Archive for the ‘News and Reviews’ Category
by: Donna Marie Miller
About 200 very lucky country music fans were treated to a private concert by Willie Nelson, Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel February 4th at the famed Broken Spoke; Thursday nights in February will never feel so hot again in Austin, Texas. The founder of Girling Home Health Care Inc. sponsored the city’s biggest private event of the year at its oldest and most beloved honky tonk. Unable to attend her own birthday party due to the onset of sudden illness, Bettie Girling, the widow of the late Robert Girling, watched the party via Skype from her bed at home across town.
Nevertheless, Nelson and Benson sang “Happy Birthday” to Bettie together with all of her invited guests who also enjoyed a barbecue feast and spirited drinks. For about an hour and a half and just inches away from his audience, Nelson sang a hit parade of songs that marked more than 50 years of his professional music career, beginning with the 1961 number one hit, “Hello Walls,” followed by “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” (1975) and “On The Road Again” (1980).
The 82-year-old Red Headed Stranger closed the night with an intimate crowd sing-along on “The Party’s Over,” a song Nelson wrote and Claude Gray first recorded in 1959. All evening Benson accompanied Willie on guitar and backup vocals together with keyboard player Emily Gimble, the daughter of the late Texas Playboy Johnny Gimble. Other Asleep at the Wheel members included fiddler Katie Shore, steel player Eddie Rivers, mandolin and fiddle player Dennis Ludicker and David Sanger on drums.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott and his wife, Cecilia, also made a brief appearance together at the celebration, flanked by several Travis County deputies. Dozens of other local celebrities, including writer/actor/filmmaker Turk Pipkin sat on the dance floor to take photos up close and personal. Closing time came early– 10 o’clock– at the red, rustic and barn-like Broken Spoke, a 51-year-old icon that has withstood the test of time and new development along a one-mile stretch of South Lamar. Its 76-years young founders, James and Annetta White, both waved goodbye from the porch as dust settled in the Broken Spoke’s dirt parking lot and Nelson’s tour bus left for a Feb. 9 appearance in Charlotte, N.C. at The Fillmore.
Willie Nelson to help honor Kris Kristofferson at his induction into 2016 Austin City Limits Hall of Fame InductionSaturday, August 20th, 2016
photo: Rick Diamond
by: Lorie Liebig
Some of the biggest names in music have been selected as presenters for the upcoming 2016 Austin City Limits Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Willie Nelson, Rodney Crowell, Willie Nelson, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and Mavis Staples will officially present the honors to this year’s inductees.
Nelson and Crowell will recognize their longtime friend and musical comrade Kris Kristofferson during the event. B.B. King will be inducted by ZZ Top vocalist Billy Gibbons, while Bonnie Raitt will be presented with her official Hall of Fame title by acclaimed blues singer Mavis Staples.
The ceremony will also feature a series of musical tributes by the presenters in honor of each individual honoree. Acclaimed rock guitarist Gary Clark Jr. and blues artist Taj Mahal are among the special guests who will join in on these performances.
The 2016 ACL Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be held on Oct. 12 at The Moody Theater in Austin, Texas. Although the event is currently sold out, fans can watch highlights from the show during a special episode of Austin City Limits, which will air on PBS this New Year’s Eve. You can find more info on the event here.
Anticipation spills over with the first few notes from Mickey’s harmonica. Then, as Willie takes the stage and sings “Whiskey River Take My Mind,” the audience responds as if each person there had just won the New York State Lottery.
This rapport increases throughout the show as Willie glides from Kris Kristofferson gems to gospel, cowboy songs to blues, self-penned classics to ballads. Whatever Willie sings, the people. Funny how two hours slip away.
Willie and Family Show is felt, not just seen and heard. It’s a natural high for those lucky enough to be there. Ad those people will be back for another show.
It’s easy to appreciate the efforts of Willie and the band members on stage. They have given us top quality entertainment. Not so visible, i.e. well-known, are the people involved backstage working before and after each show.
Willie and Family roll coast-to-coast on tires. Five chocolate/tan customized Silver Eagle buses, painted in various Indian and western themes, drive into the shows parking area. these carry the 27 or so experts, including band members, that work with Willie to keep the show running smoothly. And smoothly it does. Also on tour is a motor home with the concessions people, a rental truck, and a semi for equipment.
On tour with Willie can be 200 shows a year, covering up to 100,000 miles. The buses soak up to 200 gallons at truck stops and that translates to about 6 or 7 miles per gallon.
Your ticket might give the show’s starting time as 8 p.m., but the first of Willie’s crew starts long before that. The sound and lights technicians are setting up by 11 in the morning for an 8 p.m. show.
By 3 p.m. the security staff and stage manager are at work. Look for the Wrangler bus around the same time. the fourth bus, with the band members, comes over about 1 hour to 1 1/2 hour before the show starts.
The big question is, of course, When Does Willie Get Here? It varies.
It’s not unusual for Willie to arrive 30 minutes to an hour before show time. Or, it just might be any time from 11 a.m. to 7:45; each show has it’s own circumstances.
Eventually the evening ends, Willie waves goodbye and exits the stage. the audience also heads for home.
Willie’s crew, the same people that set up that morning, have another 2 to 2 1/2 hours of work to tear it all down. When you have the best sound and light equipment available, it takes that long before everything is loaded and ready to roll.
One by one the Silver Eagles and trucks hustle down the highway to the next show and another city.
Many thanks to Wrangler’s Mell Parkhurst who took time at the Salem, Ohio show to answer all our questions.
