Archive for the ‘News and Reviews’ Category

Stanley Dural and Buckwheat Zydeco at Willie Nelson Gershwin Prize Tribute Concert

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015


photo:  Shawn Miller

Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural of Carencro, leader of the band Buckwheat Zydeco, is part of an all-star tribute, “Willie Nelson: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.”

Dural performed with music legend Paul Simon at the Nov. 18 tribute, which was recorded at the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.

The salute to Nelson will air at 8 p.m. Jan. 15 on PBS stations nationwide. The program also will be broadcast at a later date to military men and women across the world on the Armed Forces Network.

The Gershwin Prize is given annually to recognize lifetime achievements of major composers and performers. Previous winners include Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Sir Paul McCartney and Billy Joel.

Nelson is the composer of “Funny How Times Slips Away,” “Pretty Paper,” “On the Road Again” and other country standards. On his 1994 CD, “Five Card Stud,” Dural did a duet with Nelson on one of the composer’s early creations, “Man with the Blues.”

Dural said Nelson’s award is “long overdue.”

“He’s a gentleman to the heart,” said Dural. “It don’t get no better than that.

“He’s a master genius and just a wonderful person.”

Dural did “Man with the Blues” with Simon at the tribute, which also included performances by Neil Young, Roseanne Cash, Alison Krauss, Leon Bridges and many others. Don Johnson served as master of ceremonies.

Dural was pleased to be reunited with Simon, another longtime music friend.

photo:  Shawn Miller

“We’re family,” said Dural. “You get to know people and you get a different outlook on a person.

“What really makes me respect him is that he really respects what people back here in the South do. He’s a music fanatic.”

The Nelson tribute adds to the long resume for Dural and Buckwheat Zydeco, a Grammy- and Emmy-winning band that started in 1979. The group has shared the stage and studio with Eric Clapton, U2, the Boston Pops Orchestra, B.B. King and other renowned names.

The band performed in the closing ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, which reached a TV audience of 3 billion people. They played at both inaugurations for President Bill Clinton and countless TV shows and commercials.

Dural said after 36 years of worldwide touring, he’s not ready to stop.

“I’d like to keep on doing what I’m doing — making people happy. As long as I can, that’s what I’ll do.

“You always have a younger generation. You have to move with time. Like my good friend El Sido (Sid Williams) says, ‘Wonder where you’re going but don’t forget where you come from.’

“You have to be versatile and that’s what I do. I appreciate the younger generation playing the music today. Don’t let it go. Take it to where you want to take it, but don’t forget where you come from. It brought you here, so why should you leave it.”

Want to watch?

Wllie Nelson: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song

8 p.m. Jan. 15




Willie Nelson and the Great America Songbook

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

By James Beaty

It’s fitting Willie Nelson became the first country music artist to receive the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song during a ceremony held Wednesday night at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington D.C.

He helped introduce — or re-introduce — a whole new generation to the Great American Songbook through his 1978 album “Stardust.” With the album, he pumped fresh life into songs many of the younger members of his audience previously associated more with the likes of Lawrence Welk than with America’s favorite outlaw musician.

Here was the guy who basically gave the kiss-off to the country music establishment in the early 1970s and moved from Nashville to Austin so he could do things his way. Who would have thought at the time that “his way” would evolve into recording a handful of standards — many of which were recorded years earlier by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole and others.

The album proved a revelation to me. Although I was already familiar with “Georgia on My Mind” through Ray Charles’ resplendent recording, and had heard the Righteous Brothers’ version of “Unchained Melody,” most songs on the “Stardust” album were new to me and to many others of my generation. After buying and listening to Nelson’s album, I marveled at how I had been able to make it that far through life without hearing such masterful songs such as Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust,” or Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies.” I especially liked “All of Me,” previously recorded in separate versions by Sinatra and Billie Holiday.

I felt especially taken with the album closer, a song called “Someone to Watch Over Me” — written by a couple of guys named George and Ira Gershwin.

Years before everyone from Linda Ronstadt to Rod Stewart and now even Bob Dylan recorded their own album of standards — Willie’s “Stardust” reminded everyone how a great song will live forever.

No longer were the tunes associated exclusively with performers from the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s. Willie brought a new vibrancy to songs he had heard as a kid growing up in Abbott, Texas. His band swung on the faster songs such as Duke Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and the new arrangements by Booker T. Jones enveloped ballads such as “September Song” and “Moonlight in Vermont” in layers of warmth.

One of the best things about the album proved once again to be Willie’s nimble guitar playing on the weathered classical Martin guitar he affectionately named Trigger, after the singing cowboy Roy Rogers’ storied horse. Willie’s virtuoso playing on the album, especially on “All of Me,” proved reminiscent of the style of another of my favorites — the European gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt.

During the Gershwin Award ceremony Wednesday night, Willie unleashed a surprise on the audience. He’s recorded a new album of George Gershwin standards, named “Summertime” in honor of one of Gershwin’s most enduring songs — a song Willie previously recorded with Oklahoma’s own Leon Russell on their 1979 album “One for the Road.”

