Archive for the ‘News and Reviews’ Category

Willie Nelson and Family in Papillion, NE (June 26, 2016) (Review)

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

Story and photo by: Kevin Coffey

Not so bad.

The last time I saw Willie Nelson, I was disappointed. I figured that as the octogenarian continued to perform, his skills were slipping and chalked up the poor performance to that.

It must have just been an off night.

On Sunday at SumTur Amphitheater, he was wonderful. Sure, the 83-year-old doesn’t quite sound like he did 20 years ago, but he’s still capable of greatness.

Nelson and his band sprinted through a set of old favorites and tributes for an hour, and the country outlaw had a near capacity crowd on its feet as the sun went down. (In fact, it was an early show, and the whole thing was over before night fell.)

Throughout the show, fans hollered and shouted for songs such as “Whiskey River,” “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” and “Georgia on My Mind.”

As always, Nelson was joined by his family band that includes “little sister” Bobbie Nelson (actually two years Willie’s senior) on keys and “brother” Paul English (not actually Willie’s brother) on drums.

Nelson also had his beaten and battered trusty guitar, Trigger, and he used it to play lead for the whole show.
Nelson’s enigmatic playing style was in full effect. It’s so idiosyncratic that it’s almost punk rock. Nelson’s always been known for his playing, but these days it’s full of weird riffage, excellent little runs, odd phrasing and random strumming. For every on-point guitar solo, we got an improperly fingered chord.

The set was full of Nelson favorited and plenty of covers and tributes.

Strangely, Nelson didn’t play “On the Road Again,” and he also skipped “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” one of his usual standards.
I also hoped that opening act Kris Kristofferson would join his old friend for a song (maybe even “Highwayman), but it didn’t happen.
A legend in his own right, Kristofferson kicked off the evening with a 45-minute set that featured his own old tunes such as “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down” as well as several covers.

Kristofferson’s guitar playing was excellent, and he sounded as great and gruff as ever. I only wish he would have played a few more of his own tunes.

But Kristofferson’s set was a little more of a tribute show. He sang Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee,” and he was joined by Haggard’s sons, Noel and Ben. They played guitar throughout the show and took lead vocals on “Workin’ Man Blues” and “Ramblin’ Fever.” Nelson also paid tribute to Haggard with he and Haggard’s “It’s All Going to Pot” as well as Tom T. Hall’s “Shoeshine Man.”

Nelson only spoke to the audience a few short times, and he got lots of laughs when he referred to his tune “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” as “a new gospel song we just wrote.”

When it came time to close the show, Nelson played “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” as a medley with “I’ll Fly Away,” a song that saw the Haggard boys take the stage one time. As Nelson strummed Trigger one last time, fans stood and shouted out the words before cheering the outlaw as he left the stage.

Lukas Nelson Interview in Premier Guitar

Friday, June 10th, 2016


I think he’s one of the best that ever lived,” says Lukas Nelson of Neil Young’s guitar-playing abilities. Promise of the Real is backing Young on his current tour, including this recent performance at the New Orleans Jazz Fest on May 1, 2016.
hoto:  Douglas Mason
by:  Tzvi  Glucken

Lukas Nelson is having a busy year. He and his band, Promise of the Real, recently released their third full-length album, Something Real, and hit the road in support of it. They’re also touring and recording with Neil Young as his backing band—a project they began last year with a lineup augmented to include Lukas’ brother, Micah. In addition, Lukas somehow finds time to accompany his dad, country legend Willie Nelson.

But despite his pedigree and the auspicious company he keeps, Nelson is no next-generation-of-greatness clone. While he counts his father as an obvious and huge influence, that didn’t stop him from absorbing the classic riffs and tones of artists like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix, the blues feel of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Hubert Sumlin, and the three Kings, and the improvisatory exploration of the jam-band world. His work ethic is serious, and he’s developed significant chops, killer tone, and stylistic flexibility. It didn’t hurt that he shared a stage with Buddy Guy, Young, and other titans along the way.

Something Real was recorded at the William Westerfeld House—a San Francisco landmark that was once home to Janis Joplin, jazz saxophonist John Handy, and a group of Czarist Russians following the Bolshevik Revolution. Its many rooms, nooks, and crannies provided an amazing and varied sonic environment, while its history and location provided the vibe.

We spoke with Nelson as he was traveling through the Rockies en route to Texas. Here he discusses his influences, techniques, recording approach, side projects, songwriting, and why he isn’t much of a gearhead.

It’s probably safe to assume you heard a lot of music around the house growing up. When did you start playing the guitar?
When I was 10 or 11 years old. Dad and mom never really forced it on me. They just had ’em lying around the house. It was something I could do to get closer to my dad actually, because he was gone all the time. I thought, “If I start playing guitar, maybe that’s something we can talk about.”

