Archive for the ‘News and Reviews’ Category

Willie: A memoir as straight forward as his songs

Saturday, January 28th, 2017

[Thanks again to Phil Weisman, for sending me this newspaper clipping/review.  The Chicago Sun-Times gave over 1/2 page to the photo and review.]

Chicago Sun Times
Sunday, November 6, 1988
by: Don McLeese

Willie
An Autobiography
Willie Nelson and Bud Shrake

With his autobiography, Willie Nelson not only gets the chance to set the record straight, he offers the same opportunity to his ex-wives.  Take, for example, the fabled incident from his first marriage in which his wife was so upset at finding him drunk again that she sewed him up between two bed sheets and proceeded to whack him out of his stupor with a broom handle.

Ridiculous, says Martha Jewel Mathews, who became Willie’s first wife when she was just 16.  “How dumb could I have to be to try to sew Willie into a bed sheet?” she asks in one of the book’s “Chorus” sections, which allow many of those who share Nelson’s life to give their side of the story.  “You know how long that would take to sit there and take stitch after stitch?”

“The truth is, I tied him up with the kids’ jumping ropes before I beat the hell out of him.”

Written with Bud Shrake (a former writer with Sports Illustrated and Nelson’s collaborator on the “Songwriter” film), Willie is not one of those show-biz sagas that is designed to reinforce an image, to celebrate the myth while sanitizing the man.  Neither is it a titilatting “tell-all” account, using scandal to boost sales.  As straightforward in its honesty as the best of Nelsons songs, the book offers a matter-of-fact, refreshingly frank account of how Willie Nelson came to be what he is, and how he feels about what he has become.

What he is, although he’s too modest in Willie to make the claim himself, is the greatest artist that country music has known since the late Hank Williams.  He’s also something of a sagebrush mystic, a believer in “reincarnation and the laws of Karma,” an environmentalist, an avid golfer, a long-distance jogger, a guy who gets along great with women until he marries them, and a firm believer in the medicinal powers of marijuana.

As an account of this life (Nelson apparently doesn’t remember much from previous incarnations), Willie doesn’t adhere to strict chronology, but most of the pertinent facts are here.  It relates his musical beginnings as a cotton-picking, mud-eating child who played guitar at 6, considered himself a “serious songwriter” at 8 and was a veteran at 11 of the polka-band circuit in small town Texas.

It shows his emergency as a hit songwriter, though his early efforts often proved more lucrative for others than they were for Nelson himself.  He sold all rights to “Night Life,” which has since been recorded by more than 70 artists, for $150.  “At the time he needed the money,” he explains, and the fact that the song was a hit “encouraged me to think I could write a lot more songs that were just as good.”

The country music establishment in Nashville never came to terms with Nelson’s artistry.  Though his “Crazy” was a smash for Patsy Cline, and “Hello Walls” did as well for Faron Young.  Nelson’s music had a sophistication beyond three chords, and his singing was too down-home conversational.  Eventually, Nelson returned to Texas, where he was branded an “outlaw” for following his own best instincts.

He has since progressed from barroom stages to stadium concerts, and now travels on his own Learjet, as well as by bus, while continuing to follow his own instincts.  The mythic “Red Headed Stranger”, a musical fable about frontier justice, was an unlikely candidate for mainstream acceptance, but it gave Nelson his popular breakthrough.  His record company advised against his “Stardust” collection of standards, and it won him a larger audience than ever.

In addition to offering plenty of advice beyond the usual bromides for those bent on a musical career, the autobiography documents the spiritual development of the man known to much of Texas as “Saint Willie.”  An inspiring as his progression from honky-tonk hotheadedness to metaphysical bliss may be there’s no question that Nelson’s contentment has cost him some musical creativity.

He admits that he writes from need, from hunger, and he maintains that for him to return to writing a “sad, negative song” would be bad karma.  Leaving songs of whiskey-drenched heartbreak behind, he finds it easier to record duets with the likes of Julio Iglesias.

The “Chorus” sections provide a more rounded portrait of the artist than most autobiographies offer, but the book would be even better balanced if it featured someone who isn’t just wild about Willie.  (His third wife, from whom Nelson is estranged, isn’t included within the interviews.  However as furious they might once have been at him, his ex-wives remain fond of Nelson; his friends from the scuffling days are still his friends; his band and business associates are unwaveringly loyal.

Even a man whose wife ran away with Nelson (to become the second Mrs. Nelson) proclaims that “IF there’s any man I’d like to run off with my wife, it would be WIllie Nelson.”

 

 

“Seven Spanish Angels” — new Austin beer, with nod to Willie Nelson

Friday, January 27th, 2017


photo:  Bob Tilden

http://thefederalist.com
by:  Brad Jackson

If there is one person who embodies Texas as a spirit, a people, a nation, it’s Willie Nelson. The man is literally a living legend. It doesn’t matter who you are, politician, celebrity, average Joe—when you’re in the presence of Willie, when you get a chance to see him perform, it’s amazing.

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Willie Nelson perform many times, most recently with The Federalist’s own Ben Domenech at last year’s Austin City Limits Music Festival. That day Willie was joined on stage by a dozen people, including other musicians who were performing at the festival, his family, and the man who serves as his unofficial sidekick, the man who introduced him to the tens of thousands of people in the crowd, Matthew McConaughey.

The musicians who joined Willie on stage, including Margo Price and Nathaniel Rateliff, sang along on several songs. He went well past his allotted time singing encore after encore, but no one stopped him, because he’s Willie. It was an incredible show!

