TORONTO: He’s clad in his trademark red bandanna, black vest and beat up blue jeans. His beard is almost white now. And in his best running shoes, Willie Nelson still looks a little larger than life on stage.
Once an outlaw, the country version of Jessie James with pigtails, in 1985 the 52-year-old performer is something of a father figure, a keeper of country and westerner’s most cherished traditions.Â Nelson and company’s 3 1/2-hour-show at the CNE Grandstand Monday night, was an on-the-road-again version of the Willie Nelson annual Fourth of July picnic with nothing less than a guided tour through country music history.
Despite some of his recent forays into pop and jazz, this was a vintage country show that’s had a little for everyone, from the grandmas to the bikers. And if it lacked a little in the way of surprises, the smallish CNE Grandstand crowd didn’t seem to mind.
Jessi Colter, Waylon’s Jennings’ diminutive wife, once again had the job of opening the show. George Strait was supposed to do the honors, but the fine folks at immigration apparently had other ideas. And Colter provided equal to the task — displaying a convincing range in moving easily from throaty stomper to pretty ballad. By the time she got the motors revving, she had to turn the stage and the band over to Waylon.
Jennings was something of an enigma. He has always cultivated a brooding, even menacing sort of persona, but Monday night he seemed especially sombee, running through half a dozen songs without stopping or saying as much as hello. Perhaps he was just trying a little too hard to play his role, or perhaps he was just bored. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t until half way through his set, when his wife returned to sing a couple of duets, that Jennings shook off his lethargy and showed some signs of life.
But it took Willie Nelson to bring the whole show together, and he did so effortlessly, offering a pleasant tour through country music history and a pretty generous overview of his own career in the process. In comparison to Jennings’ rather dark tones, Nelson was up form the first note.
While he showed some jazzy flourishes with the guitar, it is still his singing that makes him magic. His stop-start, talk-sing is a uniquely personal style and enables him, in some way, to get to the truth, the essence of any song he chooses to sing. His rendition of Always on My Mind was especially pretty.
Nelson’s musical tour wound its way from a gospelish version of the spiritual Amazing Grace and Fred Rose’s 1945 composition Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain, to Nightlife (a song he wrote in 1959 and sold the rights two years’ later for $150), On the Road Again and Good Hearted Woman. He sang just about every major song he had to offer, and covered all the bases from whoopers to ballads.
It was about as much as any fan could reasonably want, and a good example of why Nelson’s appeal transcends so many of the usual boundaries of country music.
As Austin returns back to normal following the 15th annual Austin City Limits Festival, we reflect on our favourite performances of the second weekend of the event. The two-weekender festival continues to stand out as one of the best in the world (read our official recap) and while there were many highlights, here are our top five.
#1 Willie Nelson
I am just as surprised as anyone that this was my favorite set of the festival. Country and bluegrass is not necessarily my bag of music. I haven’t spent nearly enough nights at Saloons and country western bars to be able to say that I am a fan of Willie Nelson music but there was something truly special about Willie’s show Sunday evening.
Willie is perhaps Austin’s favorite son and there isn’t a better representative of this town and everything it stands for than Willie Nelson. So the fact he was slated to play the festival’s biggest stage was hugely appropriate and something many people anticipated all weekend. Before the show the festival ran a video package of several of the bands playing the festival thanking Willie for everything he has done. This automatically gave you an idea of the scope of the significance of this show.
At 83 years old, it is an incredible feat that Willie can play one song live, let alone an entire one hour set. But there WIllie was, standing front and center as the only guitarist and strumming and singing like it was back in the 1950s. He hit on so many of his hits like “On The Road Again”, and “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”, and other covers and tributes to his fallen friends.
What made this such an amazing show to be at was realizing the moment and observing the crowd around. Just where I was standing there were kids in their teens singing along with men and women in their 60s and 70s. Looking on the side of the stage, you saw the VIPs and other bands of the festival gathered to take a glimpse of a living legend. Matthew McConaughey, along with his family, stood gleaming and taking pictures the entire show. Members of Mumford and Sons stood watching along with many others. This turned out to be just as seminal and important moment for them as it may have been for Willie himself. This was his home. There were his fans that have supported him for so many decades and there he was at 83, bringing so many people together.
As his show closed, he was joined on stage by probably 40 people including friends, bands and crew members. In this moment it was clear this wasn’t just a concert, it was a celebration of his life and everything he has done. It became clear that this may have meant to him as much as it meant to everyone else. As he wrapped his show, Nelson took several moments to look into the crowd and wave and thank the 100,000 plus in attendance.
The sincerity and the many thanks he was throwing out showed that this meant the world to him as well. Will it be his last time he ever plays ACL? Only time will tell. But for everyone in the crowd and on that stage that Sunday afternoon it was a show they will never forget.
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
Willie Nelson is an American country singer who is best known for hits Stardust and Red Headed Stranger. One of the most renowned recording artists in the genre, Nelson had an early interest for music and wrote his first song at the age of seven. After joining and singing for a number of bands, he eventually signed a recording deal with Liberty Records during the early 1960’s. Nelson subsequently released his debut album, …And Then I Wrote in 1962. Following the success of his first studio album, he soon secured a contract with RCA Victor and became a part of the Grand Ole Opry in 1965. Throughout his multiple decade-long career, the country singer has recorded over sixty full-length albums and well over a hundred singles!
A veteran and house hold name, Nelson has garnered quite a collection of awards and titles over the years. Since first entering the entertainment industry back in the 60’s, he has received eleven Grammy Awards, seven American Music Awards, nine CMA Awards, five Academy of Country Music Awards, two Music City News Awards, and a couple of others. A distinguished member of the music world, Nelson also had an award instituted in 2012 by the CMA after himself, termed the “Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award”?an award given to those who have attained the greatest level of recognition in country music (it’s also no surprise that Nelson himself was the first recipient!). In 2008, he was also listed as “One of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time” by the Rolling Stone Magazine.