Jean and Beth Dolezal
by: Matthew Leimkuehler
ST. CHARLES, Ia. — Tucked away in the hills of rural, southern Iowa, Hinterland Music Festival returned for a weekend jam-packed with country, roots and rock ‘n’ roll music.
The festival more than doubled in attendance from its inaugural year — which included a last-minute re-location form Water Works Park in Des Moines to its location at the Avenue of the Saints Amphitheater — bringing an estimated 18,500 to Madison County throughout the two-day event.
At the forefront of the Saturday festivities? Country-western legend Willie Nelson. Nelson closed the two-day festival with a set featuring iconic hits of his own and tribute numbers to those who have since passed. Tracks like the timeless track “On The Road Again” and 1971 number “Me and Paul” from Nelson’s discography made it into the set, as did covers the likes of Ray Charles’ “Georgia On My Mind” and Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya (On The Bayou).”
His deep and unreplicable voice rolled through the hills of the Hinterland landscape and his soft smile lit up the otherwise dark Iowa night. He weaved through the set with his soft, swinging delivery and the crowd responded to each track with jovial cheers and sing-alongs.
by: Nate Todd
It’s always a treat to see Willie Nelson & Family. Not only is Willie a living legend, but he’s just a class act and always puts on a great show. The crowd was naturally an older one, but there was a healthy peppering of younger fans throughout. It was definitely a family affair, onstage and off. Before Willie came out we were treated to a video tribute for Willie’s friend and collaborator whom we lost this year, Merle Haggard, as an amazing sunset began to fire up over Fiddler’s Green.
Willie got right into it with his tried and true opener “Whiskey River,” and although there seemed to be some sound issues they were quickly squared away. We got the Willie/Waylon classic “Mammas Don’t Let Your Baby’s Grow Up to Be Cowboys” and the Nelson/Haggard collaboration from the 2015 album Django and Jimmie “It’s All Going to Pot,” which was dedicated to Merle and naturally saw a few folks toking up.
As the sun went down we got the classic Willie number made popular by Patsy Cline “Crazy,” and as the amphitheater darkened, a fitting “Night Life” followed by a great version of “Georgia On My Mind.” Willie and his beloved guitar “Trigger” both sounded great. It was then time to pay tribute to another country great, Hank Williams, with “Jambalaya.” At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house during “Always on my Mind.”
Other highlights included a rollicking “Good Hearted Woman,” another Hank song in “Hey Good Lookin,” and with the cloak of night over Fiddler’s “Green” the crowd was less bashful during “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.” It was also awesome to see opener Kacey Musgraves come out on the gospel number “I Saw the Light.” All in all it was a solid show, and at 83 we’re happy to report that Willie is still going strong.
Willie Nelson & Family will be performing at The Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles on October 18. Click here for tickets.
by: Kathy Stephenson
From the moment he stepped on the stage at Red Butte Garden on Thursday, country legend Willie Nelson had the sold-out crowd standing on its feet and singing along to almost every song.
After decades in the business, and dozens of music and songwriting awards, we’ll cut the 83-year-old Nelson some slack and just be happy to check his name off our concert bucket list.
Opening the show with his standard “Whiskey River,” he moved quickly into “Still is Still Moving” and “Beer for My Horses.”
He offered sing-along favorites, “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” and “On the Road Again.” And softened things up with “Always On My Mind” and “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground.”
The set honored old friends with “It’s All Going to Pot,” his duet with Merle Haggard, and “Good Hearted Woman,” a Waylon Jenning’s classic. Later he sneaked in Tom T. Hall’s “Shoeshine Man.”
Nelson showed his humorous side by telling the crowd, “Here’s a gospel song,” and then breaking into “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”
And you can count on a bit of American patriotism from the Red Headed Stranger. “Here’s a song, I’d like to sing for you. I think it’s appropriate for this time,” he said, starting in to “Living in the Promised Land.”
The legend gets a boost from his talented band, that includes “Little Sister” Bobbie Nelson, his older sister, on the grand piano. Together they brought some toe-tapping fun to “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and the final song of the night, “I Saw the Light.”
Read entire review, see more photos:
by: Richard Baca
Country music icon Willie Nelson will start selling Willie’s Reserve marijuana in Colorado and Washington state in the coming weeks
Willie Nelson’s much-hyped marijuana brand Willie’s Reserve will debut in Washington state pot shops this month and in Colorado marijuana stores in August, Nelson’s team told The Cannabist exclusively.
The anticipated debut of the country music legend’s weed brand — which includes cannabis flower grown by established license holders in each state — will coincide with Nelson’s previously scheduled tour stops at Marymoor Park in Redmond, Washington, on July 23 and Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre in Greenwood Village, Colorado, on July 30.
“I’ve smoked enough and I want to give back,” Nelson says in press materials. “Now that legalization is spreading across the country, there’s a great opportunity to build a company that can help a lot of people.”
The initial list of retail stores that will carry Willie’s Reserve products in Washington state includes Buddy’s of Renton, the Evergreen Market, Fweedom, Greenside Recreational, Gypsy Greens, Herbn Elements and Nimbin Pot Shop, who said a list of the brand’s Colorado retailers would be coming soon.
Even though the brand’s marketing materialsplayfully say they’re opening up access to the singer’s “legendary stash,” the Farm Aid co-founder and his Willie’s Reserve team aren’t growing the marijuana themselves. Because cannabis is a federally controlled substance, the commercial cultivation and sale of marijuana is strictly governed by the four states offering recreational sales and the 25 states that have legalized medical pot.
Like other celebrity cannabis brands, including Snoop Dogg’s Leafs by Snoop line, Willie’s Reserve is partnering with existing, licensed marijuana growers in each state — but “Nelson has consulted with horticulturalists and cannabis farmers to assure any product labeled Willie’s Reserve will maintain a standard worthy of his name,” according to press materials.