One of Willie’s best songs is a duet with another music legend, the one and only Ray Charles. “Seven Spanish Angels” is a classic the duo first recorded in the 1980s. An old-school country ballad, the song tells the story of bandits trying to evade the law. The couple is on the run in Mexico and in a last-stand gunfight they know they can’t win. Instead of being taken back to Texas, they go down in a blaze of glory. As Willie and Ray Charles tell it:

There were seven Spanish angels
At the altar of the sun
They were prayin’ for the lovers
In the valley of the gun
When the battle stopped and the smoke cleared
There was thunder from the throne
And seven Spanish angels
Took another angel home

It’s one of the saddest country songs you’ve ever heard, and the two music legends sing it so well. It’s a song that deserves a toast to the lovers brave enough to go down guns blazing, to be together forever “at the altar of the sun,” and thanks to Brazos Valley Brewing Company, there is the perfect beer to do that: Seven Spanish Angels Coffee Ale.

I’ve talked about coffee beers before, but what makes this one different is the base it is built upon. Most coffee beers are porters or stouts, but this one is a brown ale. The brewery worked with Independence Coffee Company to combine their cold-brewed pecan coffee with this “bitchin’ brown ale” to create a coffee ale that is lighter, brighter, and easier to drink than most coffee beers. It’s cold-brew coffee and beer, not a heavy beer with coffee, and I like it a lot. Shiner also has a beer out right now that incorporates cold-brew coffee, but this one is better.

Brazos Valley Brewing Company is from Brenham, Texas. You may know Brenham as the home of Blue Bell Ice Cream. If you don’t have Blue Bell in your local grocery store, I weep for you. It is some of the best ice cream on God’s green earth, and that comes from someone who used to manage an ice cream store (of another brand) in high school.

I made ice cream every day, and I never made any as good as Blue Bell’s. Their cookie dough ice cream is the best you’ll find, and Brenham is their home. It’s a little town between College Station and Houston, in Southeast Texas. A small but growing community of salt of the earth people, they know their ice cream and their beer.

Brazos Valley Brewing doesn’t only make good beer, they make beautiful beer cans. The artwork on the Seven Spanish Angels beer is amazing. It depicts a woman with long hair, feather earrings, and a green checked shirt holding a rifle, ready for a showdown. It’s easy to phone it in with some boring Bud- or Coors-style artwork on a beer can or bottle label these days, but with Seven Spanish Angels, Brazos Valley Brewing doesn’t just give you a beer you can enjoy drinking, it also gives you a can that is so pretty it’s a shame to put it in a koozie.

As you listen to Nelson sing the sad tale of lovers who rose to “the altar of the sun,” raise a can of Seven Spanish Angels to salute one of America’s greatest musicians with a sip of some great Texas beer. Cheers!

Does Willie Have a Dream?

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

Willie Nelson and Family in New Orleans (Jan. 8, 2017) (Sold Out)

Monday, January 9th, 2017

photo:  Chris Granger

Willie Nelson enchants a sold-out New Orleans crowd Sunday

www.Nola.com
by: Chelsea Brasted

Just before showtime at the House of Blues in New Orleans on Sunday (Jan. 8), white lights came on at stage left as an 83-year-old man with long braided pigtails and a black, long-sleeved puffer jacket was escorted to a seat just in the wings.

He folded his legs over each other and waited patiently as the crew made final adjustments until, slowly, he stood and his jacket was removed. Music started, and the man found his way to the guitar at centerstage.

With hands as mottled and as marked by time finally on the near-mythical instrument he calls Trigger, Willie Nelson came to life.

For just a little more than an hour, Nelson smiled and sang and strummed that guitar with the kind of loving comfort that can only come with decades of familiarity. The songs, too, were familiar to the jovial, honky tonk-like, sold-out crowd of chattering, beer-raising fans who lent help as a motley chorus.

photo:  Chris Granger

With a life spent writing, pioneering and playing music, Nelson’s appeal is as much about his role as a country music patriarch as it is about the novelty of seeing the charismatic, reefer mad octogenarian friend of Snoop Dogg. Just weeks ago, Dolly Parton, who reigns as the charming queen of country came to New Orleans for a stop at the Smoothie King Center, where she held court for more than two hours, telling stories and swapping bedazzled instruments in and out of her hands.

Not so with Nelson.

From the moment he wrapped his red, white and blue macrame guitar strap around his frame, Nelson didn’t bother with the stories. He instead let his music do the talking, and he and Trigger offered one blues-tinged solo after another, filling the space between “Whiskey River” and “Funny How Time Slips Away.” Nelson was joined in the effort by his touring band, known as the Family: Bobbie Nelson, Paul English, Billy English, Kevin Smith and harmonica player Mickey Raphael, who performed in New Orleans at in May 2016 as part of Chris Stapleton’s band.

Nelson eventually traded his bent-rim cowboy hat for the first of several red bandanas, each folded identically in a stack near his hip. He’d slip one over his braids, then tear it off after mere moments to toss to the first row or two with a smile and a blown kiss.

From the moment they set foot onstage, Nelson and his Family barely stopped, allowing nearly ever song to melt into the next. With Nelson leading charge with what’s now his nearly speaking-voice way of singing, they strolled into “If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time,” Waylon Jennings’ “Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” and Billy Joe Shaver’s “I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train.” Fans hollered and clapped and cheered and occasionally held the final vowel on Nelson’s first name as they did so, leaving him to smile some more.

In a fit-for-TV finale, Nelson welcomed openers Runaway June to add their harmonies to “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and the closing lines of “I’ll Fly Away,” which is exactly what he did.

Nelson placed Trigger back in its space, gave his final waves, blew kisses and threw bandanas before finding his way back to the darkness of the wings, to the warmth of his jacket and the satisfaction of a show well played.

