Archive for the ‘News and Reviews’ Category

Willie Nelson & Family at Merriweather Post Pavillion

Friday, July 14th, 2017
by:  Sriram Gopal

Jean Parker has accumulated an impressive collection of stories over her years working at Merriweather Post Pavilion. She joined the staff in 1977, now serves as the venue’s general manager, and can recall watching President Jimmy Carter join Willie Nelson on stage to sing “Georgia On My Mind”, or that time when a mix-up resulted in her having to pick up Depeche Mode from the airport in her family minivan. However, one memory stands apart from the rest.

“The Grateful Dead story is the number one story,” Parker said in a recent interview with DCist.

The Dead came to Merriweather in 1985. In those pre-Internet/cellphone days, it was hard to get the word out about day-of sellout concerts. Seven thousand ticketless fans showed up and the staff had to work alongside the Howard County Police Department to find a way to handle the crowd. Step one: Reduce the price for lawn seats from $12.50 to $10 for the sake of efficiency. Step two: Set up makeshift box offices consisting of a staffer on one side of the fence and the fans on the other side. After collecting the money, venue employees or police officers would help attendees jump over the fence.

The 50th anniversary bash takes place on Saturday and features Jackson Browne and Willie Nelson.

Merriweather Post Pavilion was a central component to James Rouse’s vision for Columbia, Md., one of the the country’s first fully planned suburbs. Rouse expected the amphitheater, designed by Frank Gehry, to be an arts center that would showcase orchestras, ballet, and opera. The venue at one point served as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s summer home, but the pavilion struggled in the early days. Opening the doors to rock and pop concerts put it on firmer footing. Jimi Hendrix, The Who, and Led Zeppelin all played Merriweather, including the only time the the latter two ever shared a bill. Jimmy Buffet made the shed a home-away-from home and has played there more than any other act.

Despite a rich history (read The Baltimore Sun’s excellent account of MPP’s early years), Merriweather fell on hard times as the 21st century began. In 2003, development plans threatened to close the pavilion, which resulted in a successful Save Merriweather campaign. The pavilion got an additional boost in 2004, when I.M.P., the Seth Hurwitz-run company behind the 9:30 Club, Lincoln Theatre, and the soon-to-come The Anthem, started booking acts there.

“The venue never had any accolades and was never being touted or highlighted in the industry before Seth started working in 2004,” Parker said. “Since then, Merriweather is often near the top for ‘Best Amphitheater.’”

Ownership of the venue recently transferred to the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission, a non-profit whose executive director, Ian Kennedy, was a driving force in the Save Merriweather effort. The DCACC hopes to expand the programming at Merriweather to include movie nights, the return of orchestras, speaker series, visual arts displays, and other types of events that need not turn a profit so long as costs are covered through the DCACC’s funding apparatus.

Credit for Merriweather’s rebound must also go to to I.M.P. and the ethos it brings to all of its endeavors. This has allowed the company and the amphitheater to thrive as independents in a concert industry that national corporations dominate.

“Live Nation is an 800-pound gorilla. They don’t just own almost every single amphitheater, but also have a management firm so they can basically tell artists where to play,” said Audrey Fix Schaefer, I.M.P.’s communications director. “We’re about creating the best possible experience for the artist that we can. It gives us a chance to get that artist to work with us.”

“When an artist is here, whether they’re a sellout show or nowhere near a sellout artist, everyone is treated here like a sellout artist,” Parker added. “It’s about treating the artist correctly and that’s what’s passed down to all of us from the top.”

I.M.P. recently signed a 40-year lease on Merriweather, which allowed it to invest heavily in upgrades. The $60 million effort includes a rotating stage for festivals, improvements to the amphitheater itself, additional parking, and the construction of vast backstage facilities for staff, artists, and VIPs. Most visible to concert-goers is the Chrysalis stage, a smaller platform that takes advantage of Merriweather’s wooded surroundings. Greensky Bluegrass will be the first Chrysalis headliner on July 22.

“There aren’t many venues with the environmental ambience that we have here,” Parker said of the new space. “The property is unique because of all the trees.”

While Merriweather Post Pavilion’s ownership and partners are taking concrete steps to move into a prosperous future, its success will largely hinge on the sound decision making of its past.

“Merriweather is located right in between two major cities, that’s not going to change. The seasoned staff is not changing, it’s only going to get more seasoned,” Parker said of Merriweather’s prospects. “Now the venue is owned by a non-profit, so that opens up the possibilities for more creativity.”

Correction: A previous version of this article indicated that I.M.P. had signed a 50-year lease with Merriweather Post Pavilion. The story has been updated to reflect that I.M.P.’s lease is for 40 years.

Merriweather Post Pavilion’s 50th Anniversary Concert takes place on Saturday, July 15, with Jackson Browne and Willie Nelson. Father John Misty opens the show and Grace Potter hosts the event. 6 p.m. $55-$125.


Willie Nelson & Family at Koko Booth Amphitheater tonight (Cary, NC)

Friday, July 14th, 2017

photo:  Mark Humphrey
by Jack Bernhardt

Country Picks: An A-List country weekend kicks off with Willie Nelson

A big Friday night is at hand for fans of A-List country and folk troubadours.

Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary hosts the legendary Willie Nelson and Family for an evening of hit after hit after hit. At Durham’s Carolina Theatre, it’s country rocker Steve Earle and his long-time band the Dukes. And Raleigh’s Red Hat Amphitheater offers a triple-bill with Jefferson Airplane spinoff Electric Hot Tuna performing with the Wood Brothers and the Tedeschi-Trucks Band, while the Australian country music of Kasey Chambers is featured at Cat’s Cradle.