The subject of a recent New York magazine cover story titled “Big Pothead Versus Big Pot,”Nelson also hopes cannabis legalization continues to right Drug War wrongs and spurethical cultivation practices and standards.
“I hope it gives social justice to those who are incarcerated for doing what we’re now doing legally,” says Nelson. “I am also committed to have our crops farmed in an environmentally responsible way; to revitalize small farms and to grow it as clean as possible. So far, I’ve really enjoyed meeting with the best growers.”
The Willie’s Reserve product line will include pre-packaged marijuana flower sold in gram pouches, along with eighth- and quarter-ounce nitrogen-sealed cans, and pre-rolled joints sized at a half-gram or one gram. The company will also sell its CO2-extracted cannabis oils in disposable vape pens and universal-sized vape pen cartridges.
“I always knew that marijuana would be legalized,” Nelson says. “I just never thought it would be in my lifetime.”
by: Scott Bernstein
At Neil Young & Promise Of The Real’s first show of 2016 back in April, the band was joined by the legendaryWillie Nelson in Texas. Last night in Rome, Willie came out towards the middle of the show to sit-in with Neil & POTR, which features his sons Lukas Nelson and Micah Nelson, on two songs at Terme di Caracalla.
Willie Nelson emerged 11 songs into the set to lend a hand on “Are There Any More Real Cowboys” and then led the group through the Neil & POTR debut of The Red Headed Stranger’s “On The Road Again.” Both of Willie’s guest spots came after his son Lukas fronted the ensemble on another version of the Italian classic “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu,” aka “Volare.” There were plenty of other highlights in Rome including the year’s second “Mr. Soul,” the rare “Vampire Blues” and a jammed-out “Rockin’ In The Free World.” But the show will also be remembered for Young finally dusting off one of his most beloved songs with Promise Of The Real.
Last night’s encore in Rome was “Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black).” While Neil Young has played the Rust Never Sleeps rocker over 500 times in his career, Friday marked the first time he teamed with Promise Of The Real on the song. It also was Neil’s first performance of “Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)” in any form since his Summer 2013 Tour with Crazy Horse. The tour continues tonight in Lucca, Italy.
Watch fan-shot footage of “Are There Any More Real Cowboys?” and “On The Road Again” from Rome:
Here’s the Neil & POTR live debut of “Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)”:
[Hat Tip – Rolling Stone]
Neil Young + Promise of the Real at Terme di Caracalla
- After the Gold Rush
- Heart of Gold
- The Needle and the Damage Done
- Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)
- Out on the Weekend
- Hold Back the Tears
- Unknown Legend
- Human Highway
- From Hank to Hendrix
- Nel blu dipinto di blu (Volare)
- Are There Any More Real Cowboys?
- On the Road Again
- Words (Between the Lines of Age)
- Love to Burn
- Mansion on the Hill
- I’ve Been Waiting for You
- Mr. Soul
- Western Hero
- Vampire Blues
- After the Garden
- Country Home
- Seed Justice
- Monsanto Years
- Rockin’ in the Free World
- Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)
by: Joe Joiner
The King of Americana: How to Get Willie Nelson’s Signature Style
Get your wardrobe on the road again with the all-American cool that Willie Nelson has all but patented: t-shirt, jeans, sneakers, and all topped off with a hip bandanna.
Willie Nelson is a living legend, a monster of music and culture and activism, the embodiment of classic American idealism. But when you think high fashion—no, not that kind of high—he’s not the first person, iconic or otherwise, who comes to mind.
Maybe we should rethink that judgment. Because Willie’s been in the spotlight long enough to know just how to keep it simple, subtle, and classic, but with just enough flare to keep things interesting.
There’s something inherently all-American about his outfit, from the well-worn black T-shirt to the comfy jeans and a pair of sneakers. If he put down Trigger, his trusty, well-worn guitar, and hid the braids, he could pass for just another dude at the barbecue, albeit the one with the very best weed.
Here’s a quick guide to getting that Willie Nelson look for yourself. And now, thanks to Willie’s Reserve, you can get high on his supply, too. Legendary songwriting ability sold separately, of course.
Willie is so famous for his signature headband that he keeps a giant box of them onstage. Once he’s sweated through one in the course of a performance, he’ll toss it to the crowd and grab a dry one. We can’t promise anointing yourself with Willie’s salty exudations will give you magical musical prowess, but rocking his bandana vibe will definitely put you closer to a rock and roll look. Get yours via willienelson.com, where they even have the braids attached.
You could, of course, just opt for cowboy boots, but unless you’re a country musician, in Texas, or about to go rope a steer, it’s best to leave those to the professionals. Instead, get your feet into some New Balance 496’s, which are made right here in the USA, in Lowell, Massachusetts, to be exact, and have been Willie’s favorite for so long the company even makes his special, with custom embroidered accents like guitars or his signature. Turns out Willie isn’t the lazy stoner you may have thought he was: For years he was an avid runner, hosting races, and even had a special version of golf, in which you raced from hole to hole.
Willie Nelson, U.S. country music singer-songwriter, during a concert performance, circa 1975.
David Redfern/Redferns, via Getty
Willie has always had an affinity for the vintage T-shirt, usually black these days, and with a faded band logo or graphic of some kind. If you really want to get the right look, you can go for a Farm Aid shirt, thereby supporting the annual benefit that Willie founded and the proceeds of which go to help small farmers. You could also choose a bit of that “high” fashion, and cop a Willie’s Reserve shirt from the man himself. Or head on over to e-Bay for some actual vintage band t shirts. Since it’s summer, if you want to put on a “gun show,” a plain black tank top will work, too, like this one from the All American Clothing Company.