See more of Chris Granger’s great photos here.

Willie Nelson Wows at War Memorial, in Nashville (Jan 7, 2017)

Sunday, January 8th, 2017

photo:  Andrew Nelles

www.Tennesseean.com
by: Juli Thanki

Only Willie Nelson could announce “This is a gospel song for y’all,” then start singing “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”

For most of his 83 years, the fiercely independent Nelson has done things his way, and there’s certainly no reason to stop now.

For 75 minutes on Saturday night, the legendary country singer, who has penned some of the most enduring songs in American music history, delivered one classic after another in rapid succession onstage at the War Memorial Auditorium: “Angel Flying to Close to the Ground” followed by “On the Road Again” and “Crazy” followed by “Night Life.”

The Red Headed Stranger wasn’t much for onstage banter. When he did talk, it was short and straightforward. Introducing drummer Paul English, Nelson explained, “I wrote a song about me and Paul. I called it ‘Me and Paul.’ “

Throughout the set, Nelson  and his band the Family (which included sister Bobbie Nelson and longtime harmonica player Mickey Raphael) saluted his friends, the late Waylon Jennings (“Good Hearted Woman”) and Merle Haggard (“It’s All Going to Pot”), as well as his heroes. He expertly covered Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages,” and delivered a toe-tapping Hank Williams medley that included “Move It on Over,” “Hey, Good Lookin’” and “Jambalaya.”

His creased and crinkled hands can still coax remarkable solos from his trusty guitar Trigger. The audience, which seemed to range in age from 18 to 80, cheered every guitar solo, hooted when he flung away his black cowboy hat and traded it for his trademark red bandanna, and sang along to every word of his set. Nelson will turn 84 this year, and even though he’s slowed down a bit over the years, few performers can captivate a crowd like he does.

 

See more great photos at the Tennessean web site here.

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real in Jackson, WY

Sunday, January 8th, 2017


photo:  Stephen Poole

www.explorebigsky.com
by:  Sarah Gianelli

Band plays Big Sky Resort Jan. 27

JACKSON, Wyo. – Country rockers Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real had an audience of 500 out of their seats and getting down before the end of their first song, turning Jackson’s civilized Center for the Arts into a rowdy cowboy bar for the duration of their Dec. 29 performance.

They’re scheduled to bring that high energy to Big Sky Resort’s Montana Jack on Friday, Jan. 27.

The band set the tone for the night in Jackson by opening with three new rocking tracks from a yet to be titled album, scheduled for release in May 2017.

The second song, a rollicking tale called “Running Shine,” tells the story of father and son moonshiners that Nelson loosely relates to his own upbringing with father Willie Nelson.

“I’m not ‘running shine,’” he said in an interview before the show, “but I’ve immersed myself in a business that is kind of a family business; it’s kind of a circus, and my dad’s not exactly the most law abiding citizen.”

Not only did Nelson inherit a bit of his father’s rapscallion ways, iconic nasal twang and innate musicality, but also his mastery of showmanship.

Nelson and his band mates, drummer Anthony LoGerfo and bassist Corey McCormick, have no trouble filling the stage with their presence. Whether Nelson is head-banging his shaggy ‘do, picking his guitar with his teeth or doing scissor kick calisthenics with McCormick—somewhat of an athletic feat in scuffed up cowboy boots—they’re as visually engaging as they are audibly.

They’re also attuned to the fact that their audience wants to be taken for a ride, and Nelson and POTR know precisely when to bring it down a notch and insert one of Nelson’s soul-slaying ballads—especially hard-hitting for the ladies in the crowd.

Two such highlights during the Jackson show were the heart-wrenching “Sound of your Memory” and a cover of his father’s “Crazy.” The latter offered a rare chance to see Nelson take a seat at a Steinway piano and perform a duet with captivating show-opener Nicki Bluhm that, with all due respect, put Willie and Emmy Lou Harris’s version to shame.

The evening covered all the bases and hit all the right notes—from a dusty hoe-down, to sultry blues, bare bone jams, good old rock ‘n’ roll, soulful love songs and the perfectly picked and placed cover. On this night it was none other than Paul Simon’s “Graceland” hit, “Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes.”

Shannon McCormick, programming director for Jackson’s Center for the Arts, has been booking Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real for nearly a decade, and had no doubt the band would generate a sold out show.

“Every once in a while, it’s great to have a band come in here and punch us in the nose,” McCormick said. “Jackson loves that rootsy rock ‘n’ roll and that’s what Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real delivers.”

McCormick is such a fan that he’s road-tripping from Jackson to Big Sky to catch the Jan. 27 show at Montana Jack.

“That’s how excited I am about these guys,” McCormick said. “Get ready for a fun show because here it comes.”

Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real perform at Big Sky Resort’s Montana Jack on Friday, Jan. 27, at 9 p.m. For tickets and more information visit explorebigsky.com.

This show is being co-produced by Outlaw Partners (publisher of EBS) and Big Sky Resort.

Farm Aid III (1987) (Lincoln, NE)

Friday, January 6th, 2017

[Thank you, Phil Weisman, for sharing this clipping about Farm Aid III.]

Chicago Sun-Times
September 21, 1987

LINCOLN, Neb.  Fleeting remarks and lasting impressions from a full day at Saturday’s Farm Aid.

Most valuable players through out the evening’s part of the program were the members of John Cougar Mellencamp’s red-hot band.  After providing hard edge accompaniment for Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane,” they gave John Prine the sort of rough-hewn, roots-rock backing that he’s been missing since he quit working with Chicago’s Famous Potatoes.