Willie, at 82, remains a highly relevant artist. His release earlier this year, a collaborative effort with Merle Haggard called “Django and Jimmie” hit number one on the Billboard Country Music Album Charts and number seven on the Billboard Top 200 charts. The title is a tribute to the aforementioned Reinhardt and to Jimmie Rodgers, the man also known as the blue yodeler and Father of Country Music.

Willie also continues to constantly tour, staying on the road for much of the year, with many stops in Oklahoma.

One thing about Willie — many well-known individuals such as musicians, actors, politicians and sports figures are entirely different than their public images. Not with Willie; what you see is what you get. I’ve interviewed and met with him several times, with one of the most memorable meetings occurring after he traveled here to perform as part of McAlester’s Centennial Celebration in a concert presented by the News-Capital.

Afterwards, I met with Willie on his bus for a wide-ranging interview. One of the things I most remember is asking him about when he wrote the song “Crazy” — which Patsy Cline recorded in 1962. Did he immediately recognize it as a timeless classic of did he think of it at the time as just another song?

Willie chuckled and said “I’m just egotistical enough, I think they’re all timeless classics.”

Later, as I got ready to step off the bus, I felt like I should tell him something.

“Hey Willie,” I said, “thanks for recording ‘Stardust.’” I told him how it had started me on a lifelong love affair with the Great American Songbook and all of the great artists who had recorded or wrote those songs. He grinned slightly and gave a nod in acknowledgement. I also told him how many of the people in the McAlester area who I knew were elated about him helping McAlester celebrate its Centennial.

I turned to go, but Willie had something else to say.

“Maybe we’ll meet again down the road someday,” he said.

Nelson still stays on the road for much of the year, continuing to bring his music to the people around the nation, including Oklahoma. He has a concert scheduled for Nov. 27 at the WinStar World Casino and Resort in Thackerville.

Now, I think it’s amazing the whole nation, through the Library of Congress, has recognized Willie for his contributions to American music by awarding him the Gershwin Prize. Among the artists gathered at the ceremony to pay him tribute through song were Neil Young, Paul Simon, Allison Krauss, Roseanne Cash, Jamey Johnson, Buckwheat Zydeco and others. PBS plans to broadcast the program on Jan. 27.

Willie’s music is as relevant as today’s headlines. He closed the Gershwin concert with a song from a 1986 album, “Living in the Promiseland.” A video clip of the concert shows him saying “I think this is one of the most appropriate times we could do for this period in America,” then singing the song’s opening lines “Give us your tired and weak and we will make them strong.” The song concludes with the lines “There is a winding road, across the shifting sand, and room for everyone, living in the Promiseland.”

Although the Library of Congress provided a much more eloquent way of showing appreciation of what Willie has done for music in America and around the world, I can’t resist saying it one more time.

Thanks, Willie.

Read Mr. Beaty’s article here.

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015


photo:  Kevin Wolf
by:  Juli Thanki

WASHINGTON — Willie Nelson concerts tend to be boisterous affairs, with hippies and hillbillies dancing to the music side by side. Wednesday night’s event at the DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., a star-studded tribute to Nelson, the 2015 recipient of the Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, was a little more staid (the audience featured several members of Congress in suits and ties), but no less adoring.

“Leave it to Willie: Only he can bring together Republicans and Democrats,” joked the show’s host, actor Don Johnson.

The Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, named after songwriting team George and Ira Gershwin, celebrates a living performer and/or composer’s “lifetime achievement in promoting song to enhance cultural understanding; entertaining and informing audiences; and inspiring new generations,” according to a statement posted on the Library of Congress website.

During the concert, Nelson’s music was performed by a top-notch and diverse lineup (backed by a stellar house band led by Don Was and featuring three of Nashville’s McCrary Sisters), a testament to his enduring legacy as a singer, songwriter and performer, and his sprawling musical influence. Alison Krauss and Jamey Johnson delivered a heart-stopping rendition of the Nelson and Ray Charles duet “Seven Spanish Angels,” and Rosanne Cash sang “Pancho and Lefty,” the Townes Van Zandt song Nelson and Merle Haggard took to the top of the charts more than 30 years ago. Stellar performances from Leon Bridges, Raul Malo, Neil Young, Mexican singer Ana Gabriel (whose dramatic version of “I Never Cared for You” was sung in Spanish), Neil Young and Promise of the Real, Buckwheat Zydeco, Edie Brickell and inaugural Gershwin Prize recipient Paul Simon rounded out the 90-minute show, which was taped for later broadcast on PBS.

Acting Librarian of Congress David Mao presents Willie
Acting Librarian of Congress David Mao presents Willie Nelson with the 2015 Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2015 in Washington. (Photo: Kevin Wolf / AP)
Nelson already recorded the Gershwins’ “Someone to Watch Over Me” on his classic album “Stardust,” but on Wednesday he revealed that he has finished recording an entire album of Gershwin songs. Called “Summertime,” it is scheduled for release Jan. 15, the same day the tribute concert will premiere on PBS. Near the end of the evening, Nelson performed one of the songs from that forthcoming album, a playful duet of “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” with Cyndi Lauper.