What kind of pants does a country legend like Willie? Jeans, of course. Heck, Willie even seems to have had his own line of women’s denim in the ’70s, but good luck getting your hands on a pair. How does the Redheaded Stranger take his dungarees? Preferably black or deep navy, and well broken in. No hipster spandex jeggings here. If you really want to go all out, get some extra comfy—but rugged—hemp jeans, like Hemp Blue’s straight fit selvedge blend. But for those looking to keep it classic and country, you can easily find something to your liking at Nashville’s Imogene + Willie, where they custom make some of the finest denim pants money can buy in small batches, right there in country music’s county seat.
After 18 picnics, journalist Dave Thomas is still learning things at Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnics. He recently published a book of posters and history of the picnic, if you want to know other things he has learned!
1. Better than 2015: On their second Picnic, I have to give thumbs up to the Circuit of The Americas and the Austin 360 Amphitheater on their growth as a host. I’m impressed by their decision to install “water monsters” around the facility to provide free and cool drinking water to patrons. (I always thought it was downright criminal for venues to host an event on the Fourth of July in Texas, then only offer water at $3-$4 a bottle.) Allowing us to bring in a small amount of food was a good move (I only had to buy one terrible $12 burger in my 11 hours). And while there was still an annoying amount of dead time between sets on the main stage for those of us who were spoiled by the Fort Worth Picnics, running the Plaza stage longer and the timing of the fireworks display helped keep it from being exasperating. One smart move didn’t quite work out: The “misting tent” was less of a cooling off spot for the masses than it was a de-facto VIP lounge for early arrivals. Not sure that was what they meant to happen.
2. No big discoveries: This was my 18th Picnic, and Lord knows I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t love to see Willie Nelson and Picnic regulars Ray Wylie Hubbard, Johnny Bush and Billy Joe Shaver. I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t mind hearing “Whiskey River” four times in one day or “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother” 18 Picnics in a row. But the thrill of every Picnic is discovering something new or seeing a legend for the first time. There was no transcendent moment this year like watching Kris Kristofferson intently watching Sturgill Simpson or seeing Charley Pride work the crowd.
So I’ll have to say this year’s highlight was newest Picnic regular Jamey Johnson appearing with Alison Krauss. Krauss softened Johnson’s often-prickly demeanor and they put on a great show together. I’ll even say Johnson sang his hit “In Color” with such conviction and depth that it made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.
3. Love for a legend: Was astounded again by Austin’s love for Kris Kristofferson, whose show was all heart but … well, he struggled a lot. He eased through some hits, but on others — particularly “The Law is For The Protection of The People” — his voice nearly gave out completely. This year’s Picnic included a trio of octogenarians (Willie, Bush, Kristofferson), and after the passing of Ray Price and Merle Haggard, Picnic fans have learned to appreciate every moment with the legends. Willie wouldn’t approve of me saying it, but you never know when it’s going to be the last performance … or last Picnic.
4. Fans of all sorts: A small scene from the Picnic
5. Definitely over it: There are a couple things, however, that we need to have seen the last of. First is Kinky Friedman as terrible emcee. Fellow I know said he was ready to strangle Friedman as he dawdled over his introduction of Jamey Johnson with another lame politics joke (yes, the “Kinky-Johnson” ticket, I get it, ha ha) then had to hurry back out to the mike to add “and Alison Krauss.” Friedman has the talent to do a good job as emcee, but instead we got more of his look-at-me-make-something-up shtick.
6. Even worse: Second, is Shaver’s “That’s What She Said Last Night,” a song he’s introduced before as “the worst song” he’s ever written — and he’s right by a country mile. He’s trotted that song at Picnics dating back a decade and man, it’s time to give it up. More unfunny than offensive (though both at times), the cell phone-as-metaphor-for-manhood joke song has long since run its course.
7. Don’t mess with Willie: Was surprised to see Jamey Johnson and Krauss close with “I Saw The Light.” Traditionally that song has been what Willie closes the show with, bringing out all the remaining performers to sing along with him. Johnson should know, he’s been there with him. But Willie didn’t bring out the usual suspects for the finale this year. We got a reprise of “Whiskey River” to end the Picnic.
8. Brantley Gilbert. The kind of fellow who has an urban-camo-gray guitar with the U.S. flag on the front and the Confederate Stars and Bars on the back. Cute. The kind of fellow who has an intro video with chopper sound effects and a smoke machine on the stage. Hey, I hear Willie has a smoke machine, too. But he doesn’t bring it on stage. I’m pretty sure Gilbert opened with “Ghwgggrhrghgggggfjffggggggggr.” Or at least that was the best I could make out amid the noise.
Am I being too hard on Gilbert? He obviously was on the bill to sell tickets to people who weren’t already there for Johnny Bush and Ray Wylie Hubbard. And he is excellent at the southern rock / bro-country / preen-and-tough-guy-pose thing that he does. It’s just hard to take the tough-guy thing seriously when you know the history of the Picnic. Who you got, Gilbert or Waylon? Gilbert or David Allan Coe? What would Gilbert say to 1975-era Paul English? Gilbert and his muscle shirt and brass knuckles took the stage about 6 hours after a guy who shot a man in the face just a few years ago. And I still wouldn’t bet against Billy Joe Shaver.
But Gilbert dialed it back after the first few numbers to give us some songs we could hear the words to and offered enough spectacle that his hourlong set went by pretty quickly. In all it wasn’t as bad as I thought.