In addition to being a famed musician, Nelson is also an established actor who has dipped quite frequently into acting. He made his television debut in 1978 when he guest starred in the crime series, The Rockford Files. Some of his other acting projects include The Electric Horseman (1979), Coming Out of the Ice (1982), The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James (1986), Once Upon a Texas Train (1988), Adventures in Wonderland (1994), Nash Bridges (1997), The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning (2007), amongst countless others. On top of those appearances, Nelson has also been featured as a musical performer on dozens of American talk shows such as The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (2008), The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson (2010), Jimmy Kimmel Live! (2014)and Late Show with David Letterman (2014), to name a few.
But what has the country legend been up to these last few years? What has he been spending his time on lately? What happened to Willie Nelson? Where is he now in 2016?
Willie Nelson’s Early Life and Gravitation Towards Music
Born on April 29, 1933, in Abbott, Texas, Willie Hugh Nelson is the child of Myrle Marie and Ira Doyle Nelson. Growing up during the Great Depression, Nelson was raised alongside his older sister, Bobbie majorly by his grandparents. As a young boy, he was first exposed to music when his grandmother took him and Bobbie to a small Methodist Church; it was there that be first learnt to appreciate the tunes from the hymn books. Both musicians themselves, his grandparents often encouraged Nelson to pursue and play music; it wasn’t long before he received his first guitar, when he was six years old. Taking quickly to the instrument, Nelson soon wrote and composed his very own song by the time he was seven.
During his teen years, Nelson was involved with a handful of bands including the Bohemian Polka, where he took on the role of being the lead vocalist; together with his bandmates, he toured and performed locally during the late 1940’s. Shortly after graduating from high school, Nelson made the decision to join the Military’s Air Force but was ultimately sent back due to back issues. Upon his return, he went to Baylor University in Waco, Texas before dropping out to chase his dreams of becoming a musician. Wanting to close the distance between himself and the opportunities available in music, he eventually moved to the city of Vancouver in Washington, where he found work as a singer and as a disk jockey at a radio station. After much perseverance, he ultimately secured a major recording contract with Liberty Records in 1962.
Willie Nelson’s Budding Musical Career in the 1960’s
Nelson made his mark in the country music world when he released his debut album, …And Then I Wrote in September 1962. Recorded during August and September of that year, the album featured twelve tracks; six on each side of the disc, all of which were Nelson’s own pieces of work. Although …And Then I Wrote did not chart upon its release, it later gave rise to the singles The Part Where I Cry and Touch Me; the latter would go on to peak at number seven on the Billboard Hot Singles Chart in the US. Warmly received by critics, the single received a four star rating form Allstar and was praised for its “interesting country style sounds” by Billboard.
After signing with a new recording label in 1964, Nelson released his first charting album, Country Willie – His Own Songs in 1965. Produced by Chet Atkins, the album consisted of twelve songs including One Day at a Time, Mr. Record Man, My Own Peculiar Way and several others. Met with greater success compared to his earlier projects, Country Willie – His Own Songs eventually peaked at number fourteen on the US Top Country Albums Chart?making it his first record to chart in the United States. Later that same year, he would also become a member of the Grand Ole Opry.
Throughout the rest of the 60’s, Nelson recorded and released six more full-length albums; of the six, five would go on to chart in the US. Most noteworthy is his fifth studio album, Make Way For Willie Nelson, which peaked at number seven.
Willie Nelson’s Continued Career as a Singer in the Later Years
Following over half a dozen of album releases during the early 1970’s, Nelson got his breakthrough in the country music scene with his album entitled, Red Headed Stranger. Released in in May 1975, the album was also his first produced under Columbia Records. Largely a concept album, the album centred around a fugitive who was on the run after unlawfully killing his wife and lover. Quickly becoming a best-seller, the album topped the Top Country Albums Chart and stayed at the number twenty-eighth position on the Top LPs and Tapes Album for a total of 43 weeks. Given nothing but glowing reviews, Red Headed Stranger was significant in propelling Nelson into celebrity stardom during the 1970’s. Soon spawning two singles, the album has since received 2x Platinum Certification in the US after selling over 2,000,000 copies in the country.
The next year, Nelson released his nineteenth studio album entitled, The Sound in Your Mindin 1976. His second under Columbia Records, the album contained nine songs, all of which were composed by the singer himself. Peaking at the number one position on the Top Country Chart in the US, it later also made its way up to the number forty-eighth position on the Bill board 200. Hailed for its inspiring arrangements and mix of sounds, the album has since sold over one million units in the United States, earning it Platinum status.
After over a decade of making a name for himself, the country singer released his best-selling album to date, Stardust in April 1978. Containing a blend of jazz and pop music sounds, the album was met with immediate positive attention upon its release, charting at the top of the Top Country Albums Chart in the US and at number thirty on the Billboard 200. Named as the “Top Country Album of the Year for 1978”, Stardust later garnered the singer a prestigious Grammy Award for the category of “Best Male Country Vocal Performance” for the track, Georgia on My Mind. Showered with nothing but praises, the album earned over two million dollars for the artist as of 1984 and has also since received 3x Platinum status from the RIAA.
Carrying on with his music career into the 80’s, Nelson released his next bit hit, Always on My Mind in 1982. Dubbed as the “number one country album of 1982”, it stayed at the top of the Top Country Chart for a staggering 22 weeks and also spent a total of 99 weeks on the US Billboard 200 Chart. Internationally, it was also a success in a handful of other countries including Germany, Australia and Canada. A huge sensation, Always on My Mind received much positive feedback from critics and have since been certified 4x Platinum for achieving over 4,000,000 sales.
Over the next decades, Nelson has released over forty albums including Without a Song (1983), City of New Orleans (1984), Across the Borderline (1993), Spirit (1996), Songbird (2006), Heroes (2012), and many, many others; all of which have successfully charted in the US.