During one of the concert’s most emotional moments, Nelson sang “Living in the Promiseland” with his sons Lukas and Micah. It was, he said, “one of the most appropriate songs” he could play, considering current events. The Nelsons’ performance earned them one of the night’s multiple standing ovations.

Nelson, who called the Gershwin Prize “one of the greatest things to happen in my life,” closed the concert by inviting all of the evening’s musical guests back onstage to perform “On the Road Again” as the audience clapped and sang along. At 82, Nelson has been making music for more than half a century, and as the performances in D.C. proved, his legacy will live on for decades to come.

This day in Willie Nelson history: “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” published (11/13/12)

Friday, November 13th, 2015

Willie Nelson’s book, “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” was published on November 13, 2015.
Nashville Skyline
Chet Flippo

Willie Nelson’s new memoir is largely episodic, made up of randomMusings From the Road, as the book’s subtitle reads. In many ways, it reads like cloudy memories and sudden observations churned up during a dreamy, long, twilight reverie fueled by thick clouds of fragrant ganja smoke.

The fully-titled Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die also includes many photographs from over the years. Many of these are also dreamlike images and have never been published before.

The book itself is slim and modest, perhaps 6 by 9 inches, even in hardback, and — at only 175 pages long — is almost the size of a prayer book. I’m sort of surprised that this book wasn’t published on special rolling papers bound into a deluxe hemp folder.

It is best read episodically, a tiny bit at a time, rather than being absorbed in one rapid gulp. Small bites are good, like nibbles of popcorn during a leisurely, slow-paced movie.

By now, so many decades into his fabled life and career, Willie fans pretty much know what to expect from him. And he does not let his readers down with his Musings From the Road.

Kinky Friedman’s foreword to the book also does not disappoint. In summing up Willie’s abandonment of Nashville for Texas, he writes, “Willie told the Nashville music establishment the same words Davy Crockett had told the Tennessee political establishment: ‘Y’all can go to hell — I’m going to Texas.’”

Willie’s voice in the book is that of a gentle and knowing, but aging wise-ass. With a sense of humor. Here’s one of his jokes I can repeat here:

“A drunk fell out of a second-floor window. A guy came running up and asked, ‘What happened?’ The drunk said, ‘I don’t know. I just got here.’”

This amounts to a surprisingly succinct account of Willie’s life and career, told through his remembrances and sections told by his wife, children, other relatives, his band and many of his friends. And also many of the lyrics to his songs. It amounts to a scrapbook summary of his childhood, his adulthood, his family, his band and his life in music.

He begins with memories of a happy childhood in Abbott, Texas, where he and sister Bobbie were raised by their grandparents after their parents more or less went their own way. They grew up in an atmosphere of love, the church and music. Bobbie is still in Willie’s band and cooks for him on the bus. They return to Abbott as often as possible.

Willie recalls he began drinking and smoking at age 6. He would gather a dozen eggs, take them to the grocery store and trade them for a pack of Camel cigarettes. He preferred Camels, because he liked the picture of the camel on the pack. “After all, I was only 6. They were marketing directly to me!”

He became addicted to both cigarettes and drinking and finally kicked both habits — especially after his lungs began hurting — and traded them for a life of weed. After he was busted in Texas for weed, he formed the Teapot Party, which advocates legalization and he writes quite a bit about that in the book. He has, he writes, lost many friends and relatives to cigarettes and alcohol, but he knows of no marijuana fatalities.

He is happiest now, he writes, in his house’s hideout room on Maui, which his brother-in-law named “Django’s Orchid Lounge.” The “Orchid Lounge” part, of course, is obvious, from the Nashville beer joint where Willie got his Nashville start. “Django” is from the great gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, whom Willie feels is the greatest guitarist of all time. Ray Price, by the way, is Willie’s choice for the greatest country singer of all time.

Willie loves to sit in his Django’s Orchid Lounge and play dominoes and poker and chess with many of his Maui friends and such visitors as Ziggy Marley and Woody Harrelson while wife Annie cooks for everyone.

In addition to the photographs, Willie’s son, Micah, contributes several drawings.

Since the book is episodic, I can be, too. Here is my favorite self-description by Willie: “I have been called a troublemaker a time or two. What the hell is a troublemaker? you ask. Well, it’s someone who makes trouble; that’s what he came here to do, and that’s what he does, by God. Like it or not, love it or not, he will stir it up. Why? Because it needs stirring up! If someone doesn’t do it, it won’t get done, and you know you love to stir it up. … I know I do.”

Listen carefully to the music and the words of Willie. He is one of the few true giants to inhabit country music, and — when he and his few remaining fellow giants are gone — there’ll be no live artists remaining to remind the world of the true truth and majesty of great country music.

Willie Nelson, “The Great Divide”

Monday, November 2nd, 2015

The Great Divide
Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson never stops surprising us.  From poppy chart-breaking duets to honkytonk to movie soundtracks to straight, classic country, Nelson’s not afraid to tackle anything musically.

But despite all of his surprises, ‘The Great Divide’ still manages to shock.  It’s an album that shatters musical barriers and his own stereotype while proving he’s one of the most innovative performers to ever walk the earth.