Listening to your music, it’s obvious you had other influences—like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.
Oh yeah, I love Sabbath. I love Zeppelin. I went to San Francisco one time and my mom got me Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix [albums]. I started listening to them and had a kind of religious experience and fell in love with them. And then I had my dad as an influence, too. So it was like a marriage of those two musical styles that I really love—rock ’n’ roll and real country music.

“I think there is a lot to gear, but personally I believe most of it is just you.”


Willie Nelson & Family at Sweetwater Amphitheater (5/29/2016)

Monday, May 30th, 2016

by:  Mathew Strother

LaGRANGE — Sweetland Amphitheatre at Boyd Park was packed Sunday for the big Summer Concert Series show headlined by Willie Nelson.

The program kicked off with a patriotic presentation and Memorial Day recognition, along with recognitions of the family of the late Jim and Annette Boyd, for whom the park is named.

American Aquarium opened the show with country musician Cam taking the stage before main act Willie Nelson and Family.

Note: Photographers were informed at the venue Sunday they were not allowed to take pictures of Nelson’s performance.


The Highwaymen: Friends Till the End

Thursday, May 26th, 2016

by: Barry Mazor

The handle “supergroup” usually suggests a spur-of-the-moment, short-term stunt project by big names with a gap in their gig calendars—from Blind Faith or the Traveling Wilburys in rock to the Three Tenors in opera. A few other outfits came together just as casually but lasted: Crosby, Stills and Nash in rock, for one, and the Highwaymen in country. Referred to occasionally as “the Mount Rushmore of country music,” that arena-filling quartet of Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson worked together as a unit, off and on, from 1985 to 1995, toured extensively, and recorded three albums. The grouping helped to extend and even reinvigorate the careers of them all.

This month, there are new opportunities to reconsider how that collection of sometimes ornery, individualistic, middle-aged mavericks collaborated and managed to last as a unit, and to experience anew the flavor of their performances together: The documentary “The Highwaymen: Friends Till the End” has its debut May 27 as a PBS American Masters entry, and a new multiple CD and DVD set, “The Highwaymen Live: American Outlaws,” has just been released by Sony Legacy. The latter includes a never-before-seen film of a full March 1990 Highwaymen concert at Long Island’s Nassau Coliseum.

As both the PBS documentary, produced and directed by Jim Brown, and the thoughtful, extensive liner notes to the live set by Mikal Gilmore remind us, when the idea of forming a group was floated by the four friends after a joint appearance on a 1984 Johnny Cash Christmas telecast, it was no given that the combined lineup would work musically or prove more than a short lark.

All of the men were already rugged, leathery heroes of country music. Cash had been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame before the group assembled; all four would eventually be honored that way, and all had, if only reluctantly, accepted the “Outlaw Country” marketing label applied to them for bucking established Nashville musical practices of their day. All had crossed musical borders at times into the rock and folk arenas, and all had screen careers—Mr. Kristofferson seriously so, and Mr. Nelson considerably. (They’d all appear together, along with friends and families, in a 1986 remake of the classic “Stagecoach” western.) There were some political differences between them, which occasionally led to minor friction, but deep-seated American respect for speaking up was a central part of each of their characters, so it stayed minor. “They are,” Jennings’s widow, singer-songwriter Jessi Colter notes in the PBS film, “icons of popular American music, not just country. They had empires of their own!”

The experiences, pleasures and irritations these icons shared forged a bond between them—a bond that showed especially on the stage and now can be seen and heard in the musical interactions in the “Highwaymen Live” performance film.

Since none of the four stars were particularly inclined toward harmony singing, instead tending to trade off verses in duets they’d done, it’s all the more dramatic and welcome when they let loose with unison or harmony choruses on such bravura numbers as “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” “Desperados Waiting for a Train” and “Big River.” Mr. Kristofferson, it’s revealed, had admired that last song more than any other from the 1950s and insisted that Cash, who wrote the number, feature it. When Willie Nelson takes off with one of his patented, powerful acoustic guitar improvisations, Jennings (no guitar slouch himself) beams. And they all take particular pleasure in featuring some of Mr. Kristofferson’s indelible numbers—“Me and Bobby McGee,” “Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)”—as they had on records.

As is fitting for a gang of individuals, each gets a short set in concert where they lead the others—and the versatile band behind them includes instrumental stars of their regular bands. Even with the enormous repertoire of classic songs they have at hand when playing together, they still find time for charming goofing around between songs and in such numbers as “The King Is Gone (So Are You),” and for surprise duet pairings on songs from their solo records. It’s wonderfully entertaining.

The boxed set, in its three audio discs, adds additional live performances from Farm Aid concerts of 1992-93 to tracks from the filmed concert, and by adding new Nelson and Kristofferson vocals to an obscure Cash and Jennings duet on Bob Dylan’s “One Too Many Mornings,” a “new” studio quartet track, too.

The Highwaymen act was built on the four country giants’ tremendous mutual respect, their pleasure in each other’s talents, and glee in their chance to perform together. They were not inclined to let go of any of that too fast. Neither will those catching these engaging new artifacts of their unique camaraderie.