What’s Willie Nelson Doing Now in 2016- Recent Updates
In February of this year, Nelson released a new studio album entitled, Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin. Recorded after being honoured with the Gershwin Prize, the album contained eleven tracks including the duets Embraceable You with Sheryl Crow and Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off with fellow musician, Cyndi Lauper. Debuting at the number one position on the Top Jazz Albums Chart, Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin quickly sold over 13,000 copies in the country during the initial week of release; it later climbed to the fortieth position on the billboard 200 Chart.
Not long after the release of the Gershwin album, Nelson released yet another entitled, For The Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price in September 2016. Showcasing twelve countrypolitan and honky tonk tunes, the album was recorded as a means of paying tribute to one of the country’s most legendary musicians, Ray Price, who was also a personal long-time friend of Nelson’s. After its release, the album successfully charted at number five on the US Top Country Albums Chart and at number eighty-four on the Billboard 200.
On top of his work as a recording artist, he has also been busy behind the camera for a variety of different television productions including the documentary, Revolution: The Legacy of the Sixties. Still in the filming stage, the film will explore the western cultural revolution of the 1960’s, according to the primitive summary posted on its IMdb page. Besides this project, Nelson was also involved with The Best Democracy Money Can Buy (which has since been released), Also Starring Austin and Lovey: King of the Roadies?which are both currently in the post-production process. It should be fair to assume that they will be released sometime within the next year.
If you’d like to know more about or stay up to date with the country legend, you can follow him on social media?Willie Nelson is often active on Twitter under his handle, @willienelson. Alternatively, you can also visit his official Facebook page, or visit his website for more of the star’s latest news!
A few years ago, when Willie and I were writing our book The Tao of Willie, I felt that many people would be referring back to the book over the coming years to get a fresh dose of Willie’s Baptists/Buddhist outlook on life (“Bootist” as Willie called it). But I’m not sure I realized that I’d be one of those readers, coming back again and again to Willie’s words in our book during my own times of need.
First the concert. Sunday was a beautiful day at Zilker Park. As I looked out from the stage at 75,000 fans and blue skies smiling at me, Matthew McConnaughey came onstage to intro Willie, and the roar from the crowd was the loudest I’ve ever heard at an Austin show, at least until the roar for Willie one minute later. I have no idea how many Willie shows I’ve seen – a couple of hundred or more – and somehow every show still ends up being fresh and amazing in wonderful ways.
Matthew McConnaughey introduces Willie to 70,000 at ACL Fest in Austin
Last night was much more than that. The joy and connections Willie puts out from the stage are always palpable but for his first ACL fest show in years, 83-year-old Willie was in fine voice (as good as I’ve heard in a very long time), in beautiful spirit (practically shining) and playing Trigger like the true rock-n-roll/country/blues/jazz Zen master than he is. Eight (?) years ago at Willie’s last ACL fest appearance, I stood next to the late, great Willie road manager Poodie Locke, and Poodie and I talked about the magic of Willie and how it all comes together when it needs to.
Last night, I thought about Poodie’s spirit floating around that stage, about the spirit and love of Bee Spears and other Willie family band members that have moved on, and I thought how their spirits are part of what makes the ongoing family band so wonderful and strong and full of love. Consider Sister Bobby, still sounding great and looking beautiful at her giant grand piano, despite the fact that she and her little brother Booger Red, aka Willie, have been playing music together for nearly 80 years.
I was particularly taken with Willie’s ACL version of “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground”, and thought of all the people I’ve met for whom this song has great meeting (if you have any biker friends, ask them what Hell’s Angels think the song is about).
“I make it a point not to disagree with any of the interpretations,” said Willie in our little book, “as long as you’re not trying to sell your junk food or your god or your war with my song. It’s not up to me to tell you what my songs mean. The meaning is already in the song. And the song is the meaning.”
Later in the book, we came back to “Angels”, a little like how Willie keeps coming back to “On the Road Again” in his concert. Here’s a clip of Willie’s ACL version:
“Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” IS the Tao of Willie,” he wrote (or we wrote, anyway this is all from the book.) “It and a whole bunch of other songs I’ve written are the reflection of what I’ve learned on a really great ride on the merry go round called Earth.”
I felt blessed to experience the ACL show from the sound board, with a great view and surrounded by a huge audience that was soaking up the love, and I was moved to tears as I watched how Willie soaked it all in.
Here’s another passage from our little book, in Willie’s voice, as is the entire book except for my short introduction.
“Sometimes in my concerts, I find that I’ve slipped outside of myself to the same place that I find in meditation. Like the audience, I can see myself on stage. I can see my band behind me and all around me. I can see Poodie and David Anderson in the wings, and Budrocks and Bobby Lemmons, Josh the sound guy on the light and sound boards. All of us are connected to each other and to the audience, and whether we’re all caught up in “Angel Flying to Close to the Ground, or just rocking through “Whiskey River” for the third time of the night, that’s the kind of moment that keeps me coming back on the road again and again. In that moment, I see myself, my family band, and the audience — all of us are a part of one joyful whole.
It’s like the eye of a hurricane, I’m connected to everything.”
Towards the end of his set, I saw Willie pause a little longer than usual between songs and watched him look from face to face in the front rows then lift his gaze up and up to the crowd that seemed to stretch all the way to the sun setting in the beautiful hills he calls home. There was a long history of music and musicians in Austin before Willie, but much of what is great about this city’s love of music and film and arts flows stems from forty-plus years ago when Willie decided he didn’t want to be what Nashville wanted him to be, he wanted to come home to Texas and be himself.
Looking out at the crowd at Zilker, Willie didn’t seem to want to end his set at all. If Mumford and Sons hadn’t been coming up later, he might still be playing.