Taking a cue from Santana, ‘The Great Divide’ is an all-star event, but unlike ‘Supernatural,’ where guest vocalists help provide the basis for Santana’s  fret work, Nelson is definitely out front here, only assisted by the fellow superstars he enlists.

The result is overwhelming, with all 12 tracks offering diverse experiences but all containing Nelson’s unique sound and fine ability to tell a story.

While only one song is written by Nelson — the moody, stellar title track with guitarist Jackie King — the album is trademark Nelson.

The opening track ‘Maria:  Shut Up and Kiss Me’ with matchbox twenty Rob Thomas contains a simple melody and catchy chorus that has enough energy to become a new anthem for Nelson.  Lee Ann Womack show sup for a great duet on ‘Mendocino County Line’; Sheryl Crow helps make ‘Be There For You’ the most grandiose tune here; and Bonnie Raitt, as always, comes through on the unforgettable ‘You Remain.’

While Brian McKnight can also be found on ‘Don’t Fade Away,’ the surprise of the year comes on the album’s best track, ‘Last Stand in Open Country,’ with — prepare yourself — Kid Rock, who adds some backup singing (not rapping) for an electrifying tune that stands as the best rock song Nelson may have ever recorded.

Too bad ‘The Great Divide’ was released in January.  By the time the Grammys arrive next year and the critics roll out their top 10 lists, ‘The Great Divide’ may not be remembered.  That’s unfortunate because this latest offering from this musical pioneer is about as good as it gets.

— Scott Cronick

Track List:

Maria (Shut Up And Kiss Me)
Last Stand In Open Country
Won’t Catch Me Cryin’
Be There For You
The Great Divide
Just Dropped In (To see what condition my condition was in)
This Face
Don’t Fade Away
Time After Time
Recollection Phoenix
You Remain

Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard in Green Bay (Oct. 25, 20150

Monday, October 26th, 2015


photo:  Mike Peters
by:  Kendra Meinert

It played out as legendary on stage as it looked printed on the ticket: “Willie Nelson together in concert with Merle Haggard.”

The pair of American icons — the one in braids, 82, and and the one in shades, 78 — brought more than a century of combined country music to the Resch Center Theatre on Sunday night for a master class in how it’s done, old-school and outlaw.

photo by:  Mike Peters

That meant Haggard sent “The Bottle Let Me Down” out to “all the female drunks in the house,” and included himself when he said, “This next number is for all the ex-convicts here …” before giving rugged voice to “Sing Me Back Home,” his beautifully sad 1967 eulogy to a fellow San Quentin inmate.

The Hag has done time, and Nelson has done weed, and both came up during an evening in which the two longtime friends and collaborators effortlessly wandered in and out of each other’s 70-minute sets to the giddy delight of a sold-out crowd of 5,733.

“Our next song is about marijuana. I don’t know much about it, but I know someone who does,” Haggard said, as he and Nelson did “Okie From Muskogee” with its well-known opening line: “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee.” It turned into an audience sing-along. Seeing two classics sing a classic, well, that felt a little like the country music equivalent of just witnessing a double rainbow. You never know whether you’ll see another.

Country music legends Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard,

They sang four songs together, including the title track and “Reasons to Quit” off their 1983 hit duets album “Pancho & Lefty” as well as the cheeky “It’s All Going to Pot” from this year’s joint album, “Django and Jimmie.” They’re kindred musical spirits for sure, and those performances with side-by-side, laid-back legends were some of the best of the night.

Haggard returned after his set to join Nelson for more than half of his set as a guitar player, happy to blend in with the rest of the band but still looking like the coolest guy in the room.

The concert was a contrast in bands.


Haggard, whose music leans more honky tonk, was backed by The Strangers, a nine-piece band he said has been on the payroll since 1965 (when Lyndon B. Johnson was president, by the way). Two of his sons, Noel on backup vocals and Ben on lead guitar — from different “litters” as they joked during a three-song opening set — and his wife, Theresa, are in the band. Sax player Renato Caranto was the difference maker on “Silver Wings” and a smokin’ “Workin’ Man Blues,” and the prominence of pedal steel gave the music its old-time sound.

As tight as the band was, it was welcome when it stepped aside and let Haggard’s vocals handily carry “The Way I Am.” He looked to be having the most fun of the night when he grabbed the fiddle for a free-wheeling “Take Me Back to Tulsa” that brought the crowd to its feet.

Nelson, by contrast, was backed by just five musicians, for a free-ranging, sometimes offbeat and always adventurous set of country, jazz and blues, all stamped by the voice that has made him an American treasure. Nobody else sounds like Willie, whether he’s doing “Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” like he’s telling a story around a campfire or a fast, stark version of “Beer for My Horses” that made it nearly unrecognizable from the slick radio hit it was with Toby Keith.


Trigger, his trusty, tattered guitar since 1969, grabbed the spotlight for “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” — a reminder that Nelson’s artistry is as much about his guitar playing as his singing and songwriting, He traveled quickly from song to song, foregoing any chit-chat, to fit in 22 of them, name-dropping works from Tom T. Hall, Hank Williams and Billy Joe Shaver.