Read more here:

Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic 2017

Friday, July 7th, 2017

photo:  Rick Kern

Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic 2017: 10 Best Things We Saw

From Margo Price’s gutsy set to the host’s virile show-closing performance
by:  Jeff Gage

Willie Nelson’s annual Fourth of July picnic is a far cry today from its outlaw roots. Once a communal country-hippie party in central Texas, today it’s a slick corporate affair that takes place at the state-of-the-art Circuit of the Americas racetrack outside Austin. Yet, as the 44th installment of the picnic unfurled on the country’s most patriotic holiday, it felt refreshingly in touch with those roots. Nelson, never one to shy away from an opportunity to jam, rolled out plenty of old friends and a number of his family members as he celebrated America’s birthday like only he knows how, fireworks show and all. With 17 acts playing over 12 hours on two stages, these were the 10 best things we saw.

Lukas Nelson

Rick Kern/WireImage

Trying to carve out your own music career as the child of an icon like Willie Nelson is one of the toughest gigs in the business, but Lukas Nelson is used to it. Playing a few hours after his second cousin, Raelyn Nelson, Lukas and his band, Promise of the Real, sounded like a chip off the old block, with the pretty “Forget About Georgia” – a response to one of his dad’s most famous recordings that included an Allman Brothers-worthy coda – proving a midday highlight. But Lukas really starred during his old man’s set, when he stepped up to sing and play a fiery rendition of “Texas Flood.”

Ray Wylie Hubbard

Rick Kern/WireImage

Early in the day, the picnic featured a series of old outlaws and Texas mainstays, including David Allan Coe (the first set of the day), Billy Joe Shaver and Johnny Bush, all on the smaller Honor Flight Grand Plaza Stage. Ray Wylie Hubbard, the first performer on the main pavilion stage in the 360 Amphitheater, was the perfect bridge to the past, with his ominous, loping back beats, off-beat banter, and the stellar guitar work of his son, Lucas. And, of course, there was his “long-haired cosmic cowboy” anthem, “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother.” “This ain’t exactly ‘Kumbaya,'” Hubbard told the crowd, “but looking at y’all, it seems more appropriate.”

Sheryl Crow

Gary Miller/GettyImages

The picture of pop-star polish, Sheryl Crow and her band put on a masterful performance, with Crow herself taking turns at guitar, bass and harmonica. Early hits like “Strong Enough” and “If It Makes You Happy” were easy crowd-pleasers, while songs off her latest album Be Myself proved the singer-songwriter is making some of her best work yet. Crow, sporting a T-shirt adorned with an image of the host, also created one of the highlights of the night when she brought out Willie and Lukas Nelson – with whom she’s touring this summer on the Outlaw Music Festival ­– to pay tribute to Gregg Allman with a cover of “Midnight Rider,” a song she’s been known to slip into her sets in the past.

Margo Price

Gary Miller/GettyImages

During the daylight hours, no one’s singing came close to matching that of Margo Price. Following Carll on the pavilion stage, the Illinois native – who’s had a breakout year since she played the picnic last year – gave the gutsiest performance of the day, her vocals a cross between a twangy coo and a siren wail, reverberating around the amphitheater no matter the intensity. Her band, including husband Jeremy Ivey on harmonica, never missed a beat, especially on a rollicking cover of “Me and Bobby McGee” that Price kicked off with an a cappella intro that was downright spine-tingling.

Steve Earle & the Dukes

Gary Miller/GettyImages

“Fixin’ to die, reckon I’ll be going to hell,” Steve Earle snarled as the sun began to set behind him, the final set on the smaller Honor Flight stage. No one else rocked like Earle and the Dukes. Really, only one other group, the delightfully eccentric Insects Vs. Robots featuring Lukas Nelson’s brother, Micah, rocked at all, but Earle was in particularly fine form. Angry and defiant in song, he virtually spat the words out, but was loose and engaging in between. While some of the classics were present (“Copperhead Road”), it was songs like “Fixin’ to Die” from his newly released LP, So You Wanna Be an Outlaw, that really stirred.

Turnpike Troubadours

Turnpike Troubadours
Rick Kern/WireImage

References to Independence Day were inevitable at Circuit of the Americas, but they proved relatively few and far between besides the occasional stage banter. That was just as well, seeing how Turnpike Troubadours nailed it with a storming version of “The Bird Hunters.” That song was the finale of an amped-up set from the Oklahoma natives, who turned the Red Dirt up to 11 and never backed off with their flurry of fiddle, accordion and banjo. Singer Evan Felker pointed out that it was the Troubadours’ first picnic, which he followed up by shredding his way through “Before the Devil Knows We’re Dead” on acoustic guitar.

photo:  Gary Miller

Kacey Musgraves

The best set of the day arguably belonged to Kacey Musgraves. Pitch perfect, sweet and salty, the Golden, Texas, native hit all the right notes between girl-next-door charm and trailer park sass. She swooned one minute (“Late to the Party”) and got sentimental the next (“Family Is Family”), striking the perfect love-’em-and-hate-’em balance that family is liable to evoke on any holiday. Best of all was Musgraves’ touching new “Butterflies,” which she admitted was one of many new love songs she’s written. “I went and got happy,” she told the crowd. “Sorry, not sorry.”

Sorry, not sorry.”

Jamey Johnson

Rick Kern/WireImage

The Troubadours may have done well by the Fourth of July, but Jamey Johnson took poignant patriotism to the next level with a particularly emotional set. His cover of “This Land Is Your Land” was a tearjerker that gave Margo Price a run for her money in the vocal department, a fact that was appropriate given that the pair – who’ve been on the road together recently – then collaborated on the Band’s “It Makes No Difference.” But theirs wasn’t even the best duet of the set. That honor went to Johnson’s rendition of his sole hit “In Color,” which saw the Alabama native joined by two little girls – his daughter Kylee and her best friend Alyssa Greene – who got a standing ovation.