Willie Nelson & Family at the Pavillion, in Charlottesville, VA

Thursday, May 26th, 2016
by: Kelsey Summer

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA  — Willie Nelson is bringing six decades of music to the Sprint Pavilion. Kelsey Summer was live Downtown as fans flocked in to see the icon take the stage.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (NEWSPLEX) — Kelsey Summer was Downtown at the Sprint Pavilion where a legend was taking the stage. Willie Nelson’s career has spanned six decades. He’s won seven Grammys and numerous other awards. While the icon is most notably known for his music and songwriting, he also has a hand in a few other areas, including poetry, writing, and activism.

Nelson’s activism is playing a key role in Wednesday’s performance. The concert is in support of The Local Food Hub whose “mission is to partner with Virginia farmers to increase community access to local food.”

Bobbie Wilinski, a Nelson fan, says, “Farming is very, very important, and it doesn’t get the attention it needs, so I’m glad he’s supporting that…. Great guy, great music.”

President and Mrs. Carter sing with Willie Nelson & Family in Georgia

Saturday, May 21st, 2016
by:  Kimberly Richardson


Only 20 minutes into his set, Willie Nelson had already rolled through eight songs.  Delivering them with lean musicianship and the occasional mischievous grin, the 83-year-old musician was a model of stamina Friday night as he unfurled crowd favorites “Whiskey Rose,” “Still is Still Moving to Me,” “Beer for My Horses,” “On the Road Again” and “Always on My Mind” practically without pausing for a breath.

Mirroring Nelson in the endurance department was former President Jimmy Carter, who arrived at Chastain Park Amphitheatre a couple of songs into opener Kris Kristofferson’s performance with wife Rosalynn and a handful of casually dressed Secret Service men in tow.

Carter is an avowed Nelson fan, and he and Rosalynn were spotted standing throughout most of the Red Headed Stranger’s set, front row, stage left. When Nelson launched into a concert staple, his rendition of “Georgia on My Mind,” a spotlight caught the Carters smiling and singing along.

Along with the presidential couple, about 6,500 other fans tolerated the misty rain that persisted all evening – but not many seemed eager to leave once Nelson hit the stage, clad in black and waving his two arms overhead in greeting.

Nelson’s singing has always been more about character than technicality, so in that sense, his adenoidal tone hasn’t changed. But his spoke-sung delivery of most songs indicated his impatience to get to the good part for him – the guitar playing.

Nelson’s instrument was turned up a bit high in the mix and sometimes he played a step off the beat but always fell back into the groove provided by Billy English on his snare drum – yep, no kit, just a single drum – and bassist Bee Spears.

Harmonicist Mickey Raphael stayed busy on every song, while Nelson’s sister Bobbie added texture to “Always on My Mind” with her expert piano playing.

In addition to playing a generous set of songs from his 50-plus year career, Nelson asked fans, “What about some Hank Williams?” Before they could respond with a whoop, Nelson was halfway through the first verse of “Jambalaya (on the Bayou).”

During a jam in the song, Nelson edged toward English, swapped his black cowboy hat for a trademark red bandanna (he tossed several into the crowd throughout his set) and segued seamlessly into Williams’ “Hey Good Lookin’” and “Move it On Over.”

The memory of Waylon Jennings was conjured as well with “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” (Jennings and Nelson earned a No. 1 with their 1978 duet).

Nelson continued his rapid-fire blast of hits with “Shoeshine Man” and the song he said used to close his sets “100 years ago” – the aptly titled “The Party’s Over.”

After singing “Funny How Time Slips Away” with a wistful tinge to his voice, Nelson dovetailed into “Crazy,” which included some rough swipes at his guitar that morphed into a thoughtful solo.

When Nelson’s Chastain concert was announced earlier this year, he was set to share the bill with Merle Haggard.

After Haggard’s death last month,  Nelson pal Kristofferson stepped in to fill the opening slot, along with Haggard’s sons, Ben and Noel.

Backed by Kristofferson’s band, The Strangers, the front threesome alternated at the mic between Haggard classics (“I’m a Lonesome Fugitive” sung by Noel in a smooth country tenor and “Workin’ Man Blues,” handled adeptly by Ben, were standouts) and Kristofferson classics.

At this point, one goes to see Kristofferson to bask in his legacy, not listen to his voice, which vacillated between gruff mumbling on “Me and Bobby McGee” (which he penned in the late-‘60s) and a strained warble on “Sunday Morning Coming Down” and “Why Me.”

The Haggard boys and the band, though, sounded sturdy throughout.

Haggard even received an extra moment of remembrance when, during “Okie from Muskogee,” Noel missed his second verse cue, looked upward and joked, “Sorry, dad.”

He likely wasn’t the only one thinking of Merle at that moment.