By night’s end, several of his signature red bandanas tossed to the crowd, it was the more the merrier on stage. Haggard was still playing guitar, and several of The Strangers joined the joyous, gospel send-off of “I’ll Fly Away” and “I Saw the Light,” with Nelson prompting the crowd to clap along.

The songs will go on forever, but that indelible image of Haggard and Nelson together onstage playing them, that’s a Green Bay memory that might not come around again. and follow her on Twitter @KendraMeinert.

See more great photos:

Willie Nelson & Family and Fans in Milwaukee (10/24/15)

Sunday, October 25th, 2015
(Thanks to Paul Martell for sharing photos and stories from last night’s Willie Nelson & Family and Merle Haggard show in Milwaukee.]
I just wanted to touch base and share some pictures and a quick review of the show last night in Milwaukee. I was a bit concerned with Willie’s recent postponed concerts due to health but was quickly relieved once the performance started. There is no doubt Willie is back on top of his game.
The concert was remarkable!! Merle and the Strangers fantastic – Willie joining them mesmerizing, Willie and Family at the top of their game and then Merle joining them to close the show  – remarkable. Of all of the concerts I have been at, this truly was one that I hold at the top. A night in heaven.
Willie is back at the top of his game.
Here are a few photos that you can share with the followers.
Paul Martell

Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard in Milwaukee (SOLD OUT)

Sunday, October 25th, 2015
Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson performing at the Milwaukee Theater. Milwaukee, WI. October 24th, 2015. All photos by Benjamin Wick.

Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson performing at the Milwaukee Theater. Milwaukee, WI. October 24th, 2015. All photos by Benjamin Wick.

Here are more of his great photos:

photos:  Benjamin Wick
by:  Piet Levy

There’s a mathematical formula for Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard’s sold-out Milwaukee Theatre show Saturday night: 2 + 41 = 1.

No, I’m not stoned out of my mind on Nelson’s favorite wacky tabacky.

Saturday, you had two country music legends sharing the bill, and for long stretches the stage. Nelson may be 82, Haggard 78, but the longtime friends (and, arguably, musical soul mates) performed together and separately with the same gravitas and spark that will immortalize their legacies.

With their sets combined, they touched on 41 songs, hits and classics from “Big City” to “Mama Tried” to “Crazy” to “On the Road Again.”

And when you add everything up, you had one of the best concerts of the year.

Saturday marked one of Nelson’s first shows after canceling a few gigs due to illness, and he seemed completely rejuvenated. The “Still” solo was rugged yet stunning–thick and twangy one second, fast and nimble the next, like a flamenco dancer–expressed with the same significance as the oxygen Nelson deeply inhaled whenever he let loose. His blues solo on “Night Life,” a memorable moment from that last Milwaukee show, was even rowdier, before Nelson put a bow on it with the melody from “Jingle Bells.” And even with a subdued five-piece behind him–including younger sis Bobbie on piano, and the night’s MVP, harmonica player Mickey Raphael–“Beer for My Horses,” Nelson’s singalong with Toby Keith, was crafted with the same exotic flourishes you might expect from a bold microbrew.

And while the set’s fast pace felt rushed last time, Saturday, it was breathless and exhilarating, largely because Nelson played with such passion, and consistently sang with tenderness and warmth. It was as if he was challenging the crowd to keep up, running through 24 songs in 70 minutes without losing an emotional beat, from the thick-as-thieves staple “Me and Paul” (with its funny little reference to Milwaukee); to the aching “Always on My Mind;” to back-to-back spirituals “I’ll Fly Away” and “I Saw the Light” that saw scores of people dancing like giddy fools in the aisles.

And to think, this was all preceded by Haggard’s own exceptional 70-minute set. At nine people, his band was nearly twice the size of Nelson’s, and included a fiddle, steel guitar and saxophone. But the polish never overshadowed Haggard’s grit. His guitar work on “Silver Wings” may have been choppy, but it was the right kind of woozy on “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink.” He was appropriately somber for “If I Could Only Fly”–and the band appropriately reserved–but his deadpan delivery on “Are the Good Times Really Over” made the 33-year-old punchlines funny and fresh. And for a riotous cover of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” Haggard embraced the words “Just to watch him die” with delicious, devilish glee the Man in Black would most certainly admire.

Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson performing at the Milwaukee Theater. Milwaukee, WI. October 24th, 2015. All photos by Benjamin Wick.

Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson performing at the Milwaukee Theater. Milwaukee, WI. October 24th, 2015. All photos by Benjamin Wick.

But the best parts of the night were when Nelson and Haggard were side by side. For the last 10 songs of Nelson’s closing set, Haggard was a welcomed member of the band; the highlight being some boogie woogie backing on electric guitar during “Move It On Over.” Then for the last five songs of Haggard’s set, the men were proper duet partners. It didn’t matter much that Nelson forgot some words during a jazzy “Pancho and Lefty;” the friends were clearly having fun together, whether it was Nelson hilariously dismissing marijuana and long hair on Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee,” or the pair grinning through the cheeky “It’s All Going to Pot,” their single from this year’s collaborative album “Django and Jimmie.”