Hayes Carll

Hayes Carll
Gary Miller/GettyImages

The 100-degree heat hadn’t begun to break yet by the time Hayes Carll played on the pavilion stage, where there were zero options to hide from the sun. As such, there was something particularly welcome about the Austin native’s off-kilter sense of humor, which added a delirious edge to the afternoon. At one point, Carll reminisced about playing Nelson’s picnic 15 years ago, alleging that he’d been booked to play a half hour before doors even opened. The real highlight, however, was his charming duet with pianist Emily Gimble on “Another Like You,” in which the pair gave each other as good as they got.

Willie Nelson

Rick Kern/WireImage

For all the ink that’s been spilled in 2017 contemplating Willie Nelson’s health, the Red Headed Stranger was at home and in his element as he closed out his 44th picnic on Tuesday. You’re not liable to catch a better set from the 84-year-old this year, who smiled and laughed and cranked from one song to the next with nary a pause. Backed up by sons Lukas and Micah, and Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson, he paid tribute to Waylon and Merle and had an all-star sing-along during “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.” Most importantly, Trigger was turned up high in the mix, the Lefty to Nelson’s Pancho, there to help him close out another trip around the sun for the U.S.A. on their own terms.

Willie Nelson’s Picnic

Wednesday, July 5th, 2017
by  Bobbie Jean Sawyer

July 4th in Texas is practically synonymous with Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic. The event has been a part of Texas culture – on and off – for over 40 years. But beyond being a great party with some of country music’s greatest icons, the picnic helped give birth to the outlaw country movement that changed Texas and country music forever.

In honor of the 44th edition of the famous picnic, take a look back at Texas’ biggest party and how it all came together.

The Family Reunion

In 1972, Willie Nelson was fresh from Nashville. He had been spending time in his home state after his Tennessee home was destroyed in a fire. He had grown tired of Nashville suits overproducing his records and was eager to start over far from Music City. Then he heard about a gig in Dripping Springs.

The site was Hurlbut Ranch, an unassuming plot of land along Hwy. 290 just west of Dripping Springs. Dallas promoters had their heart set on creating a “Hillbilly Woodstock,” investing $250,000 into the event. It was called the Dripping Springs Reunion.

While the reunion is now remembered for its gathering of hippies and rednecks converged in the Texas Hill Country to see Waylon, Willie and the rest of the redneck rock brigade, the actual lineup was far more conservative. The reunion assembled country legends like Earl Scruggs, Tom T. Hall, Tex Ritter and Roy Acuff.

Missing from the list of names on the much touted lineup? Willie Nelson. Even though he was one of the most sought after songwriters in Nashville, Nelson hadn’t earned top billing just yet (at least in the eyes of the promoters). The long-haired Red Headed Stranger we now know and love was still sporting short hair and a golf cap.

‘Hillbilly Woodstock’

Both the promoters and national media expected the Dripping Springs Reunion to have a massive turnout. (Rolling Stone even sent Annie Leibovitz to snap photos of the event.) But in terms of attendance, the reunion was kind of a bust. Organizers expected 60,000 people a day. Between 7,000 and 10,000 showed up at the reunion, which ran from March 17 through the 19th.

But the Dripping Springs Reunion is remembered because of what it inspired. It further proved that country music wasn’t as straitlaced as Music Row assumed. It showed that there was a hunger for country songs that Nashville wasn’t offering.

One of those songs was by a young songwriter named Billy Joe Shaver. When Waylon Jennings heard Shaver sing “Willie the Wandering Gyspy and Me” backstage at the reunion, he knew on the spot that he’d record the song.

And when clean cut Willie was hanging out backstage with his friends, watching guitars being passed around and listening to songs sung, he realized he didn’t need to be in Nashville to make the music he wanted to make. In fact, he needed Texas.

The Inaugural Picnic

In the months following the reunion, Willie Nelson’s star continued to grow in Texas and beyond. Gigs at progressive country hubs like the Armadillo World Headquarters had made him the face of Austin’s growing music scene. He was free to do whatever he wanted. And what Willie wanted was to throw a massive 4th of July celebration in the Texas Hill Country with all of his closest friends.

Nelson decided the same Dripping Springs ranch should be the site for the inaugural 4th of July Picnic. Inspiration struck Willie in early summer of 1973, which only left a weeks to organize the massive event. Incredibly, Willie’s crew pulled it off and 40,000 people attended the one-day event.

The lineup included Waylon Jennings, John Prine, Tom T. Hall, Doug Sahm and Kris Kristofferson.

The video below shows a performance by Waylon Jennings and Leon Russell during an early 4th of July Picnic.

A Brief History of the Traveling Picnic

Despite being a Texas tradition, Willie’s picnic hasn’t really stayed in one spot for long. Here’s a rundown of some of the notable venues that have hosted the celebration.

College Station

In 1974, the picnic moved to College Station at the Texas World Speedway. The event is especially notable for the parking lot fire that broke out, destroying a young Robert Earl Keen’s car. (The car going up in flames is on the album cover for Keen’s album Picnic.)

Liberty Hill

The picnic was held in Liberty Hill in 1975. Apparently, several attendees messed with Texas, leaving litter scattered across the grounds. Willie was fined $1,000 for violating the Texas Mass Gatherings Act.