9. How times have changed: The 1995-1999 Picnics in Luckenbach were less of a redneck-meet-hippie thing and more of a college kids-meet-old hippie thing. And for a lonely 20-something reporter, the fans at those Picnics were a sight to behold. It’s not something I should probably mention now, but after spending dawn to midnight at those shows, you could close your eyes and still see Texas flag bikinis everywheres. These days the Picnic is much more of a middle-age thing, and so am I. After reporting all day, most of it via Twitter on my phone, when I closed my eyes about 2 a.m. on July 5th, I dreamed of Tweets. No, I dreamed in Tweets. It was very weird.
10. Next year? Will there be a 44th Annual Fourth of July Picnic? When I interviewed Willie at the 2006 Picnic, I asked him how long it might continue — thinking that we were already at the end. Willie’s answer has always been “as long as they’re still fun.” Short answer is, as long as Willie is still around, there’s a good chance there will be a Picnic. Or not. Who knows?
If there is one, I’m still saying we need to have a Waylon Jennings hologram (or at least find a way to show Waylon footage from the 1979 Picnic movie) and we need to have Loretta Lynn. The Picnic has been a boys’ club for far too long. Let’s include some legendary women.
But let’s keep a few traditions …
Read entire article, see more photos and videos here:
10 Things I Learned at Willie Nelson’s 2016 Fourth of July Picnic
by: Dave Thomas, Peter Blackstock
Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic is an endurance race — long hours, heat and sun, $12 burgers — for even the most devoted Picnic regulars. But when roadie Tune’n Tom Hawkins brings out Trigger and places it on the stage, you know you’re at the finish line.
A little after the appointed time of 11:15 p.m., Willie Nelson strode on stage, waved to the crowd, strapped on his battered old Martin guitar and hit those chords everyone was expecting: Whiskey River Take My Mind!
After that, the names of the songs hardly matter. You know them: “Still Is Still Moving to Me,” “Whiskey for My Men (And Beer for My Horses),” “Good Hearted Woman” — they’re the same ones he’s been opening the Picnic with for a decade or more. What matters is how Willie Nelson and Family played them.
They were fantastic. Though Willie and band seemed a little downcast, the music did not suffer for a minute. Willie sounded as young as he has in years, and he played with a purpose. Seeing him backlit in red and pulling every ounce of the blues from “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” is as close to time travel as is possible.
Let’s travel back in time, then, to 11 a.m., when the gates opened at Circuit of the Americas for the venue’s second straight year as the host of Willie’s Picnic.
It wasn’t quite 90 degrees yet when Amber Digby kicked things off with “The Star Spangled Banner” on the Grand Plaza Stage. But the heat was coming soon and sure enough. While Digby’s set largely served as entrance music for those who were standing in line, she and her seven-piece band took the honors of playing the first Willie song of the day with “Darkness on the Face of the Earth.”
There was no darkness on this bright and blazing Independence Day afternoon, though a steady breeze at least helped keep the hot air moving. Sirius/XM DJ Dallas Wayne, who remains first and foremost a fine country singer and songwriter, followed Digby with a few solo acoustic songs before backing up Willie’s daughter Amy Nelson and her pal Cathy Guthrie (daughter of Arlo) for Folk Uke’s four-song set.
If the two women seem charming at first with their smiles and their high harmonies, the kicker is that their lyrics eschew country themes of home life and heartbreak in favor of humorous profanity and innuendo. Willie’s granddaughter Raelyn Nelson and a backing electric trio followed with a spitfire set of rock ’n’ roll that kicked off with a spirited cover of Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” and included the Willie & Waylon classic “I Can Get Off on You.”
Many fans watched from the Plaza’s covered VIP bleachers, which rose behind a set of unshaded picnic tables and the grassy lawn up front. A relatively small misting tent in the back corner of the lawn quickly became staked-out territory for early arrivals loath to give up their spot; two or three such tents might be in order for next year.
Sets shifted from 20 to 30 minutes starting with Ray Benson’s western swing showband Asleep at the Wheel, whose time still went by quickly. Crowd-pleasers such as “Miles and Miles of Texas” and “Route 66” led into the obligatory string of Bob Wills tunes, including a delightful “San Antonio Rose” that allowed the fiddles and steel guitar to shine.
Ray Wylie Hubbard, originally scheduled for an unjust 20 minutes, got bumped up to 30 when Paula Nelson and David Allan Coe dropped off the bill last week. Hubbard, with his his son Lucas on a gold-top Les Paul, charged through six fan favorites, none newer than “Drunken Poet’s Dream” and none more Picnic-tested than “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother.” He would later tweet “All killer and no filler,” though there’s no shortage of killer in his repertoire.
Johnny Bush, the traditional country music heart of Willie’s Picnic, announced he was 81 years old and “felt every minute” of it, though he seemed as strong as ever behind the microphone, belting out classics like “There Stands the Glass” and “Undo the Right.” He gave the authority of age to the George Strait hit “Troubadour” and still tore through “Orange Blossom Special” with twin fiddles and steel guitar.
After finishing his original version of “Whiskey River,” Bush mentioned a surprise guest and glanced to the side of the stage. “He’s not here, is he?” Bush asked before the band played “Whiskey River” again, Willie-style. Was Willie supposed to join him? It would have been remarkable, but Willie would not join anyone on stage today.
After Bush, the action began rotating between the Plaza Stage and the main Pavilion Stage of the Austin 360 Amphitheater. Up first was Margo Price, the buzz-band newcomer of this year’s picnic, fresh off a debut album that landed her on “Saturday Night Live” this spring.