“I didn’t come here,” Willie is fond of saying, “And I ain’t leaving.”
I’ve known Willie for much of the time he’s been in Austin. In the 70s, I was fortunate to be his opening act on Auditorium Shores not far from Zilker Park, and Christy was a producer at the 1990 Willie picnic in Zilker Park, one of those 105 degree marathon concert days when you wish you were dead and thank God that you’re alive to see it all. We made some movies together and played a lot of golf and poker, all times that I loved and still love, but what I cherish most is the way Willie helped open my heart to the world, and how Willie (and Annie who is a great, and tireless rock of support and inspiration as well) enabled Christy and I to do more with our lives by believing in us and supporting out idea that individuals and couples who want to change the world and are willing to work for their vision can have great impact. There are countless others out there like Christy and me.
If nothing else, Willie helps us know who we are.
So once more from The Tao of Willie, this time from end of the book, Willie’s words again, taken from my journals and scraps of paper where I had noted things Willie said to me over the years.
“Since we know so little of the whole, it’s all the more important to know yourself. That brings us to the last question, the question that will best start your day, possibly every day, of your life.
The question is, “Who am I?”
Within the answer to that question is the thing we call happiness.
As for myself, I am just a troubadour going down the road, learning my lessons in this life so I will know better next time. I believe the lessons are out there waiting to be found, and waiting inside me to be found as well.
As the miles and miles of miles and miles roll by, I try to listen to the voice inside me as it offers advice, tells tales and whispers the melody to what will be my next song.
Depending on the time of day, and what’s been bouncing around in my life, those voices may not always be in my best interest. If an inner voice says, “Tell Gator to stop the bus on the next overpass so I can determine whether I can fly or not,” then I’ll probably have a cup of coffee and choose to listen to some other voice.
I like it when the other voice reminds me that I am the luckiest man on earth, that I am surrounded by a very large family of people I love and whom I love, and that as long as my body and this bus will carry me, I can step on stage and lift my heart in song that will carry me and my audience through the worst that life has to offer.
Knowing this may not spare me from the sorrows of life and the troubles of the world, but together — myself, my family and my friends and fans — we use that common song in our hearts to carry on.
In the end, all of us are just angels flying close to the ground.
Returning to the words of Kahil Gibran that I first read so many years ago, I am reminded that in our quest to return to God, each of us, in our heart, carries a map to that quest, a map that is made of love.
Love is what I live on. Love is what keeps me going.
So all I can say to you is what I’ve said to myself a thousand times.
“Open your heart, Willie, and give love a try. You’ll be amazed at what happens.”
So far, it’s worked pretty well.”
Thank you Willie. In this crazy election year, I think we could all use a little move love. And a lot more people voting.
I was born and raised in Austin, Texas, the live music capital of the world. I had never seen Willie Nelson in concert until Sunday.
It wasn’t too hard a feat to accomplish. I am not from a country music family. I am not from the kind of folks who drink from the well of our city’s reputation — we did not do “weird,” nor red-headed strangers and cosmic cowboys. I did not know what weed smelled like until I was 18.
But I know the score. Willie’s legend looms as large over Austin as the spirit of Texas itself. I should know; I write about him all the time for work. With a reputation to protect and a soul to save, my sole wish for Austin City Limits Music Festival’s 15th year could only be granted at 6 p.m., Sunday, weekend two. Willie, or bust. And it looked like a lot of ACL had the same idea.
A cult assembled at the Samsung stage, and shortly after the hour struck, the video screens piped in adulation from fellow fest acts Conor Oberst, Raury, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, Local Natives, RZA (most strangely) and Ray Benson (most sweetly). Kind as it was, that presentation soon evaporated from memory with the only celebrity appearance that could top the inherent excitement of pending Willie.
Matthew McConaughey, doing his best John the Baptist. Not long after he rolled out the burnt orange carpet, bidding the crowd to give a “big, badass rowdy hello and welcome,” the main event sauntered out, doffed his hat and got to business. For such a milestone, it felt as casual as a bandana wrapped around braids.
Trigger and Willie, who’ve obviously been down the road with each other more than a few times, shot out of the gate with “Whiskey River” and “Still Is Still Moving To Me.” The sweet fight in Willie’s voice was unmistakable. The tumbling twang of his strings, even if I hadn’t heard them from guitar to ear before, lit up deeply felt memories of a Texas life, from Gruene Hall trips to Hays County fairs at Christmas to radio waves in my grandpa’s truck on trips from Round Rock to Luling. Even the clouds of pot smoke tasted just like I’d always hoped they would.
What, you thought the sun wouldn’t noticeably go down when Willie gave it a lyrical nudge on “Night Life”? I heard a woman many yards away cheering with so much frenzy that she was gargling her screams into the golden hour. Willie threw one out for Merle — “It’s All Going To Pot” — and one for Waylon — “Good Hearted Woman.” He played the songs you want him to play, like “Crazy” and “Georgia On My Mind.” A streak of Austin hymns moved with the spirit: “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” “On the Road Again,” “Always On My Mind.” On the second song, two little girls in front of me braided their hair. Did they know …?
I didn’t listen to these songs growing up, but they must have seeped in by osmosis. The words formed in my mouth as surely as Willie sang ’em.
Willie Nelson is joined by a group of musicians performing at the festival and special guests to sing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” as the finale for his performance at The Austin City Limits Music Festival on October 9, 2016. (Tamir Kalifa for American-Statesman)
photo: Dave Creaney
“Here’s a new gospel song we wrote,” Willie said toward the end of the hour. Of course, it was “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.” But fittingly for this church boy, such a religious experience ended with a little gospel. Willie got his own choir, sans robes, for “I’ll Fly Away.” Rateliff, Margo Price and members of Local Natives and Mumford & Sons came on stage for back-up. Couldn’t steal the man’s show, though. He saved “I Saw the Light” for himself, the audience and the Good Lord.