The 1976 picnic in Gonzales is one of the largest in history, with more than 80,000 people in attendance. Unfortunately, the three-day festival was racked with controversy. More than 140 people were arrested and several assaults were reported. Willie was even sued by a couple of the injured attendees. Perhaps due to the Gonzales fiasco, Willie moved the picnic outside of Texas for the next couple of years.


After the picnic bounced around sites from Tulsa to Kansas City to Willie’s own Pedernales Country Club, the event found a new home in Luckenbach from 1995 through 1999. In ’96, Waylon Jennings made his only trip to the small town he helped make famous.

The Family Reunion

In 1972, Willie Nelson was fresh from Nashville. He had been spending time in his home state after his Tennessee home was destroyed in a fire. He had grown tired of Nashville suits overproducing his records and was eager to start over far from Music City. Then he heard about a gig in Dripping Springs.

The site was Hurlbut Ranch, an unassuming plot of land along Hwy. 290 just west of Dripping Springs. Dallas promoters had their heart set on creating a “Hillbilly Woodstock,” investing $250,000 into the event. It was called the Dripping Springs Reunion.

While the reunion is now remembered for its gathering of hippies and rednecks converged in the Texas Hill Country to see Waylon, Willie and the rest of the redneck rock brigade, the actual lineup was far more conservative. The reunion assembled country legends like Earl Scruggs, Tom T. Hall, Tex Ritter and Roy Acuff.

Missing from the list of names on the much touted lineup? Willie Nelson. Even though he was one of the most sought after songwriters in Nashville, Nelson hadn’t earned top billing just yet (at least in the eyes of the promoters). The long-haired Red Headed Stranger we now know and love was still sporting short hair and a golf cap.

‘Hillbilly Woodstock’

Both the promoters and national media expected the Dripping Springs Reunion to have a massive turnout. (Rolling Stone even sent Annie Leibovitz to snap photos of the event.) But in terms of attendance, the reunion was kind of a bust. Organizers expected 60,000 people a day. Between 7,000 and 10,000 showed up at the reunion, which ran from March 17 through the 19th.

But the Dripping Springs Reunion is remembered because of what it inspired. It further proved that country music wasn’t as straitlaced as Music Row assumed. It showed that there was a hunger for country songs that Nashville wasn’t offering.

One of those


In 2003, the picnic was held at Two River Canyon outside Spicewood, Texas. The event was a success, but a massive traffic jam on Texas 71 caused by concert goers was a deal breaker for several would-be attendants.

Billy Bob’s Texas

In 2004, Willie moved the party to to the Fort Worth Stockyards behind Billy Bob’s Texas. Finally, there was real air conditioning just a few feet away– a novelty for the picnic. The large condensed crowd was a challenge for downtown Fort Worth but the picnic came back to the Stockyards for two more years.

Austin 360 Amphitheater

For the last couple of years, the 360 Amphitheater has been the home of Willie’s 4th of July Picnic.

This year’s lineup features Margo Price, Kacey Musgraves, Steve Earle, Jamey Johnson, Turnpike Troubadours, Asleep at the Wheel, among several others. Like always, they’re all renegade artists who play by their own rules. No matter where the picnic is held, the independent spirit will always live on.


Willie and Leon: “One for the Road” Re-Release (2017)

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017

by:  Joe Breen

In 1979, British inflation was 18 per cent, Margaret Thatcher was elected British prime minister, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, Sony launched the Walkman and Willie Nelson and Leon Russell released One for the Road.

Those events are history but this album sounds remarkably fresh on its re-release, production and performance losing nothing in the years. Russell went the way of all flesh last November but Willie soldiers on, his ubiquity making no dent in his status as one of the all-time great stylists.

Here, he shares the honours with Russell’s dusty country gospel voice on a mix of Great American Songbook classics, Nashville standards and “Danny Boy”.

Alan Robinson’s sleeve notes state: “Part party hearty, part tears in the whiskey, it stands as something of a minor gem in both of these stellar artists’ body of work.” Hard to disagree.

Dwight Yoakam and Robert Earl Keen play before Willie Nelson & Family Show Rained out in KC Saturday

Monday, June 19th, 2017

photo:  Susan Pfannmuller
by:  Bill Brownlee

A severe storm forced a dream triple bill of Willie Nelson, Dwight Yoakam and Robert Earl Keen at Starlight Theatre on Saturday to remain an elusive fantasy. The deluge that followed sets by Yoakam and Keen led to the cancellation of the country legend’s headlining appearance.

While many in the audience of almost 8,000 received a thorough soaking before Nelson’s portion of the concert was called off, the venue was almost full for appearances by Yoakam and Keen.

Yoakam still wears the skintight jeans and cowboy hat that turned heads when his debut release “Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.” topped the country albums chart in 1986, but the California-based artist was more committed to paying homage to his heroes than in assuming the role of a sex symbol. Yoakam has always been a dedicated revivalist — his first hit was a cover of the 1956 Johnny Horton song “Honky Tonk Man” — but Saturday’s outing was more like a tribute show than a showcase for his original material.

Supported his outstanding four-piece band, Yoakam opened with a muscular cover of Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie.” He paid homage to Elvis Presley with his hit version of the 1961 single “Little Sister” and dedicated “Streets of Bakersfield” to the late country star Buck Owens.

Heartfelt renditions of four Merle Haggard songs formed the core of the 50-minute set. A gentle translation of “Silver Wings” elicited appreciative sighs while plaintive pedal steel guitar solos bolstered “”Swinging Doors” and “Mama Tried.” Yoakam spoke at length about “Okie From Muskogee” before playing the controversial song. Recalling that Haggard had told him the hit was intended to be “tongue in cheek,” Yoakam implied that the societal rifts that made the song resonate in 1969 are just as prevalent today.

