would be written by others, including “Whiskey River,” “If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time,” “Always on My Mind” and the exceptional “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” written by Fred Rose.

In more recent years, an even larger majority of Nelson’s recorded output has consisted of songs by other composers. His latest album, Band of Brothers, however, marks a return to songwriting. Not since his 1996 release Spirit has a Willie Nelson album featured this many new compositions.

Band of Brothers is an interesting and entertaining album. Nelson’s unique, nasal singing voice has begun to weaken somewhat, but his loose—even casual—sense of rhythm remains. His lyrics fall into the music like clothes tossed onto a bed, but they fit him well in the end.

“They say there is no gain without pain. Well I must be gaining a lot …” sings Nelson on the album’s simple but effective opening song “Bring it On.” One might say this sets the tone for the album, which often takes up themes of loss and hardship. But this is not a work of resignation. The music expresses a fair amount of defiance, humor and understanding in the face of it. One feels a human being behind the songs. They were not written by committee or well vetted by one. There’s something genuine in them.

Nelson still has the ability to turn out verses in which relatively simple and direct lyrics carry significant emotions and ideas to just the right place, setting them firmly in the mind of the listener, as in the song “Guitar in the Corner,” where he sings:

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/It was a happy song about a girl loving me like I loved her/But the strings no longer ring and things are not the way they were

In “The Wall,” Nelson sings:

I took on more than I could handle/I bit off more than I could chew/I hit the wall

I went off like a Roman candle/Burning everyone I knew/I hit the wall/I hit the wall

Again, the lyrics look simple enough on paper, but Nelson’s thoughtful melodies and performance give them the weight of experience.

Among the funnier songs in the collection is “Used to Her,” in which Nelson sings of yet another turbulent relationship. The singer has put up with too much, too willingly: When I start getting used to her I get down on my knees/ and say lord I know not what I do/forgive and help me please!

On the brief but amusing “Wives and Girlfriends,” Nelson assumes the character of a womanizer with more problems on his hands than he can manage: “I love my wives and I love my girlfriends, but may they never meet!” It is a send-up of all the egoism, chaos and unrepentance involved.

While Band of Brothers may represent Nelson’s return as a songwriter, some of the strongest songs are still those written by other composers. Perhaps the best verse on the album belongs to veteran songwriter Billy Joe Shaver and his song “The Git Go.” In a duet with Jamey Johnson, Nelson sings Shaver’s angry words:

Money breeds war as long as there’s a man alive/Rich kids go to college and the poor kids fight/And high rollers crap out every time/Roll up soldiers’ bones like loaded dice/War is a beast that makes every mother cry.

One is reminded that when popular country music stars, including Toby Keith and Darryl Worley, wrote openly pro-war songs like “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)” and “Have You Forgotten?” during preparations for the Iraq War in 2003, Willie Nelson responded with the anti-war song “Whatever Happened to Peace on Earth?” in which he asked the questions: “How much oil is one human life worth?” and “How much is a liar’s word worth?”

Willie Nelson remains a refreshing and different voice in country music. Band of Brothers is not quite his best album; there are no songs here as strong as “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” or “Crazy,” but there’s something to it. One finds some of the best, most appealing features of country music in this work.

Read article here.