With a few red bandanas flung, a red-white-and-blue guitar strap tossed, goodbye waves distributed to the park and hands shaken with McConaughey and Mayor Steve Adler, Willie was off. He wasn’t a headliner at this year’s ACL, but he was a king.
Willie Nelson smiles moments after the unveiling of his statue on West 2nd Street, also known as Willie Nelson Boulevard, on Friday April 20, 2012. The statue was created by Philadelphia artist Clete Shields, and given to the city by the nonprofit Capital Area Statues Inc. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
by: Peter Blackstock
Walk the streets of Austin, and sooner or later you’ll encounter Willie Nelson. Visions of our city’s greatest living icon pop up all over town, from SoCo to the Drag to the Red River District to, well, of course, the stretch of Second Street now known as Willie Nelson Boulevard. Recent new murals that have popped up this year gave us an idea to send photographer Jay Janner on a mission to photograph as many artistic renderings of Willie as we could find. The statue in front of ACL Live is probably the most impressive landmark, but it’s just one of many. The captions tell the stories of these indelible works, which help to ensure that the Red Headed Stranger will always remain familiar in Austin. Willie joins the Austin City Limits Music Festival party next weekend, helping to close out the festival on Oct. 9.
Austin artist Samson Barboza paints a mural of Willie Nelson at Bluebonnet Studios, which is under construction on South Lamar Boulevard, on Tuesday September 27, 2016. “When you think of Texas heroes one of the guys you think of is Willie Nelson.”, Barboza said. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
A 60-foot-by-20-foot mural of Willie Nelson towers over fest goers during South by Southwest March 19, 2016. Austin artist Wiley Ross completed the mural in February 2016 on the building on East 7th Street at Neches Street. “Willie embodies the spirit of Austin,” says Ross, who has painted several Austin murals including a one on Manchaca Road and Lamar Boulevard. “We wanted to honor Willie and give back to Austin.” After securing permission from building owners, Ross says he spent 80 hours over six continuous days working on the mural in order to complete it before the Heart of Texas Rockfest on March 16-19, which also coincides with South by Southwest. The giant portrait of Nelson will serve as a backdrop for the rock festival. “My favorite part of the mural is that anywhere you go, Willie’s eyes follow you,” Ross says. “It’s like he’s watching over downtown Austin.” JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Mural artists Tom Bauman, top, and Kerry Awn apply anti-graffiti sealant to their 1974 “Austintatious” mural at the 23rd Street Market during a restoration project on Tuesday June 24, 2014. Willie Nelson can be seen standing next to a red pickup in the bottom left corner. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
A two-dimensional cutout of Willie Nelson looks down on Guadalupe Street from a balcony at ACL Live at the Moody Theater, home of “Austin City Limits,” Monday September 12, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Willie Nelson, with his guitar Trigger, stands next to a red pickup in this small detail of the ‘Austintatious’ mural, which was created at the 23rd Street Renaissance Market in 1974 by artists Kerry Awn, Tom Bauman and Rick Turner. Photographed July 14, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
The “Willie Nelson For President” mural on STAG Provisions for Men was painted by Joe Swec from a drawing by Jacqui Oakley and a design by Erick Montes. Photographed Thursday July 14, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
A portrait of Willie Nelson in the alley behind La Zona Rosa commemorates his April 22, 1995 concert at the defunct live music venue. This Willie portrait is part of the larger La Zona Rosa Musicians mural painted by Joe Swec from drawings by artist Jacqui Oakley of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Photographed on September 11, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Willie Nelson watches over the Drag on September 11, 2016. Willie is one of several musicians depicted in a series of portraits by Austin graffiti artist Frederico Archuleta on the old Varsity Theater/Tower Records building. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
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The day-long festival, a late addition to the local venue’s calendar, had a little something for everybody as Lee Ann Womack, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Sheryl Crow, and Scranton’s own Cabinet filled the bill. Performances on the second stage included an acoustic set by Lukas Nelson and local artists, including members of Cabinet playing the music of John Prine, Lefty Frizzell, Merle Haggard, and Hank Williams.
Young, the now 70-year-old rocker, took the stage just before 7 p.m. for a lovely solo rendition of “Heart of Gold,” accompanying himself on acoustic guitar and harmonica.
He then brought out his latest collaborators, Promise of the Real featuring Willie’s sons Lukas and Micah Nelson, for acoustic favorites “Out on the Weekend,” “Unknown Legend,” “Human Highway” with gorgeous four-part harmonies, “Harvest Moon,” and “Hold Back the Tears.”
Young then picked up his electric guitar and a multi-page setlist, tossed the papers to the floor, and started into “Powderfinger” from 1979’s “Rust Never Sleeps.”
Following that same album’s “Welfare Mothers,” Young and his cohorts then played a stunning, 11-minute “Cowgirl in the Sand.” The harmonies were back for 1969’s “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” the title track of the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s second album.
Several minutes of instrumental buildup turned into a nearly-20-minute version of “Cortez the Killer,” followed by an equally outstanding take of “Fuckin’ Up” from the 1990 album “Ragged Glory,” his sixth LP with Crazy Horse.
Young and POTR then tore the roof off with a combustible “Rockin’ in the Free World,” complete with two false endings and some standout guitar work by Lukas Nelson.
photo: Jason Riedmiller
Willie Nelson, listed as curator of the Outlaw gathering, closed out the festival just one day after his closing set at the 31st Farm Aid in Bristow, Virginia.
Taking the stage with his Family and his ever-faithful guitar Trigger, the elder Nelson, now 83 and still showing no signs of slowing down, somehow managed to fit 19 songs into his hour-long set.
The early going was familiar to everyone who has seen Willie over the past few years, as he began with “Whiskey River,” “Still Is Still Moving to Me,” and “Beer for My Horses.”