The closing set by Mellencamp and band was one of the event’s most rousing.  On “Small Town” and “Pink House” the accordion and fiddle of his band’s expanded lineup fit just fine with the rock n’ roll rhythm section.  The two-song set, way too short for most of the crowd, provided a taste of what wil likely be one of the fall’s strongest tours.

While Willie Nelson received most of the credit throughout the day, and deservedly so, Mellencamp has also been a driving force behind Farm Aid during its three-year existence.  Both Reed and the Crusados thanked him specifically for enlisting their participation.

The most inspired music that was heard by no one at home came courtesy of Neil Young.  “Ain’t singing for Pepsi, ain’t singing for coke,” he sang.  “Ain’t singing for nobody, it makes me look like a joke.  This note’s for you.”  While Young slammed corporate sponsorship, the broadcast had cut to another commercial.

David Alvin has the distinction of being the only performer to play each of the three Farm Aids, as part of a completely different band.  He was with the Blasters at the first Farm Aid, a member o X at the second and the leader of his own band, the Allnighters at Farm Aid III.

The man who was formerly known as a songwriter and guitarist demonstrated that he had already become a far more confident singer than when he cut “Romen’s Escape,” his recently released debut album as a solo artist.  His afternoon set, mixing country ballads and hard-rock ravers, was one of the event’s highlights.

Dennis Hopper, who was raised on a Kansas farm, introduced country singer Lynn Anderson to the crowd as an “easy rider,” who offered to share her bus with other performers who needed a ride to Lincoln.

He later told the TV audience, “Big companies are interested in big profits.  Period.” an economic analysis that was sure to endear him to corporate America.  “Who would you rather see own America?” he asked.

Events such as this inevitably produce a rash of Bruce Springsteen rumors.  The day before the concert, the talk of the town was dominated by eyewitness accounts of Springsteen and Nelson enjoying dinner at a Lincoln country club.  It never happened, according to officials at the country club.

Willie Nelson and Family at the Granada Theater, in Dallas (Jan 3, 2017)

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

photo:  Mike Brooks

www.DallasObserver.com
by:  Rachel Williams

You’re marinating in the pre-Willie lobby of the Granada Theater. It’s buzzing with giddy anticipation. Old men, old women, young men and young women beam as they swap autobiographical Willie stories: how many times they’ve seen him live, how far they drove to get here. It hits you over the head that you haven’t seen a group of strangers this united since … actually you can’t remember the last time you saw strangers interact with this much camaraderie. Stifle that single tear you feel forming. Fine tune the ability to control yourself, you sentimental sap. You’ll need it tonight.

If you were able to buy tickets to Willie Nelson’s Tuesday or Wednesday shows at the Granada Theater, you are luckier than the 99 percent of people who desperately wished they could have shelled out $125 a pop for tickets. When they went on sale in November, they sold out immediately. Conspiracy theories began circulating. One had to be either a first degree relative of Willie’s or a unicorn to get into one of these shows.

photo:  Mike Brooks

read entire article here

Thanks for all the good things that have happened in 1973

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

Thanks Phil Weisman, for this.

Pretend I Never Happened (thanks Waylon)
Willie Nelson Picnic at Dripping Springs, Texas
Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame
Oct. 18 Appreciation Concert
Stay All Night
Shotgun Willie
Willie Nelson Homecoming, Abbot, Texas Nov. 4th

 

Willie Nelson’s First New York Appearance: Max’s Kansas City (May 16 – 21, 1973)

Sunday, December 11th, 2016

Willie Nelson New York Times interview (Feb. 23, 1995)

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

Image result for new york times willie nelson

www.nytimes.com

by Alex Witchel
February 23, 1995

Most men will tell you Willie Nelson is a hero. With a copy of his 1982 hit “Always on My Mind” and the phone number of a good florist, they can get away with murder. “Girl, I’m sorry I was blind,” indeed.

They learn from a master. Mr. Nelson, who is married to wife No. 4, may be most recognizable for his Pocahontas braids, but it’s those eyes that start the trouble. Even now, at 62, they are perfectly almond shaped, deep brown and, well, just deep. Look into them for too long and you may regret it.

Mr. Nelson’s misfortune in love may be the reason he can wail his songs about heartbreak so well. Not to mention write them. When he went home drunk and passed out cold for the thousandth time, his first wife sewed him into the bedsheets “buck naked,” as he likes to say, and piled his clothes and the kids into the car and left. It makes you wonder whom he really wrote “Crazy” about.

These days, though, Mr. Nelson insists, he’s a cheating heart no more. His newest album, “Healing Hands of Time” (EMI Liberty), is filled with classic love songs, his and other people’s, accompanied by a 63-piece orchestra. But life can be funny for a crooning cowboy. A new album means going on the road to sell it, so he has to sing his love songs to everyone but his wife, Anne Marie, back in Spicewood, Tex., for whom they are meant.

And being on the road again means living on his bus, Honeysuckle Rose II. The previous night, he played Syracuse; this night, in early February, the United States Military Academy.

At 5 P.M. it’s not quite dark outside, but it certainly is dark in the bus. Up front, there are built-in couches along the sides, and thanks to a satellite dish, CNN is on TV. At the back is the door to Mr. Nelson’s bedroom. In the middle is a small kitchen area with a cut watermelon in the sink. Mr. Nelson sits at the table wearing a sweatshirt, sweatpants and thick white socks. Behind him is what he calls the art museum, snapshots of his two youngest sons, Lucas, 6, and Micah, 5, and a drawing with the message “Hi, Dad From Lucas” surrounded by hearts. His hair, reddish-brown and finely sifted with gray, hangs loose down his back. And his face! It is marked with so many creases, hollows and furrows it looks almost geological. He sits quietly, watching, like a cornered animal that can’t decide if he should pounce, flee or purr.