Willie Nelson Elementary

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

by:  Charlotte Carpenter

Willie Nelson, Donald Trump, Harper Lee, and Spike Lee: Those are just a few of the famous names submitted to the Austin Independent School District as suggestions for the re-naming of Robert E. Lee Elementary.

In a controversial move last month, the Austin School Board voted to change the name of the Hyde Park school. Some parents, neighbors and teachers believe the school should not be named after a Confederate general. The conversation about the school’s moniker was reignited after a racially motivated shooting last year in Charleston, South Carolina sparked a national discussion about the significance and impact of Confederate symbols.

The board opened up the naming process, taking suggestions from the public. Donald J. Trump Elementary received the most nominations (45), while Robert E. Lee Elementary received 34 nominations, Russell Lee Elementary received 32 and Harper Lee Elementary received 30.

There were quite a few more non-traditional suggestions.  The board is scheduled to come to a final decision on May 23, and they are not required to settle on any of the names submitted here. You can see the entire list of suggestions here.

Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and the Grand Old Party

Sunday, April 17th, 2016

by:  Jack Whyte

Two musical events last week set my thoughts swirling and took me, as usual in such cases, in directions I had no idea I wanted to explore.
The first was the death of country singer Merle Haggard, at the age of 79, and the other was a long-postponed evening taken to watch a month-old recording of the November 2015 award ceremony when Willie Nelson, at 82, became the seventh person to receive the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.

Two men, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, both achieving front-of-consciousness prominence — for me at least — in the same week, though for vastly different reasons.

Yet old as they may be in terms of years lived, both are destined to remain young forever in the realm of their achievements, individually and collectively.

Each of them took pride in labelling himself an outlaw, though the outlawry they laid claim to was a purely musical distinction.
They were among the founding fraternity of what is now called outlaw music, the group that rebelled in the 1970s against the saccharine sweetness of the stylized, orthodox country music being peddled and promoted by the Grand Ol’ Opry of Nashville.

Repelled by the cloying unctuousness of the Nashville Opry, Willie and Merle threw in their lot with Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and others in establishing a new sub-genre of country music.

It was raw and it was raucous and irreverent and profoundly human, and it’s known today as outlaw music.
Out of that association, depending upon who’s telling the story, emerged the phenomenon known today as the Austin City Sound — a far more free-wheeling and gutsy style of country music than the Nashville variety — that proudly traces its roots back to the rockabilly traditions of the 1950s and Elvis Presley.

What endeared these two men, their colleagues and their entire genre of songs to me originally, though, was the fact that they were, and always will be, storytellers in the grand, traditional sense enjoyed by bards and minstrels since the beginning of time.

They and the others of their ilk are, in a very real and very pertinent contemporary sense, the embodiment of the Spirit of America, the seannachies of the American people, the tribal celebrants of the people’s ways, customs and culture.

Their music is everyman’s. It speaks for, and to, the masses of the people on the most basic, communal level, proving that it is no accident that American country music is the most popular style of music in the western world.

It was at that point, thinking along those lines, that I found myself contemplating the differences between everything that we, as Canadians, respect and admire about the United States and its culture, and the ludicrous spectacle that we see every night on our television screens as the dog and pony show of the Republican party candidacy race unfolds.

In growing disbelief, we sit gawking at the news, watching wide-eyed and slack mouthed as the struggle between a blustering, egotistical fascist and a rabid, right-wing religious fundamentalist grows ever more bitter and contentious. And we are collectively appalled — or most of us are — to realize that these cynical, manipulative demagogues are fighting each other for control over the destiny of the American people.

That said, though, we continue to believe, for the protection of our own sanity, that wisdom will prevail in the end; that the current farce will fizzle out and the contestants will be consigned to the midden with all the other inedible orts from history’s table.

But there is no denying that the unbelievable is actually occurring as we watch. Nor is there any doubt that supposedly knowledgeable, analytical minds are taking these events seriously, with people making dire predictions and assumptions about the implosion, perhaps even the disintegration and demise, of Abe Lincoln’s Grand Old Party.

Politics makes strange bedfellows. We all know that, but at this time, on the GOP side at least, there appears to be no means in sight of arranging a rapprochement between the two leading, rutting billygoats.

The chances of containing the egregious damage they are causing to their party, and to their country’s international image, appear to be dwindling ever day, but even if a miracle occurred and the rabies-like symptoms of both front runners were to disappear, where would the leavening influence come from to heal the open rifts already caused?

Could anyone unknown to this point emerge from the wings to spread healing balm across the ruptured Republican spectrum? From where I’m sitting, that doesn’t appear likely.

There are only two of the original musical Outlaws left now, it seems, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. And seriously, I think I’d rather vote for Willie as a representative leader of America than I would for either Trump or Cruz.