Nelson then paid tribute to another musical outlaw, the late Waylon Jennings, with “Good Hearted Woman” and the chart-topping Waylon and Willie duet “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.”
Even though the selection was fully expected, Nelson’s version of “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” was especially good at the Outlaw, with his guitar playing nearly matching his heartfelt vocals.
After more of the usual suspects, such as “On the Road Again” and “Always on My Mind,” Nelson paid tribute to Hank Williams (on the day after what would have been his 83rd birthday) with spirited versions of “Jambalaya (On the Bayou),” “Hey Good Lookin’,” and “Move It on Over.”
Mickey Raphael, Willie’s longtime harmonica player and right-hand man, sparkled on “Georgia on My Mind,” while Willie dug just a little bit deeper for a nice version of “Bloody Mary Morning.”
He then honored the late Merle Haggard with the duo’s “It’s All Going to Pot” and the late Ray Price with “Heartaches by the Number” before treating the crowd to the “new gospel” number “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” which featured some great background vocals by sons Lukas and Micah.
Nelson then closed the show with a medley of actual gospel tunes “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “I’ll Fly Away.”
Nothing has been confirmed yet, but here’s hoping the Outlaw Music Festival becomes an annual event on Montage Mountain.
The 31st annual Farm Aid concert, benefiting the nation’s family farmers, rolled into Bristow, Va., on Saturday, Sept. 17, with the organization’s guiding foursome – Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews – joined during the day-long festival at the Jiffy Lube Live amphitheater by Alabama Shakes, Sturgill Simpson, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Margo Price and others.
Also sharing the bill: Jamey Johnson, accompanied by Alison Krauss; Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real; Insects vs Roberts (featuring Micah Nelson); Ian Mellencamp (the nephew of John Mellencamp); the Wisdom Indian Dancers, and Star Swain. Swain opened with her rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Her impromptu performance of the anthem at the Lincoln Memorial in June became a viral video, leading to her appearance at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July.
Saturday’s high-spirited show was an 11-hour celebration of American roots music – rock, country, folk, soul and R&B. It was carried live at farmaid.org and on the SiriusXM channel Willie’s Roadhouse. The back-to-back triple play of the hottest acts on this year’s bill – Rateliff, Simpson and Alabama Shakes – lent a strong blues and soul feel to the day.
As in previous years, Farm Aid 2016 was like no other festival you’ve ever seen. Here are 10 reasons why.
1. Farm Aid’s headliner is 83 years old – but you’d never know it.
It’s funny how time slips away. Willie Nelson turned 83 on April 29. To put that in perspective, consider that the oldest superstar headliner at the Desert Trip festival – dubbed “Old Chella” and taking place in Coachella, Calif., in October – is Bob Dylan, who is a mere 75. Nelson opened the afternoon set with his traditional singing of “The Lord’s Prayer” and closed the show after 11 p.m. with an all-star finale. From his nimble guitar solos on “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” (played on his battered six-string nicknamed Trigger) to his vocal romp through “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” Nelson never sounded better.
2. This is the nation’s longest-running concert for a cause.
“This is number 31,” said Nelson. First staged on Sept. 22, 1985 in Champaign, Ill., in response to that era’s farm foreclosure crisis (and inspired by a remark made by Bob Dylan two months earlier during the Live Aid benefit for Africa famine relief), Farm Aid hasn’t stopped. The organization has raised more than $50 million to promote a strong and resilient family farm system of agriculture. While the annual concert draws the headlines, Farm Aid has a staff that works year-round to keep family farmers on their land, promote the Good Food movement and help shape government food policy. John Mellencamp said he recently was asked, “Farm Aid, you guys still doing that?” He replied, “You still eating?”
3. Farmers themselves are the opening act.
At an onstage press conference before the music began, farming activists from the region shared the spotlight with the musicians. Organizers of Appalachian Harvest described their efforts to build a family-farm-based economy as an alternative to tobacco and coal industries. A nurse practitioner from Charlottesville, Va., described how connecting patients to food from family farmers through the community group Local Food Hub helped battle diabetes and other health crises. Activists with Dreaming Out Loud in Washington, D.C. described how urban farms had become a tool for community organizing. Said Neil Young: “These people are the heroes. These people are warriors for tomorrow. This revolution starts with us. Try to make sure when you buy your food, you support the people who are growing it.”
4. Farm Aid moves to a new state every year – with a purpose.
Unlike destination festivals staged on established sites, Farm Aid takes place in a different region every year, allowing the organization to connect with farmers nationwide. The Jiffy Lube Live amphitheater, which most recently hosted Farm Aid in 2000, is some 40 miles west of Washington., D.C. The week before the concert, Farm Aid-affiliated groups teamed up with the National Farmers Union to fly in 275 farm families to the nation’s capital to press for emergency aid amid a new farming crisis of falling income and rising costs. “We know that they are hurting,” says Farm Aid executive director Carolyn Mugar. “They have been left behind by their elected officials often and exploited by corporations who have so much power over their markets.”
5. For Farm Aid performers, this cause is personal.
Dave Matthews described a recent encounter with the neighbor of a North Dakota farmer, who became sick with cancer. “Then Farm Aid came in and took care of him” with financial help, Matthews was told. Margo Price, whose debut solo album is titled Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, remembered when her father lost their family farm in Illinois, during the same foreclosure crisis of the `80s that led Nelson to launch Farm Aid. Jamey Johnson spoke of his realization that “the more time I spend in my grocery store looking for food from family farms, the less time I spend in my doctor’s office.” Nathaniel Rateliff, a native of Missouri, says he was very aware of Farm Aid from its start. “Everybody was losing their farm in our region when I was a kid. Even up until 1997, I was working in a plastics factory with [Night Sweats bassist] Joseph Pope and there was an old man working with us, who had been a pig farmer. He said, `I’ll butcher and give you a pig for $80.’ The factory farms had overproduced so much pork that they’d driven the price down” and he lost his farm.