How was Syracuse? “It was cold.”

What did he do today? “Slept till noon.”

Why did he make this new album? “It seemed like the thing to do.”

How’s his back? (He fractured it baling hay as a teen-ager.) “Let me tell you a strange story,” he says, suddenly animated, as if a quarter dropped into his slot. And with the passion of pain he starts his tale of woe and redemption, which culminates in Rolfing.

“My wife recommended it highly,” he says. “I heard it was painful, but I didn’t care. The first of 10 sessions fixed it.” He rests his thick hands on the table. His wedding band looks loose on his finger. That seems right.

It’s hot in here. Navy velvet curtains hang over the windows, and the dark brown paneling and dark carpet seem to soak up light. “It’s kind of like living in a submarine,” Mr. Nelson acknowledges, showing a small smile. “But I’m happy on the bus. Home is where you’re happy. It can be anywhere, out there playing music, wherever I’m at. I refuse to stay where I’m not happy, and if I can’t change it, because of bad vibes or whatever, there’s no reason to stay.”

“A lot of people get tired of the road,” he continues. “But as much as I enjoy being at home with the toys I have there, I still need to leave that and go play music. I have the best of two worlds, though it’s hard to balance them. They’re both fragile. There’s the desire to be where you are plus the desire to go back where you were.”

The phone rings. It’s his eldest daughter, Lana, 41.

“Hey, nothing. What do you know?” Mr. Nelson asks affectionately. “Oh, we’re traveling to the gig. West Point. Yes, the West Point. As opposed to the east point. I don’t know what we’re doing. We’re playing for the folks.”

He speaks so quietly, barely above a whisper, that it’s hard to conjure visions of his legendary temper. Does he still have one? “If I said I didn’t I’d be lying,” he says. “I don’t show it every time. At least I hope I don’t. People say about me, ‘He’s a tough old bird.’ I must be or I wouldn’t be here.”

He says he doesn’t know exactly how many albums he’s made. “Somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 to 100 legitimate albums, but there’s also bootleg.” From which he doesn’t make money, of course.

Money has been a loaded issue for Mr. Nelson since 1990, when the Internal Revenue Service seized his house and all his assets for nonpayment of $16.7 million in taxes. What happened, he says, was that he owed $2 million in taxes, and on advice of his accountants, Price Waterhouse, was told to borrow $12 million to invest in tax shelters so he wouldn’t have to pay the $2 million. The only problem, he says, was that, after the fact, the shelters were disallowed.

But the story has ended happily. He settled out of court with Price Waterhouse and paid back the Government. When his house was auctioned, a group of farmers bought it for him, grateful for the singer’s Farm Aid concerts, which have raised $12 million, so now he has it back. “There’s a lot of good people out there,” Mr. Nelson says simply.

So, why bother touring, especially if his debts are paid? “Well, I don’t know,” he says. “I seem to be happier when I’m working. I tend to get into trouble with too much time on my hands.”

Like what?

“Like you name it,” he shoots back.

He started working by the age of 5, picking cotton in Abbott, Tex. (When he was a toddler, his mother, a dancer, and his father, a musician, left him and his older sister, Bobbie, who plays keyboards in his band, to be raised by their grandparents.) He played his first professional date at 8, and as an adult sold vacuum cleaners door to door. After working as a disk jockey, he moved in the early 1960’s to Nashville, where he sold his songs and despaired of becoming a singer. The fact that he didn’t sound like anyone else was not an advantage at the time. Now, of course, his idiosyncratic phrasing and nasal twang could be copyrighted.

“I never pretended to have a great voice,” he says. “It works and I can carry a tune. If you have a good song, that’s about all that’s required.”

The new album has lots of good songs. “EMI Liberty, my new record label, said I should do an album of standards. Like ‘Crazy.’ ” He smiles. “I hadn’t been looking at those as standards.”

As a writer, Mr. Nelson has slowed down in recent years, though it’s hard to blame him. He says that between the mid-1950’s and mid-1970’s, he wrote about 2,000 songs.

“I went into the studio last week with my original band and a new songbook of mine,” he says. “We started on the first page, and in two days we did 11 segments. I want to do that with all my songs, the way I hear them and feel them now. People wouldn’t know but one or two of ’em.”

In this, his 54th year of performing, does he worry about the show-biz adage “No one is on top forever”? “That’s not my plan,” he says. “There’s a saying I could never decide was mine or Roger Miller’s. I decided I’d take credit for it: ‘I didn’t come here and I’m not leaving.’ ”

Very wise. Does that wisdom extend to fatherhood? He has had seven children in all, yet he has traveled his entire life, leaving home for vast stretches of time. His eldest son, Billy, who had been treated for alcohol abuse, committed suicide three Christmases ago. Should he have done anything differently?

“Well, you have all those guilts and regrets, but you can run yourself crazy,” he says quietly. “You’re not the same person now you were then, so why take responsibility for something you didn’t do?” When he lifts his eyes, the anguish in his face belies the slickness of the words.

The bus has parked, and he goes inside the Eisenhower Hall Theater for a rehearsal. He starts to sing, and his familiar voice lifts, the cry of an old soul who’s seen more than he’s wanted to. He is completely fallible, which is his charm. A frog prince who’d rather stay a frog.

A few cadets peer at him from the wings, while Larry Gorham, a former Hell’s Angel who is Mr. Nelson’s bodyguard, glares. “Be all that you can be,” he grumbles not-so-under his breath.

“Be nice,” Mr. Nelson calls out.