And it may all be going to pot, but these two definitely aren’t.

Find out about the week’s must-see shows, concert tickets and more in the newsletter “Piet Levy’s Music Picks.” Subscribe at

Piet talks about concerts, local music and more on “TAP’d In” with Jordan Lee, 8 a.m. Thursdays on WYMS-FM (88.9).


?The audience was truly all ages, from eighty-somethings to a boy who looked to be eight front and center, wearing a red bandanna like Nelson, frequently singing along and cheering and bouncing like he was at a Packers game. Nelson naturally noticed the boy, looking him in the eye as he sang some songs, and tossing him his own bandanna during a cover of Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya (On the Bayou).”

?That boy wasn’t the only one who got a special souvenir; Nelson stayed behind for five minutes after the show to shake hands and sign countless autographs.

?It felt like practically every single person in the 4,000-capacity Milwaukee Theatre wandered up near the stage to take a picture. Nelson didn’t seem to mind, frequently nodding toward smartphone-packing fans, and even security helped some kneeling amateur photogs back up to their feet.

?Bobbie Nelson wasn’t the only relative on stage. Haggard was backed by youngest son Ben Haggard–a talented guitarist in his own right. Second-born Noel Haggard sang lead for the first two songs and backing vocals for his father, and Haggard’s wife Theresa sang backing vocals too, and sang alongside Nelson’s daughter Amy at the end.

?Best merch item: Willie Nelson for President posters. (Take that Trump, and Kanye)



1. “Dealing with the devil”

2. “Bad News”


1. “Big City”

2. “Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star”

3. “Silver Wings”

4. “Folsom Prison Blues”

5. “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink”

6. “If I Could Only Fly”

7. “Mama Tried”

8. “If We Make It Through December”

9. “Are the Good Times Really Over (I Wish a Buck Was Still Silver)”

10. “Footlights”

11. “That’s The Way Love Goes”

12. “Working Man Blues”

13. “Milk Cow Blues” (with Willie Nelson, on stage for the rest of the set)

14. “It’s All Going to Pot”

15. “Reasons to Quit”

16. “Pancho and Lefty”

17. “Okie from Muskogee”


1. “Whiskey River”

2. “Still is Still Moving to Me”

3. “Beer for My Horses”

4. “Good Hearted Woman”

5. “Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”

6. “Funny How Time Slips Away”

7. “Crazy”

8. “Night Life”

9. “Down Yonder” (instrumental led by Bobbie Nelson)

10. “Me and Paul”

11. “If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time”

12. “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground”

13. “On the Road Again”

14. “Always on My Mind”

15. “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)”

16. “Hey, Good Lookin'”

17. “Move It On Over”

18. “Georgia On My Mind”

19. “I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train”

20. “Shoeshine Man”

21. “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die”

22. “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”

23. “I’ll Fly Away”

24. “I Saw the Light”

About Piet Levy

author thumbnailPiet Levy covers music for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and For more music updates, you can also follow him on Facebook and Instagram?.

Willie Nelson & Family in Detroit (10/20/15)

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

photo by Ken Settle
by: Gary Graff

DETROIT — Out in the Fox Theatre lobby you could buy a Willie Nelson For President poster.

And if those attending the show Tuesday night, Oct. 20, had their way, Nelson would win in a landslide, with tourmate Merle Haggard a healthy second in command.

Pancho and Lefty are riding again this fall, celebrating their sixth recorded collaboration — “Django and Jimmie,” which came out in June — and a longtime friendship as kindred, outlaw spirits of the country music world. Now re-classified as grizzled Americana legends, they were entertaining, if not always successful, on Tuesday, each delivering plenty of career favorites though, interestingly, only delivering one song track “Django and Jimmie,” the crowd-pleasing “It’s All Going To Pot,” among the 43 songs played between them.

The crowd came to see Nelson AND Haggard together, of course, and the duo, playing its second show of the tour after canceling the first three when Nelson fell ill, did not disappoint. Haggard brought on Nelson — preceded by his famously battered acoustic guitar, which got its own ovation — for the final four songs of his set — including an impromptu rendition of “Milk Cow Blues,” Townes Van Zant’s “Pancho and Lefty” and the Haggard staple “Okie From Muskogee.” Those were true duets, whereas Haggard’s role on stage during most of Nelson’s portion of the show was less well-defined, limited to occasional guitar solos until he started singing backing vocals on the show-closing medley of spiritual favorites such as “I Saw The Light,” “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “I’ll Fly Away.”

That kind of casualness is a hallmark of Nelson’s performances these days, however. He and his stripped-down, five-piece took a brisk roll through two dozen songs in just 70 minutes, with Nelson sharing solos with sister Bobbie Nelson on piano and longtime harmonica player Mickey Raphael. The songs were quick but not entirely tossed off, often packaged in medleys and sometimes taking a minute to reveal themselves, as in the Dylanesque rendering of “Beer For My Horses.”

It’s worth noting, too, that Nelson took more time leaving the stage and bidding fans farewell at the end of the show than he did playing any individual song.