6. Pictures of pigs, potatoes and poultry.
And kale, tomatoes, tractors, silos, barns, windmills and more. Among the most striking aspects of Farm Aid’s production is the spectacular farm-centered photography projected both behind the performers and on video screens. The images this year, which powerfully complemented the performances, were the work of photographers Patty O’Brien, Molly M. Peterson, Lise Metzger and Sabine Carey.
7. The food at Farm Aid is Homegrown – with a capital H.
Homegrown Concessions – a registered trademark of Farm Aid – “is the way in which everybody who goes to a concert can eat healthy great food from family farmers,” says Farm Aid associate director Glenda Yoder. “This is our tenth year of doing this. And we make it a deal point [with the venues] that all the food on the property comes from a family farm, is produced to an ecological standard, with a fair price to the producer.” A choice menu item: the pasture-raised pork chop sandwich from Missouri’s Patchwork Family Farms cooperative has been a staple at Farm Aid since 1999.
8. Homegrown Village makes Farm Aid feel like a revival meeting.
Longtime fans of Farm Aid come for more than the music. The event is an impassioned gathering for activists involved in environmental and social justice issues, as well as farming. At Homegrown Village, an assembly of tents to the side of the amphitheater, more than 35 exhibitors discussed issues and offered farming skill sessions. Among the organizations on site this year: Food and Water Watch, the American Farmland Trust, the National Young Farmers Coalition and the Farmer Veteran Coalition.
9. The community of Farm Aid musicians is a powerful thing.
Performers at Farm Aid donate their time and travel expenses, playing this festival for love, not money. (That helps the organization earn the highest rating from charity watchdog groups.) The affection among the four core activists was clear, for example, when Young embraced Nelson onstage after a duet on “Are There Any More Real Cowboys.” Others, like Jamey Johnson, return to the Farm Aid bill each September to support its cause and share in the community. Nelson’s finale, which flowed from the gospel hymn “I’ll Fly Away” to Hank Williams’ “I Saw The Light,” drew everyone back to the stage for a spirited closing to this year’s show.
10. Willie is always on their minds.
Let a farmer have the last word. Rhonda Perry and her husband Roger Allison, hailing from Howard County, Mo., are co-founders of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center and Patchwork Family Farms, a farming cooperative that Farm Aid funding helped establish. “We’ve been involved with Farm Aid since 1985,” says Perry. She recalled when her husband and Mugar traveled by train from a rally by farmers in Ames, Iowa, to the first Farm Aid concert in Champaign, Ill. “It was one of the darkest hours that we had seen in generations of farming,” she recalls. “And as the train was going down the tracks, there were farmers on the side of the road, with flags and signs that said, `Willie is our hope.’
“To be here now, all these years later,” says Perry, “with all this energy around food and around people who care about how their food is raised, it’s incredible.”
CHAMPAIGN – Taking their cue from rock music’s Live Aid concerts for victims of African famine, country singers and other will stage a 12-hour “Farm Aid” concert here next month to help struggling American farmers.
Singer Willie Nelson told a press conference that he will be joined in the September 22 show at Memorial Stadium by Neil Young, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, John Cougar Mellencamp and Bob Dylan.
“What it really amounts to is we are going to call some attention to the farmer’s situation and raise some money and see where this money can be spent,” Nelson said.
The musicians might record a benefit album for farmers to raise money and attract attention to their plight, he said.
“I see no reason why we shouldn’t try and get everything out of this that we can,” Nelson said.
Nelson said he will meet with farm representatives from around the country to discuss how money raised by the concert should be spent. He said he thought the most immediate use would be feeding farm families.
Nelson said the group has set up a toll-free number to accept contributions: 1-800-FARM-AID.
A group of musicians came up with the idea to hold the concert after the Live Aid concerts in Philadelphia and London raised more thatn $70 million for famine relief in Africa, Nelson said.
When asked if the musicians would compose a song similar to “We Are the World”, which was recorded by dozens of rock and pop singers to promote awareness of hunger in Africa, Nelson said, “I hope someone will come up with one.”
[Thanks to Phil Weisman for this Farm Aid clipping.]
SPRINGFIELD, ILL. — Bob Dylan, the Beach boys, Huey Lewis, Billy Joel and more than a dozen other performers were added yesterday to the scheduled lineup for next month’s “Farm Aid” agriculture benefit concert.
About 78,000 tickets were to go on sale at 10 a.m. today for the Sept. 22 concert at the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
Organizers said they expect more performers to sign on for the 12-hour show.
“We knew that this would go and go big, but it is going bigger than anybody expected,” said James Skilbeck, an aide to Gov. Thompson.
Thompson proposed the concert earlier this month along with country singer Willie Nelson and rock musician John Cougar Mellancamp.
Organizers say the concert is intended to focus attention on the problems of agriculture and to raise money for needy farmers.
Other “Farm Aid” performers announced yesterday, include rock stars Daryl Hall, Don Henley, Eddie Van Halen, Sammy Hagar and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Blues guitarist B. B. King, singer-songwriters Joni Mitchell and Randy Newman and country musicians including Johnny Rodriguez, John Conlee and Delbert McClinton also were added to the line-up.
Skilbeck said Nelson and Mellencamp were recruiting more musicians for the concert. He said Bruce Springsteen was was among those contacted, but a firm answer hadn’t been received.
Stars already scheduled include Alabama, Kenny Rogers, Waylon Jennings, Neil Young, George Jones, the Charlie Daniel’s Band, Merle Haggard and Loretta Lynn.
The concert is to be televised live by cable TV’s Nashville Network.
Tickets are priced at $17.50 and a limit of six per person has been established.