An ongoing flurry of anxious activity on the fringes of the stage repeatedly distracted Yoakam. A cover of Nelson’s “Me and Paul” was cut short when Yoakam said that someone backstage was displeased with the selection. The misconstrued signals of a stagehand also contributed to a couple false starts.

Keen and his six-piece backing band spent an hour re-creating his beloved Texas roadhouse songs like “The Road Goes On Forever” and “Gringo Honeymoon” with the admirable efficiency of jukebox. The raggedness of Keen’s unvarnished bray was offset by stellar fiddle and mandolin accents. While the rainout of Nelson was disappointing, Keen’s fans took it stride. They know that the motto of Keen’s signature song applies to the career of the octogenarian country legend: “the road goes on forever and the party never ends.”

Dwight Yoakam set list: Little Queenie; Please, Please Baby; Little Sister; Streets of Bakersfield; Silver Wings; Swinging Doors; Mama Tried; Okie From Muskogee; Me and Paul; It Won’t Hurt; I’ll Be Gone; Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose; Honky Tonk Man; A Thousand Miles From Nowhere; Guitars, Cadillacs.

Robert Earl Keen set list: I’ll Go On Downtown; What I Really Mean; Feelin’ Good Again; Gringo Honeymoon; Shades of Gray; Ride; I Gotta Go; Dreadful Selfish Crime; I Know You Rider; I’m Comin’ Home; The Road Goes On Forever.

Willie Nelson & Family at Ravinia Festival (June 17, 2017)

Sunday, June 18th, 2017


photo and story by Dan Garcia

Willie Nelson was on the road again last night, as the legendary country singer brought his band and family to the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, IL, just 20 miles north of Chicago. Supported by his son, Lukas Nelson as his band, Promise of the Real, the 84-year-old Nelson delivered a memorable performance to the packed crowd, bringing a bit of Texas to the Windy City.

Up first for the night was Lukas Nelson & the Promise of the Real, who just finished a big performance at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. With Lukas, growing up with Willie Nelson as his dad, and Promise of the Real who have toured with Lukas for years, as well as the amazing Neil Young, the opening performers were more than prepared to get the night started on a high note.

Jamming out to tracks like ‘Four Leter Word’, Find Yourself’, ‘Carolina’, Nelson’s hometown dedicated ‘Just Outside of Austin’ and more, Lukas Nelson gave the Ravinia crowd a half hour of great tunes. Highlights of Lukas Nelson’s set included his many guitar solos, as well as his performance of ‘(Forget About) Georgia’, Nelson’s ode to an ex-girlfriend. Lukas ended his set with a huge minute-long guitar solo to ‘Set Me Down on a Cloud’, with his hair flying every which direction and the crowd giving Willie’s kin a big standing ovation.

As crew finished preparing for the man of the night, the lights turned up in the pavilion and Willie came out to a great the crowd of thousands, who rose to their feet as Willie began his performance. Backed by his loyal band, as well as members of his family, including his (2-year older) “little sister Bonnie” and son Lukas who returned to the stage, Willie was in great company from start to finish. Nelson was also joined by one of his most loyal companions, his beat up Martin N-20 nylon-string acoustic guitar, “Trigger”. And while the guitar looks older than Willie himself, who proves that 84 is the new 50, it still can put on a great show.

Nelson kicked things off with his 1973 track, ‘Whisky River’, a fan favorite and Grammy-nominated classic perfectly tailored to begin a memorable performance. Following with his 1993 ‘Still Is Still Moving To Me’ and his 2002 Toby Keith collab ‘Beer For My Horses’, Nelson performed a number of hits from his entire catalog of tracks that cover over a half a decade.

One of the first big highlight’s of Nelson’s set included his and Lukas’ cover of ‘Texas Flood’, where Lukas took over the vocals and father and son closed out the song by trading guitar solos. Instantly Willie continued the momentum with the classic, ‘Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys’, but as Willie was rocking his cowboy hat in front of a huge flag from the Lone Star State, he encourages us to do as he says, and not as he does.

No Willie Nelson set would be complete without a couple entertaining dedications to Mary Jane, and tonight fans were treated to tracks like ‘It’s All Going To Pot’ and ‘Roll Me Up’, where Nelson lays out his desires to be smoked in a joint when he passes away.  And although Nelson is in his 80’s, touring the country keeps him young and he reminded the Ravinia crowd he’s still alive and kicking and won’t be “rolled up” anytime soon, with his track ‘Still Not Dead’, his 2017 response to the various death rumors that have surrounded his name.

From his Hank Williams cover, ‘Jambalaya on the Bayou’, his performance of ‘Georgia On My Mind’, to his encore of ‘Uncloudy Day’, Willie Nelson and company gave Highland Park a night that they will not soon forget.

Set List

Whisky River
Still Is Still Moving To Me
Beer For My Horses
Good Hearted Woman
Funny How Time Slips Away
Night Life
Texas Flood
Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys
Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground
On The Road Again
Always On My Mind
Shoeshine Man
It’s All Going To Pot
Georgie On My Mind
Jambalaya on the Bayou
Roll Me Up
I’ll Fly Away
I Saw The Light
Still Not Dead
Uncloudy Day

Willie Nelson & Family at the Pinewood Bowl in Lincoln (6/7/2017)

Thursday, June 8th, 2017

photo:  Kevin Coffey
by: Kevin Coffey

LINCOLN — Willie Nelson is still at it.

Or as he’d say, “still not dead.” And the pace of the 84-year-old country legend “would kill a normal man.”
Wednesday’s sold-out show at the Pinewood Bowl Theater showed good old Willie’s still got it as he played late into the night, well past his typical set time.