It’s only 7 P.M. Rehearsal is over, and the show’s not until 8. Mr. Nelson heads toward the bus. What’s he going to do now? He smiles.

“I’m gonna roll me up a big joint and smoke it.” Then he eats a plate of vegetables and settles back with some of the band to watch videos of himself, including one from Howard Stern’s cable-television show, in which he handily wins a joint-rolling contest. Everyone laughs. The feeling is easy, relaxed. You would never know that, a few yards away, 4,400 people are growing restless.

Toward the end of the tape, he goes into his bedroom and comes out with his hair braided (he does it himself). At 8:10 P.M. he walks backstage and picks up his guitar with no noticeable increase in energy. He keeps his world small, parking his living room just outside and walking in here now to play. He could be anywhere. On the other side of the curtain are howls and whoops as the lights go down. One member of the band asks, “Should we open with ‘Anchors Aweigh’?”

When the curtain rises and the flag of Texas unfurls behind them, though, they launch into “Whisky River,” their customary opening number. They’re all so used to each other, they’re like fingers on a hand. They just stand and play, with no videos or special effects.

But when Mr. Nelson launches into “Always on My Mind” the yelling accelerates. “My favorite song!” a man screams from the balcony. As Mr. Nelson sings, his energy is intense. He invests the words with all kinds of feeling, every bit he can muster. When he sings “Give me one more chance to keep you satisfied,”the meaning seems to switch and he’s no longer pleading with a woman but with the audience. He’s not young, he’s not pretty, he doesn’t have a fancy headset or smoke machines. He holds Trigger, his old, beaten guitar with a hole in it, and sings his heart. And it goes, the sound, the feeling, the plea, and hits the cadets and the rest full force, and they scream and holler and clap.

And then he asks, “Everybody doing all right out there?” And they roar, “Yeah,” back at him, and someone tosses a cadet’s hat onto the stage, which he puts on — a real sight with those braids.

And when he says, “Good night, everybody,” and the roar intensifies, they somehow find their way backstage, and they’re lining up outside near the bus, and everywhere he goes there are arms and hands and people shouting, “Willie!”

And he talks to each of them, one at a time, in no particular rush now to climb back on the bus and drive into the night. He’d like to stay awhile.

Willie Nelson and Weed

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

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Willie Nelson’s Love Affair With Weed Made Him An Outlaw And A Country Music Revolutionary
by:  Christian Long

Few artists are as readily associated with marijuana as country crooner Willie Nelson. In terms of identifiable pieces of the man, Nelson’s love of weed is right up there with the song “On The Road Again,” his long, braided locks, and his old, beat-up guitar, Trigger. But Nelson’s pro-pot advocacy wasn’t always something he pinned to his sleeve. Instead, his public affair with marijuana came about much like his career in the spotlight: Entirely on his own terms.

When Nelson first started out, the world of country music was drilled down deep into the center of Nashville, Tennessee and mired in tradition. The audience was largely conservative, and as a result, Nelson went along to get along, presenting himself as a buttoned-down Western crooner with a knack for writing songs that had peculiar phrasing, which gave him a signature sound but not a standout look or personality. Eventually, Nelson wouldn’t so much find his niche as make it himself, writing songs that took a new and confident approach to the long-standing traditions of country music. As far as his personal habits, he was a known smoker for many years — and he has the arrest record to prove it — but over time Nelson would become one of the most renowned and outspoken advocates for marijuana legalization.

Here’s a look at how Willie Nelson ended up transforming, not just the sound of country music, but the culture as well.

 

Even back in Nelson’s crisp white shirt days, he’d always fancied himself a smoker. Growing up in the small town of Abbott, Texas, he told GQ that there was nothing to do there but “f*ck, fight, and throw rocks.” To alleviate the boredom, Nelson took to smoking “anything you could roll up,” which included everything from lawn clippings to tree bark. He first tried pot when he was 11 or 12 while hanging out with his cousin. “He had asthma, and the doctors gave him a cigarette to smoke. An asthma cigarette. And he offered me a puff off it, and I didn’t particularly care for it so I handed it back to him.”

A decade went by before he first tried pot again, this time when starting out as a country singer in the early 1950s. He told Cannabist that he was playing at a club in Fort Worth, Texas, and, like many of us, simply “ran into a guy who smoked pot.” Nelson, already a veteran smoker by then, started to incorporate pot into his routine, but admits that he went a “long time without getting high — for months I would smoke and smoke and I wasn’t getting high, and I couldn’t figure out why.” He eventually blamed the poor state of his lungs for keeping the true bliss of this fresh relationship at bay. Nelson stuck with it, though, and eventually had his eureka moment.

In his 2015 memoir It’s A Long Story, Nelson admits that he dealt with a bit of a stigma as a marijuana user in the clean-cut world of country music, but never opted to quit outright, explaining that he “couldn’t betray marijuana any more than I could betray a family member or lifelong friend.”

Nelson, it turns out, was used to being an outsider. He moved to Nashville in 1960 where he soon got a job as a songwriter and famously penned hits like Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” and Ray Price’s “Night Life.” But while the chord progressions he’d write out on the page would deviate from convention, his style on stage was practically abstract art. He’d sing just off the beat, either a little ahead or a little behind, which proved to be too off-putting to country music fans, most of whom were steeped in decades of tradition.

As the mecca of traditional country music, the Nashville sound was (and is) categorized by slick-sounding productions delivered in a more conventional style. Between his musical leanings and casual marijuana use, Nelson didn’t feel like Nashville was a natural fit and returned to his home state of Texas in 1970. Despite having his song “I’m A Memory” crack the top 30 the following year, Nelson was frustrated to the point that he quit music altogether.