[Thanks so much to Phil Weisman, from Illinois, who sent me a copy of the Front Page of the Chicago Sun-Times from Monday, September 23, 1985, the day after the first Farm Aid concert in Champaign, Illinois. One of my all time favorite posters now. I love this ]
Willie Wows 78,000
by: Andrew Herrmann
CHAMPAIGN — Some 78,000 field hands heard the calling of farm distress and lent a hand here yesterday.
And after 14 hours of nonstop country and rock music, the crops of Farm Aid were harvested.
They called it the biggest country-and-rock concert ever, but the music was merely the plow that tilled the minds of Americans to open them to problems of many of the nation’s farmers.
Backer’s hoped to raise some $50 million from the concert, the media coverage and a toll-free hotline set up to take donations.
Willie Nelson, who organized the event, said at midnight that the hotline had generated $5 million.
More than 55 entertainers played from 10 a.m. until past midnight, encompassing a rare blend of country music and rock n’ roll. And a rare blend of fans, too.
No more denying it: Our endlessly lingering evenings are gone for the season, and darkness closes in more quickly and authoritatively with each passing day.
Yes, the end of summer has sneaked up on us again despite our repeated refusals to accept such a painful truth. But now it’s Labor Day weekend, and the school year is upon us, and the corn and beans are turning color, so there’s no use in covering our eyes and ears and hiding from the cold, hard fact: Summer’s gone.
But what a beautiful song my summer sang this year, and I mean this literally. A series of concerts that my wife, Julie, and I attended might have been the high point of the season for us.
The cream of the concert crop for me was Willie Nelson’s show Aug. 3 at the Washington Pavilion. I’ve loved Willie for decades, and as a teenager in the 1970s, I wore out my copy of his “Red Headed Stranger” album. He didn’t perform any of the songs from that collection at the Pavilion, but he redeemed himself by doing my personal favorite, “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground.” Lyrics don’t come much better than “I patched up your broken wing and hung around a while, trying to keep your spirits up and your fever down.”
Yes, Willie gets a lot of credit for being a great songwriter, but as he proved again at the Pavilion, he also is brilliant on the guitar. And here’s the thing: He’s 83. He was born just after Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated into office – the first time. But, man, this child of the Great Depression pushed the pace with that guitar as if he were 20.
What could be the reason for his incredible energy at such an age? Clean living? Well, maybe not. But naturally, I like to credit Willie’s longtime pursuit of distance running as his means of cheating Father Time.
In contrast, Gordon Lightfoot’s performance at the Pavilion on June 25 required fans to make allowances for his 77 years of age. His voice didn’t do justice to the brilliant songs he has written over the decades. And maybe I was a little miffed at him for not performing my personal favorite, “That Same Old Obsession.”
The other two concerts Julie and I attended were at the Denny Sanford Premier Center. The first performer there was James Taylor, whose voice was as clear as ever on July 24 as he sang my favorite Taylor hit, “Walking Man.”
Similarly, the Doobie Brothers rocked through “Takin’ It to the Streets” on Aug. 11 as if it were 1976. Julie and I once again were mystified at how musicians who have endured the rocker lifestyle for decades have maintained such youthful energy.
Oh, Dave Mason and Journey performed that night, too, which was nice. But I was there for the Doobies, and they were there for me.
So, yes, summer’s gone, but I’m thankful for a season full of sweet songs to sustain my spirits until it comes back around again.
Asbury Park – Unfortunately, every free-wheelin’ country outlaw runs out of gas sooner or later.
Merle Haggard, one of the genre’s original tough-stuff partisans, passed away in April, joining Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings somewhere on that heavenly highway. He was soon followed by fellow desperado Guy Clark, another prolific southern troubadour, who saw the light in May.
Luckily, the gang’s old pal Willie Nelson still hangs here with us, and he’s got plenty left in the tank.
About half of Nelson’s performance was lent to tunes that weren’t solely his, from a rolling Williams medley of “Jambalaya,” “Hey Good Lookin'” and “Move It On Over,” to “It’s All Going to Pot,” his toke-happy duet with Haggard.
But Nelson, 83, never lamented in any discernible way. Instead he was cordial and quick with a smile, urging the crowd to sing the refrains to his Toby Keith collaboration “Beer for My Horses” and classic “On The Road Again.”
Nelson reached for greater notes in more wistful moments, on his set staple “Always On My Mind,” and fresher cover “Georgia On My Mind.” Nothing from his most recent recording “Summertime – Willie Nelson sings Gershwin” or upcoming release “For the Good Time – A Tribute to Ray Price,” due out Sept. 19, was played this night.
Nelson was most impressive when he stepped away from the microphone, to pick and strum his old friend Trigger. It’s a marvel that in his six-piece band, Nelson is the lone guitarist, and he took lead for several bright, twanging solos, on “Night Life” and Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through The Night.”
photo: Matt Smith
The audience, whose age ranged a good seven decades, were elated just to see Nelson at all, gushing every time he tossed one of his red bandanas in the crowd. Fans filled the parking lots and boardwalk outside the Summer Stage, just to hear one of the longest-running acts in popular music. Really, who else this side of Tony Bennett is still drawing thousands into his octogenarian years?
“It’s been a long, long time,” Nelson told the Asbury Park crowd. “… how am I doin’?”
Fine, Willie. Just fine.
THE SET LIST
“Still Is Still Moving to Me”
“Beer for My Horses” (Toby Keith cover)
“Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys” (Ed Bruce cover)
“Good Hearted Woman” (Waylon Jennings cover)
“Funny How Time Slips Away” / “Crazy” / “Night Life”
“Me and Paul”
“Bloody Mary Morning”
“It’s All Going to Pot”
“Help Me Make It Through The Night”
“Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” / “Hey Good Lookin'” / “Move It On Over” (Hank Williams cover)
“Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground”
“On the Road Again”
“Always on My Mind” (Brenda Lee cover)
“Georgia on a Fast Train” (Billy Joe Shaver cover)