The capacity crowd was game, singing the chorus to “On the Road Again” and diving to nab one of the signature red bandanas he pulled from his head and tossed into the audience.

Nelson’s set capped a night of fantastic, classic country music with sets from both Robert Earl Keen and Dwight Yoakam.

Coffey: Long, lively Willie Nelson set, Yoakam highlight one of best country shows I’ve seen | Music |

A Texas country songwriter, Keen and his band played an hour full of songs such as “Feelin” Good Again,” “Gringo Honeymoon” and “The Road Goes On Forever.”They’re excellent country songs that aren’t exactly smash hits but may be familiar to country fans. They should be familiar with everyone.

A Kentucky boy by way of California, Yoakam once again delivered a set similarly full of honky tonk filtered through Hollywood.

Yoakam ran through a set that included tributes to Merle Haggard and covers of Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley as well as his own hits such as “1,000 Miles,” “Guitars, Cadillacs” and “Fast As You.”

You can’t go wrong with Yoakam even if, like me, you’ve seen him several times. The singer and his band are always incredible.

Keen, Yoakam and Nelson all mentioned how happy they were to be together on the bill, which is one of the best I’ve seen on a country show.

“It’s nice to be out here with Willie,” Yoakam said. “Thank you very much for coming out and hanging out with Robert Earl and myself.”

Yoakam even played a few bars of Nelson’s “Me and Paul” before joking that he didn’t want to get fired for doing so.

Nelson must have enjoyed the joke because he played “Me and Paul,” a song he hasn’t played recently, during his own set.

As he picked out melodies in his signature, enigmatic style on his trusty guitar Trigger, Nelson led his longtime band through a series of his classic songs as well as lots of covers and tributes to Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Billy Joe Shaver, Tom T. Hall and Hank Williams.

Those tunes plus “Whiskey River”, “Beer For My Horses,” “Always On My Mind” and others are classic country, and Nelson performed them admirably.

Even Keen and Yoakam enjoyed themselves.

As he kicked off a finale with “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” the pair of fellow country stars joined him to close out the show.

None of them could quit smiling.

Willie Nelson, “God’s Problem Child”

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

1. Little House On The Hill (Lyndel Rhodes)
2. Old Timer (Donnie Fritz / Lenny LeBlanc)
3. True Love (Willie Nelson / Buddy Cannon)
4. Delete And Fast Forward (Willie Nelson / Buddy Cannon)
5. A Woman’s Love (Mike Reid / Sam Hunter)
6. Your Memory Has A Mind Of Its Own (Willie Nelson / Buddy Cannon)
7. Butterfly (Sonny Throckmorton / Mark Sherrill)
8. Still Not Dead (Willie Nelson / Buddy Cannon)
9. God’s Problem Child (Jamey Johnson / Tony Joe White)
10. It Gets Easier (Willie Nelson / Buddy Cannon)
11. Lady Luck (Willie Nelson / Buddy Cannon)
12. I Made A Mistake (Willie Nelson / Buddy Cannon)
13. He Won’t Ever Be Gone (Gary Nicholson)

The latest album from a classic artist and the revisiting of a classic album by a contemporary act are in the Ear Bliss spotlight this week. Now in his 80s, we should all be blessed with the health and work ethic of Willie Nelson. He tours endlessly and continues to release at least one album every year. His latest called God’s Problem Child is Willie to the bone (no pun intended!) and continues his collaboration with the legendary Nashville producer Buddy Cannon.

Willie Nelson
God’s Problem Child
Sony Legacy Recordings

Having just hit the age of 84, Willie Nelson shows no signs of slowing down from both the recording and touring perspectives. As his latest album called God’s Problem Child attests, he is also not just mailing it in. His first album of new songs since 2014’s Band of Brothers, the Red-Headed Stranger is both in fine voice and picking his old guitar Trigger as good as ever. The album finds him teaming up once again with longtime collaborator and legendary Nashville-based producer Buddy Cannon. (In addition to producing, Cannon is also credited as co-writer on seven of the album’s 13 songs.) Ever the restless one when it comes to style, God’s Problem Child is Nelson’s usual highly listenable brew of country, swing, jazz, and even the blues. The latter is exemplified by the title track written by Jamey Johnson and Tony Joe White, a laid back number that includes vocals by both writers along with the late Leon Russell on what just may be his final recording. It’s punctuated by some fine blues guitar picking by Willie himself. It’s just one of many moments from an album filled with them that begins with the “Whiskey River” styled ramblin’ country of “On the Hill” and closes with a tribute to Merle Haggard (“He Won’t Ever Be Gone”). In between it moves from Willie pondering his own mortality in both serious  (“Old Timer”) and humorous (“Still Not Dead” on which Nelson sings “I woke again still not dead gain today” fashions, not to mention the aging process (“It Gets Easier” and “Your Memory Has a Mind of Its Own”).  Speaking frankly, you just can’t wrong with a Willie Nelson album and God’s Problem Child is yet another keeper. Visit

Old Crow Medicine Show
50 Years of Blonde on Blonde
Columbia Records

It has been 50 years since the release of the album Blonde on Blonde. Ask someone to pick their favorite Bob Dylan album and no doubt it will be in the running. The country and roots collective Old Crow Medicine Show burst on the Americana scene in the late aughts thanks to a cover of a relatively obscure Dylan song called “Wagon Wheel.” It helped establish them as one of the leaders of the Americana genre. The group takes the Dylan thing up another notch with its newly released recreation of the Dylan classic. 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde salutes that classic album while also doubling as the band’s major label debut. Let’s get to it.


Willie Nelson & Family in Lincoln

Thursday, June 1st, 2017
by: L. Kent Wolgamott

Thirty years ago, before we had answering machines on our desk phones, we newsroom denizens answered the ringing phones on nearby desks and took messages.