Jack Whyte is a Kelowna author of 15 best-selling novels. Email or read more at

Willie Nelson & Family, Jamey Johnson, Ryan Bingham, in Independence, MO, pay respect to Merle Haggard

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016


photo:  Ben Noey, Jr.
by:  Timothy Finn

This show was supposed to celebrate two of country music’s greatest stars, their enduring friendship and their most recent collaboration.

Last June, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard released the album “Django & Jimmie” and shortly after that announced a co-headlining tour that included a stop at the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena on Monday night.

In March, however, Haggard announced he would be leaving the tour temporarily to recover from double pneumonia. Haggard died April 6, his 79th birthday, but Nelson continued the tour, enlisting Jamey Johnson and Ryan Bingham as support.

Nearly 5,800 fans filled the arena in Independence. Nelson made little mention of Haggard until the end of his set, when he and his Family Band performed “It’s All Goin’ to Pot,” a track from “Django & Jimmie,” then two Haggard tunes, “Okie From Muskogee” and “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”

Johnson, however, spent most of his set paying respect to Haggard — and he has the perfect voice to do it. He opened with “I Guess I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink,” “The Fighting Side of Me” and “The Day I Started Loving You Again.”

He was joined by a surprise guest, Lee Ann Womack, for “You Take Me For Granted,” a song written by Haggard’s former wife, Leona Williams, then “Silver Wings” and “Yesterday’s Wine,” a Nelson song that Haggard recorded as a duet with George Jones.

Bingham, who opened the show, also paid tribute to Haggard. His set, which included a cover of the Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post,” ended with “Mama Tried,” one of Haggard’s best known and most beloved songs.

Nelson was in good form, vocally and otherwise. His voice was firm and his phrasing under control. His guitar playing was exceptional at times, like during his aggressive lead at the end of “Crazy,” his blues-drenched lead during the cover of “Texas Flood,” performed by his son, Lucas Nelson, and during the sophisticated Django Reinhardt instrumental from “Django & Jimmie.”

The crowd joined in on several songs, including “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” and “On the Road Again.” Toward the end of the set, Nelson paid respect to Hank Williams with “Jambalaya (On the Bayou),” “Hey, Good Lookin’ ” and “Move It On Over.”

After the three-song Haggard tribute, Nelson ended the show with his standard medley: “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” and “I’ll Fly Away.” This evening, however, it felt more like the perfect closing to an evening proving that the best music has a spirit that is enduring and unbreakable.


Whiskey River; Still Is Still Moving to Me; Beer for My Horses; Good Hearted Woman; Funny How Time Slips Away/Crazy/Night Life; Texas Flood; Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys; Angels Flying Too Close to the Ground; On the Road Again; Always on My Mind; Jambalaya (On the Bayou); Hey, Good Lookin’; Move It On Over; Nuages; Shoeshine Man; Georgia; I’ve Been to Georgia on a Fast Train; It’s All Goin’ to Pot; Okie From Muskogee; Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die; Will the Circle Be Unbroken?/I’ll Fly Away


Willie Nelson & Family in St. Louis (4/2/2016)

Monday, April 11th, 2016

photo:  Jon Gitchoff
by:  Daniel Durchholz

What do you do if you’re a country music lifer and one of your friends and few equals in the field — one that, in fact, you’re supposed to be sharing the stage with right now — suddenly passes away?

You gather your family and friends around you, mourn in your own fashion, and carry on.

That’s what Willie Nelson did Saturday night at the Peabody Opera House downtown. Merle Haggard died last Wednesday, his 79th birthday. The pair had teamed for the recent album “Django and Jimmie” and booked a tour together.

The show went on as scheduled, with singer/songwriters Ryan Bingham and Jamey Johnson hastily added to the bill.

photo:  Jon Gitchoff

On Wednesday, Nelson tweeted a photo of himself with Haggard, captioned, “He was my brother, my friend. I will miss him.”

In concert, Nelson chose to keep any further thoughts on the matter private. He said nothing about Haggard from the stage, nor much of anything else aside from his usual brief song introductions.

But late in the show, he performed “It’s All Goin’ to Pot,” a pro-marijuana duet from “Django and Jimmie,” with Johnson singing Haggard’s part. They followed that with “Okie from Muskogee,” likely Haggard’s best-known hit, which, when it was released in 1969, was a resounding put-down of the drug culture.

The humorous juxtaposition, plus the version of Nelson’s “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” that followed, would not have been lost on Haggard, who always reserved his right to change his mind about things, and often did.

The show ended with Nelson’s standard set closer, a medley of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “I’ll Fly Away.” But on this night, it felt like the songs may have had a little extra meaning and were sung in Haggard’s honor, even if no one specifically said so.

Prior to that, Nelson played his regular show of hits and favorites, including “Whiskey River,” “Good Hearted Woman,” “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” “On the Road Again,” and many others.

Nelson’s sister Bobbie, his longtime pianist, was given the spotlight for “Down Yonder,” while his son, guitarist Lukas Nelson, played and sang a blues-drenched cover of “Texas Flood.”