She proved every bit worthy of the big-stage slot, with a big voice that filled up the venue on her own memorable tunes “Four Years of Chances” and “Hurtin’ (on the Bottle).” Best of all was a beautiful rendition of Doug Sahm’s “Give Back the Key to My Heart,” a nod to one of the Texas greats who played the very first Picnic in 1973.
Another veteran of that 1973 Picnic, Billy Joe Shaver, came out next on the Plaza Stage in a Guy Clark mustache to match his well-tested stage attire: That belt buckle should end up in the Bullock Texas State History Museum. Unlike Bush, if Shaver was feeling his 76 years, he didn’t let on a bit, doing his pantomime ritual to songs such as “Heart of Texas” and “Honky Tonk Heroes.” He’s obviously having fun — the most animated living legend in Texas music and a not-entirely-tamed link to the outlaw days of the original ’70s Picnics. “Georgia on a Fast Train” and “Hottest Thing in Town” have lost neither speed nor heat.
Back in the Amphitheater, native Texan Lee Ann Womack served up the second straight set on the big stage by a first-class female country vocalist. Womack exchanged friendly, easygoing banter with the crowd between well-received favorites such as “Little Past Little Rock,” the George Jones hit “You’re Still on My Mind” and her uplifting signature song, “I Hope You Dance.”
Next on the Plaza Stage was Cody Johnson, who’s not above lyrics like “new spit shine on my boots/starched these jeans just for you.” But he’s also honest honky-tonk enough to tell the crowd “Willie Nelson is my Elvis” and deliver a compelling cover of Merle Haggard’s hidden gem “Huntsville.” That combination drew the first packed crowd to the area in front of the stage, with denim-shorts-and-cowboy-boots women on the front row.
An equally devoted but larger contingent of longtime followers warmly greeted Kris Kristofferson in the Amphitheater as the peak of the heat finally started to subside. Looking frail and aged, Kristofferson played solo acoustic and struggled through long-ago hits — and Austin absolutely loved him for it. As he exited the stage, he was given a standing ovation from fans who were smart enough to see the heart behind the show.
“Me and Bobby McGee,” “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and “The Pilgrim: Chapter 33” were all there, honest and vulnerable. Early on, Kristofferson fought with his harmonica, ironically while wearing a T-shirt boasting the name of Willie’s harmonica ace, Mickey Raphael. His voice almost completely gave out on “The Law is For The Protection of The People,” but he soldiered on.
By the end of the 30-minute set, the music took a poignant turn. “For the Good Times” has been sadly appropriate for the Picnic over the past few years, as legendary performers make their last appearances. Kristofferson was one of a trio of octogenarians at this year’s Picnic, along with Bush and Willie — likely a record for the 43-year-old show.
The counterpoint, of course, is that youth will be served. With the cancellation of Leon Russell’s big-stage set — organizers said his bus broke down en route to the show — the dinner hour became a showcase for two up-and-coming Austin acts on the Plaza Stage.
Jamestown Revival, a five-piece led by guitarist Jonathan Clay and keyboardist Zack Chance, played mostly feel-good, soul-tinged Americana. As they played songs such as “Done Me Wrong” and “Cast Iron Soul,” suddenly the air was awash in red and white beach balls, underscoring the levity of the occasion even as Chance noted the gravity of playing Willie’s Picnic as a “bucket list achievement” for the young band.
photo: Peter Blackstock
That was even more the case for Shakey Graves, who’d acknowledged last week that sharing the bill with many of his idols was “enough to make my head explode.” Still, Graves is very much his own artist. His presentation is much less about songwriting — his chops pale when offered up alongside Kristofferson and Shaver — but more about sheer combustible energy, of which he had more than any other artist on the bill. His airborne flight at the end of the set-closing “Dearly Departed” proved that, in spades.
The rest of the night was all in the Amphitheater. Jamey Johnson — in a Kristofferson T-shirt — came out with Alison Krauss, who softened the rugged and prickly edges of the newest and youngest Picnic regular. Their sad, slow start with “I Ain’t the One” and “Make the World Go Away” worked on the beauty of Krauss’ voice and the relief of sundown.
Giving up the bluesy jams at the end of his songs, Johnson moved efficiently with Krauss through a remarkable run of songs, including “Ghost in This House” and “Footlights,” a moving tribute to Merle Haggard, who played in this slot in last year’s Picnic). Best of all was Johnson’s well-known hit “In Color,” delivered with such conviction and soul that it was downright moving.
Johnson and Krauss responded to chants of “USA! USA!” with a powerful rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” the last verse about the “No Trespassing” sign delivered as a come-and-take-it challenge. The longest set of the Picnic was a mix of the well-loved and the unexpected: Screams of recognition greeted the first chords of “When You Say Nothing at All” and, hey, who knew that “Tulsa Time” was missing a bongo solo?
After a 15-minute fireworks display, Brantley Gilbert exploded on the stage. Gilbert is excellent at what he does — though what he does is a terrible fit for the Willie Nelson Fourth of July Picnic. But tickets have to be sold, and Gilbert is a popular Southern country-rocker and bro-country-rapper with four No. 1 hits.
Gilbert has been knocked by critics for his singing and for good reason. The opening number was so loud, his voice could not be found amid the buzz. A few minutes in and it was hard to remember Kristofferson was on this stage a few hours ago. He settled in after a couple of noisy party anthems with “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do,” and the heart’s-in-the-right place “One Hell of an Amen” before closing with his hits “Kicking it in the Sticks” and “Bottoms Up.””