One mid-September afternoon, my phone was ringing off the hook. An AP reporter who happened to be walking by, picked it up and got a shock — it was Willie Nelson calling, out of the blue.

He wanted an update on Farm Aid III that was set to happen at Memorial Stadium a week later. He knew about how things were going on the production side of things — what he wanted from me was a sense of how it was being received and how many people would turn up.

My response, as I recall now, was that people were pretty excited and it would sell out.

My predictive skills were pretty close — the concert sold 69,000 of 70,000 available tickets (1,000 tickets held for day of show didn’t sell) and is still the biggest concert in Nebraska history and very likely always will be.

There’ll be a lot fewer people at Pinewood Bowl Wednesday night, when Willie comes back to Lincoln bringing Dwight Yoakam and Robert Earl Keen along with him.

That show is nearly sold out and will bring about 4,500 to Pioneers Park to catch the now 84-year-old legend.

Over the years, Willie’s played nearly every Lincoln venue of any size — the Bob Devaney Sports Center, Pershing Center, the Ice Box and Haymarket Park.

That said, it’s been a good while since Willie played Lincoln. Scrolling through the Journal Star;s online archive the last Nelson show I found here was at Haymarket Park in 2004 — along with Bob Dylan.

Since then, I’ve caught Willie and his great band, Family, at the Nebraska State Fair in Grand Island, in Omaha two or three times and in Austin, Texas, during South By Southwest.

I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen him — well over a dozen for sure. He’s the country artist I’ve seen the most — and up there with The Replacements, Bob Dylan and The Hold Steady among all artists.

He’s also, well, Willie.

In my encounters with him since the late ’70s on his bus, sitting in a dressing room, in a bar, on the phone for more than an hour (Willie knows more dirty jokes than any human on earth) or standing on the 50-yard-line at Memorial Stadium, he’s always been the same guy — the hillbilly Dalai Lama.

Full of wisdom, humor and, as the pre-Farm Aid call demonstrated, always aware of his fans and his personal impact and that of his music, Willie’s a rightfully beloved, known-by-his-first-name, hard-working national treasure.

With most of his peers either retired or gone, Willie’s still on the road — two weeks on, two weeks off — and he’ll be leading a traveling festival later this summer. Plus, he’s, of late, been cranking out two albums a year.

In April, he marked his birthday with the release of “God’s Problem Child,” one of his best records in years that includes “Still Not Dead,” a rebuff to the constant internet rumors of his passing that’s pure Willie through and through:

“I run and down the road making music as I go

They say my pace would kill a normal man

But I’ve never been accused of being normal anyway

And I woke up still not dead again today.”

See you Wednesday, Willie.

FACT CHECK: Willie Nelson Dead? (

Sunday, May 21st, 2017

Claim: Country star Willie Nelson has died.

Claimed by: Internet

Fact check by FALSE

Breaking News! Willie Nelson “Woke Up Still Not Dead Again Today”

Saturday, May 20th, 2017
Did Willie Nelson die? It looks like another death hoax might have struck the iconic country singer and totally had everyone in a state of panic! Is he okay?

Everyone breath a sigh of relief! Willie Nelson, 84, was the latest celebrity to fall victim to those zany death hoaxes. People started to freak out when an old rumor from Snopes reported that the country music legend had tragically passed away. Thankfully the rumors don’t appear to be true and Willie is okay.

Willie’s excellent reflection on a life well lived: God’s Problem Child

Saturday, May 6th, 2017
by:  Lee Zimmerman

You would think that at the ripe old age of 84 — an age that would find most people taking full advantage of retirement and the security of home and hearth — Willie Nelson would see fit to rest comfortably on his laurels and focus entirely on his golf game. Indeed, given his prodigious output — over 60 studio albums, scores of standards, films, books, touring and activism — there might be ample reason to believe his creative wellspring had been dried of inspiration as well as any ambition.

Yet, here he is back with another superb studio effort, one that measures up to the high bar set early on with Red Headed Stranger, Shotgun Willie, Stardust and the countless other albums that set the standard, not only for his contemporaries but for generations of country crossover artists who followed in his wake. “As we get older It gets easier to say not today,” Willie remarks in “It Gets Easier,” a song that describes the reluctance and resignation that confronts so many people as they ease into the sunset of their later lives.

Fortunately then, as evidenced by the baker’s dozen songs that inhabit God’ s Problem Child, Willie has no intention of giving in to concession or defeat. He makes a mockery of his own mortality on “Still Not Dead” and parodies his eccentric image on the title track. “I’m a lot like ol’ Ripley On believe it or not,” he sings on “I Made a Mistake,” belying the fact that he’s obviously doing everything right to be doing what he’s doing at this age.

In truth, God’ s Problem Child could be seen as a reflection on a life well spent (“You had your run and it’s been a good one” he sings on the otherwise weary “Old Timer”), but with plenty of frayed edges to ruminate on as well. While “He Won’t Ever Be Gone” is obviously intended as eulogy to friends long gone — Cash, Jennings, Ray Price and the like — it could also be seen as a living testament to Nelson himself. Happily, he’s still with us, but there’s no doubt that when that day comes when he’s called away to that great touring bus in the sky, his remarkable legacy will continue to live on. We should all be as fortunate.