Nelson’s own guitar playing was — as ever — brilliant and unconventional. He can play with great subtlety and emotion, as he did on Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages,” and then rattle off a solo on a fast number that is so right, but so idiosyncratic, you’d swear his famed guitar Trigger was falling down a flight of stairs (which, indeed, it looks like it has).

photo: Jon Gitchoff

The heavy lifting of the Haggard tribute was left to opening acts Johnson and Bingham.

Johnson’s set was filled with Haggard classics, and it showed the singer’s deep understanding and appreciation of Haggard’s expansive artistry, ranging from the hard-headed pragmatism of “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” and the testy patriotism of “The Fightin’ Side of Me” to the devastating reminiscence “My Favorite Memory” and blue-collar solidarity of “Workin’ Man Blues.”

Johnson was joined by surprise guest Lee Ann Womack, who left her own tour and drove in for the show at Johnson’s request. She provided what was perhaps the evening’s high-water mark with a tear-inducing take on “You Take Me for Granted,” written for Haggard by his wife at the time, Leona Williams.

She and Johnson also sang “Yesterday’s Wine,” written by Nelson, but a hit for Haggard and George Jones.

The set was so impromptu that Johnson and his band often had to huddle and flip through a songbook to decide what to play next. “We got the Merle bible up here,” Johnson said.

Despite that — or more correctly, given that — the tribute was heartfelt, moving, and perfect.

Ryan Bingham also performed the Haggard songs “Old Man from the Mountain” and “Mama Tried” as well as some of his own material and a cover of the Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post” featuring Lukas Nelson on guitar.

Willie Nelson set list

Whiskey River

Still Is Still Moving to Me

Beer for My Horses

Good Hearted Woman

Funny How Times Slips Away/Crazy/Night Life

Down Yonder

Texas Flood

Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys

Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground

On the Road Again

Always on My Mind

Me and Paul

Shoeshine Man


I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train


It’s All Goin’ to Pot

Okie from Muskogee

Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die

Will the Circle Be Unbroken/I’ll Fly Away

Jamey Johnson set list

I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink

The Fightin’ Side of Me

That’s the Way Love Goes

You Take Me for Granted

Yesterday’s Wine

Down Every Road

My Favorite Memory

Workin’ Man Blues

Big City

Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Star

In Color

Ryan Bingham set list

Old Man from the Mountain

I Ain’t Living Long Like This

Tell My Mother I Miss Her So

Whipping Post

South Side of Heaven

Mama Tried

read article here

Willie Nelson & Family, with Kris Kristofferson in Papillion on June 26, 2016

Thursday, March 31st, 2016

By Kelsey Stewart

SumTur Amphitheater will welcome its biggest name yet this summer.

Willie Nelson will play at the venue June 26 with Kris Kristofferson opening.

“We’re really, really happy about that,” said Doug Huggins, amphitheater manager.

Huggins said they anticipate Nelson to be the most popular mainstream show the amphitheater has gotten to date. The show, Huggins said, will be a good fit for the amphitheater.

“For SumTur, it’s a big deal,” he added. “Listening to Willie Nelson singing outdoors on a beautiful day, I don’t think there could be a better place for it.”

The announcement of Nelson’s show is another in a string of ticketed events to be hosted at the facility. Over the last few years, the amphitheater has seen an increased number of ticketed events offered in conjunction with its free programming.

Last year, the facility hosted eight large ticketed events. This year, Huggins said he’s hoping to offer 10 to 12.

The amphitheater has partnered with two promoters, 1% Productions and Mammoth Productions, to bring ticketed events to the facility.

“We’ve had a relationship with both of those for several years and they’re bringing some very exciting acts,” Huggins said.

Other ticketed acts include Leon Bridges, Brandi Carlile, Matt Nathanson and Phillip Phillips with Eric Hutchinson, Dashboard Confessional and Taking Back Sunday, Flogging Molly, and Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers.

“It’s nice being a contender and in a way, a leader in the whole Omaha metro area, in ticketed events,” Huggins said. “The City of Papillion has worked hard to make SumTur a viable entertainment production venue and we’re very happy that we’re considered in the same name as Stir and the Orpheum and the Holland as far as quality entertainment in the heartland.”

Dinner With Willie Nelson: Chef’s Pot Luck @Luck Reunion (Stories and photos by The Simple Sol)

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016


It isn’t a secret that I love Willie Nelson and when I got invited to a dinner he was hosting on his iconic Luck, TX ranch outside of Austin it was the perfect excuse to escape after three crazy days of SXSW. It was an intimate gathering and truly a hidden gem tucked away from the downtown hustle and bustle, apparently Adrian Grenier thought so too —  he was sitting across the table from me.  It was also the kick-off for Willie’s one-day music festival, Luck Reunion, held the next day.  Sadly I didn’t get to take part in the festival because I was in Mexico City.


Read the article, and see all the great photos here.