And then it was a “Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming” moment when Willie arrived with the Family Band. After his first run of standard set-opening tunes ended, Willie looked up and gave a wave, but he didn’t talk much to the crowd. Instead, he reached back for a Tom T. Hall song (“Shoeshine Man”), one for the late Merle Haggard (“It’s All Going to Pot”), and a recent cover of the Gershwin standard “Summertime.” He came out in black hat and pigtails but quickly traded the hat for a series of red bandanas.
At the end of one guitar solo, he stopped to wipe a bit of sweat from his nose on this humid night. It seemed we were only gearing up for the finale when he brought Kristofferson onstage for “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” — but then it was over, somewhat unexpectedly.
Or was it? Willie looked at the crowd: “You got time for one more?” A roar went up from those who stayed to the end of a 13-hour show. Willie played “Living in the Promiseland” and one last “Whiskey River” before finally wrapping it up at 12:40 a.m.
“Thank you very much, We love you,” he told the crowd as the Family jammed to an instrumental “I Saw the Light.”
With that, fans, finishers and survivors shuffled out of the 43rd Willie Nelson Fourth of July Picnic.
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Willie Nelson’s Picnic survives the heat for a festive Fourth
by: Bridget Spencer
It’s an Austin tradition that’s been going on for more than four decades. Since 1973, thousands of people have gathered to hear Willie Nelson perform at his annual Fourth of July picnic joined each year by other artists.
This year it was at COTA. People from near and far agree, Willie Nelson is not only a Texas icon, but an American one.
“Willie is a part of American culture,” We’re big Willie fans. Grew up listening to him, it’s kind of in our blood,” Audy Cowsky, concert attendee, said. Cowsky and her husband came all the way from Florida to catch the action.
“This is our first time. We were with family for the Fourth of July so we decided to come here,” she said.
This is the 43rd edition of the musical picnic, but just the second time at Circuit of the Americas and fans are loving the choice of venue.
“I’m a racer myself, drag racing. It’s at a racetrack that’s why I’m here. I’ve got the RV parked over there. Been here since 9:00 yesterday morning,” Kenny Bass, concert attendee said.
Our cameras were not allowed to shoot performances per festival policy, however, Bass gave us a private concert singing one of his favorites by Willie.
“Whiskey river take my mind, don’t let her memory torture me,” Bass sang.
The picnic is held in various Texas cities each year, but because this is close to Willie’s birthplace, Austin could always have an unofficial leg up in the future.
The all day event featured not only Willie Nelson, but more than 19 other artists, including several from Texas like “Jamestown Revival,” “Asleep at the Wheel,” and “Shaky Graves.”
by David Cawthun
The persistent rain only dampened clothes but not the spirits of the thousands who attended Willie’s Picnic at a crowded Coveleski Stadium in South Bend on July 4. Nelson has traditionally held the picnic in his home state of Texas until he traveled in 2007 to Seattle. In 2008, he held the event in his home state again. This year, he traveled to the Hoosier state to play at a baseball field with Bob Dylan and Indiana’s John Mellencamp where the legendary lineup would perform an epic show to celebrate the nation’s birthday.
Before the main course of superstar musicians took the stage, The Wiyos, a folk group from Brooklyn, served as the appetizer for the star-studded main event. The quartet – playing a brand of rural music that would fit in perfectly on the O, Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack – plucked a steel guitar, banjo, upright bass and jangly acoustic guitars to create a sound reminiscent of the 1930s. The sounds and looks straight from the Depression era perfectly complemented the band’s sonic signature. Front man Michael Farkas even pulled out a washboard adorned with a variety of clown horns, bells and whistles which he seemed to play with four arms. The guitar work, along with the vocal techniques and use of a
megaphone gave their sound gristle and grit, but their fragile and quirky folk music would be dwarfed by the opener.
With a talented group of musicians in tow, John Mellencamp stormed the stage with the fitting “Ain’t That America” before steamrolling into other classics such as “Pink Houses,” “Paper and Fire,” “Rain on the Scarecrow” and “Crumblin’ Down.” Mid-set, Mellencamp went solo with just his acoustic guitar with a delicate performance of “Small Town” as he belted out his down-home and dusty vocals. He also performed newer tunes such as the bluesy “Don’t Need This Body,” proving the good old Hoosier can still craft a solid tune. Before he played “Authority Song,” Mellencamp apologized for his political views during the recent election but said that everyone had sung along to the song at one point in their life – regardless of their political views, the crowd did again that evening en masse. “Jack and Diane,” perhaps his greatest hit, was sorely absent from the set list, calling into question if he could still make the vocal leaps that run rampant throughout the song.
Mellencamp’s backing band proved to be quite rousing. The twiggy Miriam Sturm was the musical surprise of the night as her fingers nimbly danced along the taught strings of her fiddle, supplementing the guitars of Mellencamp and veteran Mike Wanchic, who has been with Coug since 1976. Mellancamp’s son, Speck, even made an appearance hammering out a solo on a song near the end of the set. Mellencamp blasted hit after hit out of the ballpark, leaving a rowdy audience who raised American flags and pumped fists in the air for Dylan who waited on deck.
Dylan paraded on stage with his black flat-top hat and grey suit as his band donned tan suits and hats of similar variety. Dylan’s backing band was fantastic with bassist Tony Garnier cementing the groove and seasoned drummer George Recile handling the beat. The band was spot on from the opener “Everyone Gets Stoned” to the end of the show. The band’s slide guitar player, Donnie Herron, spouted dirty riffs that were especially nasty and tasty on “Highway 61 Revisited.” Dylan stayed behind the keyboard for most of the songs, letting his band and throaty and indecipherable vocals do the talking, especially on the legendary tune “Like a Rolling Stone.” Occasionally, Dylan would step out to center stage and play his harp, but for the most part relied on his band to flesh out the majority of the sound.