New Willie Nelson Album, “God’s Problem Child”

Sunday, April 30th, 2017


1. Little House On The Hill (Lyndel Rhodes)
2. Old Timer (Donnie Fritz / Lenny LeBlanc)
3. True Love (Willie Nelson / Buddy Cannon)
4. Delete And Fast Forward (Willie Nelson / Buddy Cannon)
5. A Woman’s Love (Mike Reid / Sam Hunter)
6. Your Memory Has A Mind Of Its Own (Willie Nelson / Buddy Cannon)
7. Butterfly (Sonny Throckmorton / Mark Sherrill)
8. Still Not Dead (Willie Nelson / Buddy Cannon)
9. God’s Problem Child (Jamey Johnson / Tony Joe White)
10. It Gets Easier (Willie Nelson / Buddy Cannon)
11. Lady Luck (Willie Nelson / Buddy Cannon)
12. I Made A Mistake (Willie Nelson / Buddy Cannon)
13. He Won’t Ever Be Gone (Gary Nicholson)

Willie Nelson turns 84 Saturday and is, intentionally or not, marking that occasion with the release of “God’s Problem Child,” his best album in years.

Mixing seven of his own compositions/co-writes with five perfectly selected songs from other writers, Nelson’s created a late-life record that stands out from other such collections because, well, it’s songs from Willie.

That means there’s humor, road-rooted wisdom, a little faith and a lot of acceptance set in some graceful, smooth classic Nelson-style arrangements punctuated by his distinctive nylon-string guitar work with Mickey Raphael’s harmonica evocatively sliding in and out of the songs.

Nelson’s singing is up there with the best he’s put on record, his distinctive phrasing and soft but distinct vocalizing putting a touching heart into songs like the romantic “Butterfly.” He adds a worn understanding to “Lady Luck” and “I Made a Mistake” and a sly resignation to “Your Memory Has a Mind of Its Own.”

Humor comes on the wry, swinging “Still Not Dead,” one of the co-writes with producer Buddy Cannon, that takes off on internet rumors of his death, saying “Don’t bury me, I’ve got a show to play/and I woke up still not dead today.”

Then there’s the title cut that features the late Leon Russell and vocals from its co-writers Tony Joe White and Jamey Johnson that embraces Nelson’s status as an outlaw country icon while “Old Timer” finds him still on the road.

“God’s Problem Child,” which opens with “Little House on the Hill,” an allegory for going to heaven, ends with “He Won’t Ever Be Gone,” a Gary Nicholson-penned tribute to Willie’s old running buddy Merle Haggard.

The superb album and the continual touring that will bring him to Pinewood Bowl in June show that Willie won’t ever be gone either. Grade: A

Reach the writer at 402-473-7244 or

New Willie Nelson Album out today! “God’s Problem Child”

Friday, April 28th, 2017
Paste Review of the Day: Willie Nelson - <i>God's Problem Child</i>
by:  Holly Gleason

In a youth-obsessed world, God’s Problem Child flies in convention’s face. On the languishing title track, penned by Jamey Johnson and swamp rocker Tony Joe White, Willie Nelson enlists the song’s co-writers and Leon Russell to consider living on one’s own time and terms. Inhabiting the song as wizened elders who’ve stripped off false standards to find peace and redemption, they sound ragged and resolved as an acoustic blues guitar wrestles the melody on the bridge and Mickey Raphael’s harmonica rises like so much heat.

Turning 84 on April 29, Willie Nelson—like Tony Bennett—is one of pop culture’s few reining icons who remain creatively engaged. Beating Streisand for 2017’s Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album Grammy for Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin, the red headed stranger returns to more familiar territory on GPC. A consideration of aging, loss and engaging the world from that lived in perspective, it feels like Nelson’s personal state of the union.

Sifting the seeds and stems of lost love, disappointment and mortality, Nelson’s slightly out of time, note-stretching voice is porous, yet strong on the somber “True Love.” Belying the saccharine title, the spare arrangement moves beneath his clear-eyed assessment of how hard, yet wonderful, love is.

That theme also permeates the Spanish-leaning “A Woman’s Love,” slightly noir and fairly erotic, and the more straightforward country lope “Your Memory Has A Mind of Its Own.” For Nelson, romantic love remains the most powerful and elusive aspect of life no matter the age.

That honesty gives God’s Problem Child heft. Writing seven of the 13 songs with producer Buddy Cannon, known for his work from Vern Gosdin’s seminal Chiseled in Stone to Alison Krauss’ brand new Windy City, and curating the rest from friends, the cohesion suggests Nelson is clear-eyed about his place along this mortal coil. The largely gut string guitar, accordion and steel-drenched “It Gets Easier” is sublime straight country that seems an almost perfect wedding song. Perfect, until a closer listen reveals the superstar telling people “but not today.”

Inspired partially by Merle Haggard’s death, memorialized through Gary Nicholson’s “He Won’t Ever Be Gone” which considers Hag’s workingman’s truth, these dead-eye assessments of life near its end cut to the quick. Kris Kristofferson vet Donnie Fritts and Lenny LeBlanc provide an over-the-shoulder assessment on the lean “Old Timer,” while the jaunty mid-80s’s retro country “Little House on the Hill” provides a white picket fence bit of nostalgia from Cannon’s 92-year old mother Lyndel Rhodes.

All is not dour. The man who’s teamed with Snoop Dogg for “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” takes on political science and post-election peace of mind with “Delete and Fast Forward.” But the train-boogie, harmonica blast riveted “Still Not Dead” lets Nelson’s wit run free. Flicking off his advanced age and specific death hoax stories, Nelson sings, “The internet said I had passed away/If I died, I wasn’t dead to stay,” admonishing “the gardener didn’t find me that-a way” and urging, “please don’t bury me, I’ve got a show to play.”

Nelson lives to play. Until he’s called home, it’s a safe bet the music is going to keep coming. If it’s the quality of God’s Problem Child, it will be as vital as anything he’s done.