CHAPTER

Finding His Voice, His Audience, And His Home

It wasn’t until 1972, when he discovered Austin — at the time, a sleepy college town known for its laid-back attitude and low-key party atmosphere — that he felt right. There, he didn’t feel the creative limitations that Nashville tried to force down his throat and he soon found an audience for his unique brand of country music that was tinged with jazz, blues, and gospel. It was there that he was able to come into his own by putting out some of the most memorable songs of his career; a period that would lay the foundation for the birth of outlaw country.

As Nelson explained to the The Guardian in 2012, he saw Austin as a place to write and perform the songs he wanted to. Finally, he would be able to do it all his own way.

“I saw hippies and rednecks drinking beer together and smoking dope together and having a good time together and I knew it was possible to get all groups of people together — long hair, short hair, no hair — and music would bring them together.”

By 1974, Nelson had his first No. 1 hit with “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain.” He’d also grown out his shaggy hair and beard and kept up his outlaw persona, racking up his first marijuana arrest when he was busted for possession in Dallas — first of many he’d experience over the years.

Nelson’s arrest in Dallas began what would become a very public reputation with marijuana, one that even followed him to the White House back in 1976 when he was invited by then-President Jimmy Carter to thank him for all the work on his campaign. Nelson later revealed that he smoked a joint on the White House roof that night, but for years he remained coy about who he smoked it with. Turns out he’s mostly certain that it was Chip Carter, Jimmy Carter’s middle child.

Sill, marijuana had become far more than a way to collect wild anecdotes, as Nelson has flatly stated that he “would have been dead if it hadn’t been for pot.” He always had a bad temper, something he blames on his red hair, but he explained that drinking always made it worse. “When I was out in the bars drinking and fighting I was a little bit less of a peacemaker than I would be if I’d had a couple hits of a joint and gone and laid down somewhere. I’d have less bumps on my head, that’s for sure.”

While he’ll still take a drink on occasion, Nelson replaced booze with pot, something he’d eventually do with cigarettes after his lung collapsed while he was swimming in Hawaii back in 1981. After he was hospitalized, he knew that he had to quit one or the other, and told NPR in 2012 that he simply “took a pack of Chesterfields and took all the Chesterfields out, rolled up 20 big fat ones and put [them] in there, and I haven’t smoked a cigarette since then.”

Before long, all of Nelson’s vices were replaced with marijuana, writing in his memoir that “unlike booze, it had never made me nasty or violent. Unlike cocaine, it never sped me up or fired up my ego.” He refers to his use of the drug as something that started as a “love affair” and eventually “turned into a long-term marriage.”

CHAPTER 3

Advocacy And Influence

Nelson’s relationship with marijuana has become more than a running gag for the last several years. As an outspoken advocate of its legalization, he became one of the first celebrities to publicly address it.

As Nelson states early on in the above clip from 2010, he saw the legalization of weed as an inevitability, albeit one that would take not only patience but the right combination of circumstances. That same year, nearly a dozen states had already legalized the drug for medicinal use, and with each passing year, more and more states have changed their laws. In 2012, Colorado and Washington both voted to legalize its use recreationally, without a medical prerequisite, which would’ve been unthinkable a few years earlier.

While no one can single-handedly spark up a movement, it’s clear that the cultural acceptance gained by Nelson’s free embrace (despite the occasional legal dustup) had an effect on a burgeoning movement to legalize or at least decriminalize marijuana across the country. One that has turned conservative bastions like Nelson’s home state of Texas into a place where medicinal weed is now legal and there is talk about going even further in the future.

Of course, this isn’t just about the embrace of pot as an artistic or lifestyle choice, it’s about the cold feel of a law pushing down on something it doesn’t understand, despite the proven benefits that range from helping with anxiety to enriching the lives of those suffering from cancer (and that’s to say nothing of the possible economic effect). Even Nelson himself, who is in large part the face of legalization, has admitted for years that he uses marijuana to simply help him deal with stress, and that if more people followed his lead, “It would make us get along better — all over the world.”

As the laws continue to loosen across the country, including full recreational legalization and sentence re-negotiation for marijuana-related crimes in California, Nelson announced his own strain of marijuana earlier this year, named Willie’s Reserve. Bearing the tagline “Indulge with Confidence,” he announced via press release that he’s “smoked enough and wants to give back.” As a longtime environmental advocate, Nelson was “committed to have our crops farmed in an environmentally responsible way; to revitalize small farms and to grow it as clean as possible.”

In years past, the weed he smoked was met with the highest acclaim from fellow musicians like Norah Jones and Toby Keith (who said he couldn’t function after smoking with Nelson and later wrote a song about it). So when Nelson eventually got around to putting his name on a strain of his own, it came as no surprise that it was met with high acclaim from connoisseurs.

Of course, for all the earnestness in his advocacy, Nelson still finds time to poke fun at himself and his 420-friendly persona, showing up in movies like Half Baked and The Dukes of Hazard, and cultivating a close friendship with fellow weed enthusiast, Snoop Dogg. In fact, Nelson and weed have become so inseparable that earlier this year when Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe grabbed a quick photo opp with him on his tour bus, there was weed right there on the table. There was also a general lack of public outcry over the matter, proving that the times have, indeed, changed.

Nelson’s influence is still found all throughout the fringes of country music. Back in the ’70s, he brought along the likes of Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, and Hank Williams Jr. with him into the uncharted territory of outlaw country. Suddenly, the polished arrangements and family-friendly Nashville standards were tossed aside, and each artist brought their own unique voice to the burgeoning genre, deepening the genre while bringing new listeners into the fold.