Out of the trio of legends, Dylan was showing his age the most, as his voice was the most obvious casualty of about 50 years of performing. The audience sang along to “Just Like A Woman” as the clouds parted and the rain began to cease, almost as if God was paying his respects to the icon. Dylan and company were the only band that played an encore, finishing with the classic “All Along the Watchtower,” as Dylan bent and realigned the song’s vocals to match his throaty and rambling voice.
After Dylan vacated the stage, Nelson took over the show, as an enormous Texas flag unfurled as the backdrop of the stage. The 76-year-old country
star rummaged through his extensive back catalog of old favorites, interesting covers and newer material, while pulling out some unexpected tunes along the way. Nelson wished America happy birthday as he and his humble band kicked off the longest set of the night. Classics like “Georgia on My Mind,” “On the Road Again,” “Always on My Mind” and “If You’ve Got the Money, Then I’ve Got the Time” spoke volumes about Nelson’s uncanny ability to mesh stories that carry hues of emotion with beautiful instrumentals.
His harp player, Mickey Raphael, provided smoky tones at the perfect time, knowing when to sit in the shadows and when to take center stage. “Little Sister,” Nelson’s sister Bobbie Lee, sat hunched over the keys ready to pluck honkey tonk tones from her grand piano. During her solo performance, she never took her eyes off the ivories, except to nod to the massive throng of screaming fans when she concluded. Paul English, Nelson’s drummer, only needed a snare drum to keep time – a testament to the band’s stripped down sound that places emphasis on lyrics first and instrumentals second.
Nelson’s faithful sidekick and guitar, “Trigger,” was strapped around his neck all night; the instrument still has a sizable hole in the body from decades of Nelson’s strumming. During the extensive set that lasted nearly an hour and a half, Nelson played everything from gospel tunes like “I Saw the Light” to blues standards such as “Rainy Day Blues.” Throwing a few bandanas that he had worn throughout the night into the crowd, Nelson proved to be a generous man. The audience was just as generous throwing back a bra and a glow ring which Nelson caught mid-song and placed on his head for the remainder of the set.
Nelson’s genuine character and friendliness were inspiring as he took time during a few songs to shake the hands of nearby lucky fans watching from the sides of the stage. Not everyone may like his music, but his authentic character and willingness to take time to meet his fans is welcoming in an age of self-centered rock stars. Nelson is certainly an admirable man and a heck of a musician.
With a hearty smile that seemed to warm the chilling night air, Nelson left the stage. As an audience who sang in unison with Nelson for most of the night bonded together with a warm embrace, fireworks dotted the sky with splashes of color. The music of three legends gave people a once in a lifetime opportunity to relive the past on the nation’s birthday, bringing everyone together for one special night – a night unified with the power of music
photo: Janine Holter
by: Chris Riemenschneider
Willie Nelson threw in some surprises to his 75-minute set at the sold-out Vetter Stone Amphitheater in Mankato Tuesday.
Tuesday night’s twofer pairing of Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson at Vetter Stone Amphitheater in Mankato had two sunsets for a backdrop: the literal one that glowed over the Minnesota River alongside the picturesque outdoor venue, and the figurative sunset that has been lingering over the long-sold-out concert since April, when fellow American music icon Merle Haggard died.
Haggard’s passing served as a reminder to catch these once-unstoppable country music giants while they’re still going, a sentiment that especially hit home during Kristofferson’s opening set.
The legendary songwriter and storied 80-year-old actor — who performed with Haggard just this past September at the Minnesota State Fair — showed signs of the fading memory and worsening physical state documented in a Rolling Stone profile last month. However, he toughed it out in a way that seemed so Kris Kristofferson, earning several standing ovations from the 3,000 or so attendees. He also filled in the gaps and raised spirits even higher by bringing along Haggard’s stellar band, the Strangers, to perform with him.
With Merle’s sons Ben and Noel Haggard leading the way, the Strangers breezed through a half-dozen of The Hag’s classic songs while Kristofferson caught his breath at various intervals. “Running Kind” and “Rambling Fever” rang out like anthems for the show’s resilient stars, the latter song spiked with potent guitar picking by young Ben Haggard that suggested he, too, could become a star. “Okee From Muskogee” then prompted a big singalong at show’s end. The crowd also dutifully filled in for Kristofferson’s faded voice on “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down.”
Nelson, 83, and his Family band also sounded a little ragged at first as they kicked off their set with the requisite “Whiskey River.” By the time ol’ Willie plucked out his first wizardly guitar solo in “Still Is Still Moving” one song later, though, it was clear there would be much more than just sentimental value attached to the concert’s $43-$143 ticket prices.
Few American masters remain as masterful at this point of their careers as Willie is, a point highlighted Tuesday as he picked his way through more landmark songs that reminded us of our other lost giants: Ray Charles in “Georgia on My Mind,” B.B. King in “Night Life,” Waylon Jennings in “Good Hearted Woman,” Elvis Presley in “Always on My Mind.” Nelson delivered them all with effortless verve, his voice holding up strong and his guitar playing cutting through each song with surgical precision.
With his older sister Bobbie Nelson also sounding sharp on piano and longtime drummer Paul English behind him lighting up the stage with smiles, Willie threw a couple of pleasant surprises into his 75-minute set, including his recent Haggard collaboration “It’s All Going to Pot” (ahem) and the farmland-rooted “Promiseland.” Not surprisingly, though, the crowning moment came during the evergreen “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” with words Nelson has sung thousands of times, but never with so much meaning attached: “So leave me if you need to / I will still remember.”
Simply put, Tuesday’s show was unforgettable.