But he covered all the necessary bases, whether it was anthems such as “Whiskey River,” “On the Road Again” or “Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” or more delicate, jazzy blues fare like “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Crazy,” “The Night Life” and “Always on My Mind.” Nelson, in fact, has adopted the Dylan philosophy that all songs are open to interpretation, particularly the vocal delivery, which led to intriguing treatments of material such as “Me and Paul” and a Hank Williams medley of “Jambalaya (On the Bayou),” “Hey Good Lookin’ “ and “Move It On Over.” And “roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” which Nelson introduced as “a new gospel song we wrote,” became an instant fan favorite — and was even played over the P.A. after the houselights came up.

Haggard’s set was a bit more polished — as it had to be with a nine-piece band behind him — but only a bit; there was even a moment when he started a song that wasn’t on the set list before being halted by the other players. But his nearly 70 minutes covered plenty of territory, too, from the Texas sing of “Big City” to the weepy strains of “Silver Wings” and the upbeat groove of “Mama Tried.” He played fiddle on one instrumental but was more than happy to let the group members pass the musical ball around, even deferring on the guitar solos.

It was all undeniably rough and tumble, but the magnitude of the pair’s personalities and their material ultimately won out — and made the Fox faithful hope for more collaborations between the two in the future.

Micah Nelson, “My dad is fine.”

Thursday, October 15th, 2015


Micah Nelson and Neil Young #RebelContentTour
photo:  Candy Butterscotch

When Willie Nelson cut his hair a few years back, it led the evening news around the world.  So, no surprise, that it is big news when Willie cancels a show, postpones a couple shows, especially with his friend Merle Haggard. He is loved by so many.  Son Micah Nelson wrote this on his website about his dad’s health, to make us all feel better.

“Hey folks —

I just want everyone to know that like with most media, my dads health has been blown waaaaaay out of proportion. My dad is fine. He’s recovering from a stem cell operation he just had to aid his lungs so naturally he’s not running any marathons today, but he’s getting better. There’s no tragic news. The prayers and thoughts are appreciated very much, but it’s really not as big a deal as some people would like you to think. Everyone can chill ! It’s all good.


Micah Nelson

Willie Nelson and merle Haggard Postpone Shows

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015

by:  Stephen Betts

Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard have been forced to postpone the start of their 2015 Django and Jimmie Tour due to a health issue concerning the 82-year-old Nelson. The trek was slated to begin on Thursday (October 15th) in Florence, South Carolina, but a representative for the legendary country singer-songwriter confirms the date had to be rescheduled. A new date will be announced for sometime next year.

Friday’s performance in Roanoke, Virginia, has also been postponed, but not as far into the future: Nelson and Haggard will now perform on Monday, October 19th. Fans in Reading, Pennsylvania, however, weren’t so lucky — the Saturday, October 17th, show scheduled for the Santander Arena has been canceled entirely.

While the nature of Nelson’s illness is unknown, the fact that he’ll return to the road on Sunday, October 18th, suggests he is doing well. He’ll perform that day at the American Roots Music and Arts Festival at Walnut Creek Amphitheater in Raleigh, North Carolina, a date that was not part of the Django and Jimmie trek.

Nelson and Haggard are longtime friends and collaborators, first meeting at a poker game at Nelson’s Nashville home in 1964, when they were both struggling songwriters. In 1982, they recorded their first duet LP, Pancho and Lefty, and their latest collaboration, Django and Jimmie, topped the country chart when it was released in June. The title is a tribute to their musical heroes, guitarist Django Reinhardt and the Father of Country Music, Jimmie Rodgers.

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Willie Nelson shows re-scheduled

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015


Willie Nelson has postponed two shows, and cancelled one show.  His website posted this:

Unfortunately Willie has been feeling under the weather so a couple dates have been rescheduled and one cancelled. Sorry for the inconvenience.

10/15 Florence, SC is rescheduled to 4/6/16
10/16 Roanoke, VA is rescheduled to 10/19
10/17 Reading, PA has been Cancelled

All tickets will be honored for the new dates. Refunds are available at point of purchase for fans who will not be able to attend the new date.

Willie Nelson & Family at the Blue Hills Bank Pavillion (8/21/15)

Friday, October 9th, 2015

photo:  Jennifer Bronenkant
by: Jed Gottlieb

At 82, Willie Nelson is still searching.

Like Bob Dylan or Jerry Garcia or Frank Sinatra, age won’t stop the search. Or even slow it.

Last night at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion, Nelson and his family carried on the journey, the quest for… well, not perfection. That’s too precise an idea. Maybe exaltation. Another show, another chance to elevate the crowd into the mystic.

Starting — as always — with “Whisky River,” Willie smashed half a dozen songs into one long jam. Rearranging vocal melodies and inventing new time signatures to suit his fancy, he strung together “Still Is Still Moving to Me,” “Beer for My Horses,” “Good Hearted Woman,” “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.” “Funny How Time Slips Away,” and “Crazy.” Before a final drum beat, he would deliver a quick thank you and ramble into the next song’s first chord.