The resonating influence of outlaw country can still be heard today, from Cross Canadian Ragweed and Reckless Kelly, who bring the same carefree arrangments and good-time spirit to their music that Nelson does. Hank Williams III, whose pro-party anthems bridge the gap between traditional country and hardcore punk, can also count Nelson as an influence. While Nashville’s still alive and well, the longstanding countermovement of bands wanting to explore the whiskey-soaked, smoke-stained side of country music can all be traced back to Nelson as well.

Beyond any creative benefits and assists to the construction of Nelson’s image, the iconic crooner also believes that the drug has a spiritual precedent, readily explaining that “it’s in The Bible,” before citing Ezekiel 34:29, “where Jesus is talking about seeds and he said, ‘I bring you a seed of renown for the miseries of humanity.” But above all that, Nelson believes that “it’s medicine, and it’s already been proven to be medicine. End of story.”

Throughout Nelson’s very public relationship with marijuana, it’s remained a facet of his personality instead of what defines it. A country crooner who’s spent his career redefining the rules as he goes, as the national attitude on weed continues to become more relaxed, Nelson’s been able to incorporate his true feelings for marijuana in a country song, something that would’ve simply been out of the question when he bumped into a stranger at a club in Ft. Worth all those years ago.

Willie Nelson and Family at Billy Bob’s (11/14/16)

Monday, November 21st, 2016

www.theboot.com
by:  Amy McCarthy

There are few individuals on this planet capable of inspiring more camaraderie, beer drinking and generally upbeat vibes than Willie Nelson. In his more than 50 years in the music business, the “Red Headed Stranger” has evolved from a Nashville nobody into one of country music’s most iconic figureheads. And if you’ve ever seen him live — once or 10 times — you know exactly why that happened.

On Saturday night (Nov. 12) in Fort Worth, Texas, to celebrate the 35th anniversary of iconic Texas honky-tonk Billy Bob’s, Nelson proved that he is still one of country music’s finest showmen. Before he even took to the stage, thousands of fans packed into the sold-out showroom, angling for a glimpse of their braided-pigtailed hero. In Texas, Nelson is a bona fide legend, the face of country music — and the harbinger of one hell of a good time.

Nelson’s set was the culmination of a weekend of celebratory performances for Billy Bob’s 35th anniversary, and there was really no one better to say “happy birthday” than Nelson. The country legend’s relationship with the world’s largest honky-tonk is well-established: Throughout its years, the venue has hosted Nelson a whopping 53 times; for four years, he hosted his legendary Fourth of July Picnic at Billy Bob’s, before moving it back closer to his ranch in Austin.

Willie & the Family took to the stage unceremoniously at 10:30PM, kicking off the night with a raucous rendition of “Whiskey River.“ At this point in Nelson’s touring career, crowds almost expect that tune to come up first because it sets a tone: As soon as you hear those first few chords, it’s impossible to mistake that you’re in the presence of a man who deserves a great deal of credit for country music’s best tunes.

At 84 years old, Nelson is certainly looking frail. In light of the losses of Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell in the last week alone, you’re almost tempted to snatch him off the stage, wrap him up in bubble wrap and send him back to his home in Maui to rest. But in seeing Nelson play, it’s clear that his vibrancy — and his still-entirely-on-point guitar-picking skills — has not diminished since his start in the early 1960s.

You have to imagine that it’s been a tough year for Nelson: He’s lost a number of his contemporaries, most notably his longtime collaborator and fellow outlaw country legend Merle Haggard. Throughout the night, Nelson used song to pay tribute to his peers and his heroes — Waylon Jennings, “the Hag” and Hank Williams — with tracks like “Jambalaya (on the Bayou),” “Good Hearted Woman” and an impeccably played rendition of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Texas Flood.”

Nelson’s band has always been one of the best in country music, but the Family now boasts plenty of young talent in the form of Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah. They’ve both toured with Neil Young, played in their own bands and released great music in their own right, but being able to hone their skills onstage with dear ol’ Dad has undoubtedly given them quite the leg up. Whether singing harmony on Nelson’s own classics or throwing down a searing guitar solo on “Texas Flood,” it’s clear that both men inherited a whole lot of talent.

In his just-over-an-hour set, Nelson worked his way through all the hits that any casual fan or obsessive would want to hear: “It’s All Going to Pot,” from Django & Jimmie, Nelson’s 2015 collaboration with Haggard, provided some much-needed laughs to an election-weary crowd (press play below to watch a snippet of the performance). Then came “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” which seemed almost a little too prescient; despite the natural levity of that song, it presents a fact that none of us are willing to consider just yet.

As the night drew to an end, Nelson wrapped up his set with a medley of Southern gospel classics that brilliantly weaved together “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” “I’ll Fly Away” and “I Saw the Light,” and there was really no more fitting way to close it all down. The medley itself was brilliantly arranged and a sort of natural joy-inducer, but seeing Nelson and his sons sing it together with their beaming smiles was the real treat.

Once Nelson sang his final notes, he signed posters, bandannas even a skateboard deck for the folks in the first few rows, shaking hands and cementing his status as a true man of the people — and then he walked offstage, as unceremoniously as he came. Judging by the crowd’s immediate outpouring of love as he left, Nelson gave them all a little solace after a tough week of nasty politics, loss and bad news.

Watch Willie Nelson Sing “It’s All Going to Pot”

Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, in Canada (8/19/85)

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

by Jason Mitchell

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.  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.

Top five favorites at Austin City Limits Festival (Willie Nelson #1)

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016

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photo:  Cambria Harkey


by: Nathan McVay

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.

Honourable Mentions

AWOLNATION
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
Die Antwoord
Jack Garratt
Radiohead

To see their other top 5 favorites here.