And enjoy the travel culture blog:

Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion Music Festival (March 19, 2016)

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

photos and article by:  Nathan Poppe
by:  Nathan Poppe

It’s not easy to have a good time in Austin, Texas, during South By Southwest.

I’ve gone several times to shoot photos, and I usually end up completely exhausted and waking up just long enough to fall back asleep on a plate of breakfast tacos. It can be fun but the music festival portion of the event feels like work. Maneuvering through mind-numbing traffic, outsmarting thousands of tourists and trying to catch bands gets exceedingly more difficult every time I visit SXSW. That’s why I jumped at the opportunity to drive several miles north of the Black Friday level of craziness that is downtown Austin and visit Spicewood, Texas.

Tucked away between hilly country roads, Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion music festival offered a peaceful, mostly successful alternative to SXSW. It’s the sort of festival where the host’s personality is louder than the music. Luck Reunion is on his land after all. In the VIP lounge, I was greeted with a pack of rolling papers and it didn’t seem weird for a second. Nelson’s branded marijuana business followed me on Instagram immediately after I tweeted from the festival. Luck Reunion attracts a very particular and Americana/weed-loving crowd that’s really there for the music more than anything. I’ve never met a friendlier festival crowd. Did I mention that Bill Murray was hanging around the festival, too?

Roughly 4,000 patrons attended the Luck Reunion, which is spread between three modestly-sized stages and somehow never feels crowded. A chapel, revival tent and main stage are only minutes apart from one another and feel like they were planted in an old Western movie set, complete with wooden facades and even a saloon. It didn’t hurt that there were couches and copious amounts of shade from trees to pad the concert experience.

Every set I saw was exceptional and Oklahoma talent had a strong showing with performances from Parker Millsap, John Moreland, John Fullbright, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Horse Thief. I felt a swell of pride hearing people buzz about who they were excited to catch. No less than 10 people were saying they had to hear Moreland’s set.

The only major hiccup came from Mother Nature when a thunderstorm spoiled a few sets, including a secret visit from Kacey Musgraves. Dressing for the weather was impossible Friday. Between the heat of the early afternoon and the wet, chilling storm, no outfit was safe from either sweat, cold or mud.

The sky opened up in the early evening and drenched the festival grounds. Total buzzkill. It was handled well though. Event organizers and security made sure everyone found cover and shooed people away from looting the bars filled with leftover bottles of booze. Instead of cheering for bands, patrons ooh’d and ahh’d at the lightning’s performance.

However, no amount of rain could totally hinder the Luck Reunion experience. Out of boredom and an enthusiasm for performing, many musicians started impromptu sets in barns, houses and even truck trailers. You can’t really put a price on moments that unscripted and unique. Jenny Lewis didn’t need to stay late into the night and play a rescheduled set in a cramped chapel, but she did.

“This is off the cuff, guys,” Lewis said to the crowd with a smile.

Surrounded by bandmates and family, she performed a brief acoustic set unlike anything you could hear at a big festival. Even the Luck Reunion’s merch booth had a personal touch. Each T-shirt was screenprinted in front of buyers and had to cool down before you could wear it.

That’s the mark of a festival that’s about more than bands or organizers scoring a paycheck. It really felt like a community, and I didn’t want to leave. However, the rain closed most of the food trucks, and I needed dinner around midnight. I left before Nelson capped off the festival at the overcrowded, muddy revival tent. The rain had shut down main stage where Nelson was scheduled to play but it was better than it not happening at all.

I left wanting more. I was exhausted again, but for the first time, I couldn’t wait to return to Texas next year. It wasn’t luck that made this festival great. It was hard work and a lineup of musicians that looked to be having just as much fun as the patrons.


This Tennessee-based band was one of the more surprising acts at Luck Reunion. I had no expectations when their set began, and I wanted to join the couple dancing throughout the crowd when it ended.


photo:  Nathan Poppe

I’m late to the RWH party but I thought his set was hilarious and fun. The Soper native, 69, spent most of his formative years in Texas but Oklahoma should be proud to claim him, too. Check out the song “Snake Farm” and try not to sing along.

Read rest of article and review here.  

Luck Reunion 2016

Sunday, March 20th, 2016

photo:  Gary Miller
by: Doug Freeman

When the official word came to shut down all performances and for the crowd to take immediate shelter, everything moved incredibly quickly in Willie Nelson’s fake movie-set town of Luck. The imminent storm, however, did not.

At about 5:20pm Friday evening, crew and officials took to the stages to warn everyone that a major storm was bearing down on the Luck Reunion and would hit in approximately 10 minutes. Located 30 miles outside of Austin on Nelson’s Spicewood ranch, the makeshift western town had provided an idyllic and surreal setting for what has become one of the best non-affiliated events during SXSW. Nonetheless, the charm of the old storefronts and barns offered little in the way of security from a major storm, and as the skies darkened, thoughts turned to the town’s 2014 destruction by tornado force winds.