So many old musicians pack their stage with horns and backup singers, an extra guitarist or a couple of keyboard players. They want to fill out the sound, stuff the sonic experience so fat you can’t hear the holes. Not Willie. He did everything with only a bass, snare drum and harmonica backing up his voice and his guitar, Trigger.

And oh, that guitar. Nobody plays with the raw liberty of Willie. At moments he attacked like Johnny Ramone if Johnny had been born in 1933 in Abbott, Texas. Later he slurred guitar lines like Django Reinhardt after a bottle of corn mash moonshine. Then he’d drop in a clear, lyrical line (like on “Always on My Mind”) letting everyone know he plays what the song deserves.

He might have kept going like until the house lights came on but eventually he had to bring out sister Bobbie, who at 84 plays a mean honky tonk on her grand piano. Instead of hampering the pace, Bobbie pushed the tempo when called for. The quintet stomped through a Hank Williams medley of “Jambalaya on the Bayou/Hey Good Looking/Move It On Over” like the roadhouse band they’ve always been.

Helping close this chapter of the quest, opening band Old Crow Medicine Show — a perfect tour companion and genius string band (plus a little drums) — joined Willie and family to sing “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” and “I’ll Fly Away.” A little cheek and a little gospel to send everyone home.

God, I hope Willie keeps on with search for a while. But when it does end, I’ll remember being lucky enough to join him on the path a few times.

Bonus track: The great Tim Gearan hosted a de facto afterparty at Atwood’s. A dozen people from the Willie show came to see Gearan journey down that rock ‘n’ roll road of exaltation.

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Willie Nelson art wins Best of Show in Lubbock

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

by:  Ashlyn Tubbs

When walking through the South Plains Fair Art Show, one particular painting tends to turn heads. It’s the details – the calculated wrinkles and eye twinkles that make fairgoers stop in their tracks.

The portrait is framed in the Golden Age group display, for artists over 65 years old, but the artist who painted this piece, “Marti” Martinez, is defying all odds at age 68.

“It’s a painting of Willie Nelson, an oil painting, and I decided to enter it,” Martinez said. “I really don’t know about the techniques…I just do it. It took me about two weeks to do it.”

Martinez barely made the deadline to enter the competition.

“I couldn’t do it at the house, because I have too many grandkids around,” he said. “So, I went to my mom’s house and finished it about an hour and a half before I got it here.”

But that’s only one of the many challenges Martinez has faced.

“I started doing pencil art while I was in Vietnam,” he said. “When I had time…and I wasn’t getting shot at.”

After Martinez returned from his service, he took art courses in college, but there were more challenges to come.

Ten years ago, Martinez said he was painting a wall mural for a local business when 480 volts went through him.

“I used to do all their artwork,” he said, “and I got electrocuted.”

“I had to come back with a lot of therapy to get my artwork back,” he said. “I was like a little kid, the drawings that I did after the electrocution…it wasn’t me.”

Martinez had to relearn everything.

“I had brain damage,” he said, “and it took me a while to get it back.”

But with hard work and dedication, he managed to create his next painting – a portrait of an Indian that took him over a year to complete.

“It’s something that I want to do,” Martinez said. “I’m getting to the age where I don’t want to have anything else to do but that. I’m 68 right now, so that’s about all I can do.”

His next painting was of a group of horses, based on a historical carving.

“I’ve entered [the] two of them at the fair,” he said, “and they’ve gotten best of show also and first place.”

Martinez jokes that “he’s back”, and this time he hopes it is for good.

“Now that I’m out of hard times, I can bring it back every year if they want me to,” he said.

KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

Willie Nelson & Family clouse out the Pilgrimage Festival (9/27/15)

Monday, September 28th, 2015

by:  Juli Thanki

The first Pilgrimage Music and Cultural Festival featured a lot of top-notch musical talent, but no one captivated the crowd like music legend Willie Nelson, who closed the Franklin-based festival in style Sunday night.

As the setting sun cast an orange glow over the Midnight Sun stage on Harlinsdale Farm, Nelson and his longtime backing band, The Family, began their 75-minute set with his trademark opener, “Whiskey River.” He followed that song with one classic after another, and the audience sang along with every word, from “Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” to an uptempo version of “Good Hearted Woman” to the rollicking “On the Road Again.” Midway through his performance, Nelson paid tribute to Hank Williams with playful renditions of “Hey, Good Lookin’,” “Jambalaya” and “Move It On Over,” then ended his show with Williams’ “I Saw the Light.”

Nelson also played a couple of his newer songs: “It’s All Going to Pot” (a duet on “Django and Jimmie,” his recent album with Merle Haggard) and 2012’s “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” (also the title of one of his books) were the ones that got the biggest crowd reaction.

He didn’t waste a minute of his time slot, simply uttering, “Thank you; I hear you” after a song before launching into another one. At 82 Nelson has been in the music business for more than half a century. He still tours exhaustively and releases albums regularly. Like his beloved guitar and longtime musical sidekick, Trigger, Nelson’s a little worn around the edges after thousands of shows and millions of miles; however, he remains a consummate performer with an unparalleled body of work. Long live Willie.