Those that didn’t take to their cars or the buses and depart huddled under what cover they could find, but as stages were covered and vendors quickly broke down, the storm only continued to linger on the horizon in ominous lighting flashes. For three hours, nothing moved in Luck.

Undaunted by the storm, which only swept in briefly and with little effect, those that remained were rewarded with a memorable night. Canadians Alberta Cross, their main stage set pulled shortly after starting, unpacked their instruments in the Beer Garden’s barn and played an impromptu show. They were followed by the Black Lillies, who earlier in the afternoon had scorched the main stage with a rootsy soul. Artists and fans packed in tightly and carried on acoustic sing-alongs as the rain showered against the tin roofs.

Likewise, after two hours on hold, Lissie emerged in the Revival Tent, where more fans sheltered. In the dark, the songwriter delivered an intimate, unplugged performance far removed from the pop swell of her most recent album, My Wild West.

When the all-clear was finally given around 9pm, the main stage was permanently shut down, and set schedules in disarray. Jenny Lewis convened in the tiny chapel that held no more than 75 fans, and the Revival Tent swelled for a fantastic, quick run of songs from Joe Pug, Margot Price, and Parker Millsap.

Billy Joe Shaver closed out the night in the chapel as fans packed up against the windows outside, and Nelson proved characteristically undeterred as he shifted his headlining set to the Revival Tent to close a chaotic day in memorable fashion.

Nelson’s Luck Reunion, re-branding the Heartbreaker Banquet and now in its fifth year, remains an exceptional and unique event despite this year’s havoc. Performances earlier in the afternoon proved memorable, including an intimate songwriter swap that closed with Jonny Fritz, Andrew Combs, Robert Ellis, Sam Outlaw, and T. Hardy Morris covering Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You.”

East Nashville’s Aaron Lee Tasjan perfectly set up Ray Wylie Hubbard in the Revival Tent for a shot of blistering blues, and Canadian songwriter Daniel Romano commenced the chapel performances with his nasally Dylan-esque twang. On the main stage, Oklahoma quintet Horse Thief rang with a melodic, My Morning Jacket reverb and psych roots, and Little Rock, AK., fivepiece Amasa Hines broiled funk and reggae-inflected grooving jams.

John Fullbright conquered the afternoon best before the storm set in, delivering a powerhouse set of older cuts “Jericho,” “Satan and St. Paul,” and “Gawd Above.”

The storm may have gutted the lineup – canceling Blitzen Trapper, Lucius, and expected special guest Kacey Musgraves – but it couldn’t impede the event’s heart.

Keep up with all our SXSW coverage at Sign up for our South-by-specific newsletter at for news, reviews, and previews delivered to your inbox every day of the Fest. And for the latest Tweets, follow @ChronSXSW.

New album from Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, “Something Real” (Review)

Saturday, March 19th, 2016

by: Sarah Bourque

The new album, Something Real, by Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real dropped on March 11th. It showcases the “cowboy hippie surf rock” style that is interlaced around each track. The band combines the talents of Lukas Nelson on guitar and vocals, Anthony LoGerto on drums, Corey McCormick on bass, and Tato Melgar on percussion. Something Real is a tight mix of melodies that breach the edges of blues, Americana, and country styles to form a flow of tracks that beg to be played again and again.

Diving right in, “Surprise” takes listeners on a whirlwind of emotions as the energy within the song rises, bringing depth to the tune. This well placed opener sets the mood for what’s to come by grabbing your attention immediately. “Something Real” is full of crunchy guitar, pounding drums and a get up and dance your ass off vibe.

An unhurried “Set Me Down On A Cloud” is thick with energy that hits deep into one’s soul. The passion felt throughout invites the listener to turn up the volume. “Don’t Want to Fly” combines a solid rock and blues experience that ends in a teasing jam that slowly fades out. Don’t be surprised if this one fuses into an extended jam session during a live performance.

Ugly Color” breathes, and provides calm spaces in between the notes, for the duration of this chilled out, laid back song that’s perfect to listen to with the top down on a warm summer day. “I’ll Make Love to You Any Ol’ Time” is simply a good ol’ rock and roll tune with ass-kicking guitar and red-hot vocals. Switching gears, “Georgia” is a gentle tune filled with fluid lyrics that tug at the heart strings.

Shredding guitar chords roll through the first half of “Everything is Fake,” before finishing with tender tones. The album’s final track, “San Francisco,” features Neil Young on guest vocals. This powerful tune brings a fitting end to the album, as it provides a throwback to the seventies without losing the essence of being in the present. Overall, Something Real is a fluid album that features well structured melodies and tightly composed notes.

For further information regarding Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, and their new album, please check out their official website. (It’s highly recommended you click on the Band link to read about the members. A good laugh is guaranteed).

Key Tracks: Surprise, Set Me Down on A cloud, Ugly Color

Check out Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real as they perform their title track, “Something Real,” on the Conan O’Brien show: