Archive for the ‘News and Reviews’ Category

Willie Nelson in Las Vegas

Friday, October 25th, 2019
Story and photo by Terence J. Fitzwater

I went to Las Vegas to be a Parrot Head over the weekend.

Instead, I came home having had an epiphany about Willie Nelson and his legacy in music. Now he is “Always on My Mind.” After what I experienced in Las Vegas on Friday night, it is crystal clear to me that Willie Nelson is the greatest country singer in the history of country western music. The sheer size, scope and depth of the man and his music not only begs for him to be considered the greatest of all time, but the record demands it.

To some of you, that may seem obvious. He started singing and playing music over 60 years ago. In the 1950s he was writing classic country songs like “Crazy” for the legendary Patsy Cline and “Hello Walls” among others. His legendary songs, his leading role in popularizing Outlaw Country and then performing with the seminal Highway Men is known to everyone.

What we have seen and witnessed is an amazing history of growth, production and musical metamorphosis unmatched in the annals of country music. We have witnessed Willie Nelson first-hand for over six decades. We have watched and chronicled the transformation and growth of Willie Nelson from a raw and unproven disc jockey in Pleasanton, Texas to the megastar legend he is today. It is unfathomable to comprehend this robust career with all its twists, turns and layers.

This man has evolved into more than just a country music singer and song writer. He likes jazz, the blues, blue grass and all forms of music. He is a big Frank Sinatra fan. But what I didn’t know is how well he can the sing the blues. I found out he is a master blues singer on Friday night.

What we are witnessing right now is the life and times of a legend. We shall never see the likes of a Willie Nelson again.

Read article here.

Willie Nelson & Family at the Big Fresno Fair (October 14, 2019)

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019
Country music legend Willie Nelson, wearing a Fresno State t-shirt, performs to a sell out crowd at the Paul Paul Theater during the last night of the Big Fresno Fair, Monday night, Oct. 14, 2019.
Country music legend Willie Nelson and band perform to a sell out crowd at the Paul Paul Theater during the last night of the Big Fresno Fair, Monday night, Oct. 14, 2019.

1 Country music legend Willie Nelson, wearing a Fresno State t-shirt, performs to a sell out crowd at the Paul Paul Theater during the last night of the Big Fresno Fair, Monday night, Oct. 14, 2019. (John Walker)
by: Joshua Tehee

Willie Nelson offered a history lesson during his concert Monday on the closing night of The Big Fresno Fair.

At 86 years old, the country music icon has been performing since the late 1950s. So, most of his catalog for the night, except 2003’s Toby Keith duet “Beer for My Horses,” was written at least 40 years ago.

Then he dipped into some Hank Williams covers. “Move it On Over” was first recorded in 1947.
Read more here:

The hour-long concert was a reminder of a time before pop stars and arena tours when the power of performance wasn’t set by stage production, light design or backing track, but by how well the players on stage could deliver a song.

Read rest of article here.

Willie Nelson front and center at Nancy Pelsoi speech in Austin

Monday, September 30th, 2019
Image may contain: one or more people and text
by Jordan Bontke

AUSTIN, Texas — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it’s was “clear” to her to launch the impeachment inquiry after knowing the facts from the president’s phone call with a foreign government and reading the whistle blower’s complaint.

As the final speaker of the Texas Tribune Festival, Nancy Pelosi brought in a crowd that filled the Paramount theater, even Willie Nelson sat near the front to hear her speak.

“What happened in that phone conversation, that a president of the United States would withhold military assistance which was paid for by taxpayer money to shake down the leader of another country unless he did him a favor, this is so clear,” said Pelosi.

Pelosi said investigating facts surrounding a possible impeachable offense shouldn’t be something to be proud for those involved or those who are watching it unfold.

“It’s sad, we must be somber, we must be prayerful we must purse the facts further,” she said.

Many democrats and presidential hopefuls have put their support behind the inquiry and Pelosi was asked if any Republicans would publicly support impeachment.

“Let me just say that my fidelity to the oath of office to protect and defend the constitution does not depend where the republicans are in congress,” said Pelosi.

The full weekend brought in multiple democratic presidential candidates like South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and Former U.S. Representative of El Paso, Beto O’Rourke.

“You’re not going to endorse one of those candidates, tonight are you?” asked Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune.

“Oh, I don’t get involved in presidential races, I have enough to deal with in the House of Representatives,” said Pelosi to a laughing crowd.

Willie Nelson’s Outlaw Music Festival (Sept. 11, 2019)

Saturday, September 14th, 2019
photo: Steve Bloom
by: Steve Bloom


Willie Nelson rolled into New York on September 11 headlining the Outlaw Music Festival. On the somber day of remembrance, Nelson and the other bands on the bill perked up the crowd with a day full of upbeat country music.

Nelson was just back on the road after canceling six shows in August due to a breathing problem. The Texas-born troubador is 86 years old.

The Outlaw Music Festival usually includes at least three other bands, plus Nelson’s. The tour, which began on June 14, brought Nelson & Family, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, Alison Krauss and Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real (POTR) to Forest Hills Stadium in Queens, NY. 

read article here

Willie Nelson – the Top Balladeer (New York Times) (September 9, 1981)

Monday, September 9th, 2019

WHY is Willie Nelson, who wears his long, graying hair in braids, dresses like a hippie and was singing honky tonk music in Texas roadhouses as long ago as the l950’s, America’s most admired pop balladeer?

Kenny Rogers sells more records with his saccharine love songs and stagey whisky-rasp, and Frank Sinatra is certainly still a force to be reckoned with, but it is Willie Nelson who has turned chestnuts like ”Georgia on My Mind,” ”Stardust” and ”Mona Lisa” into recent pop hits, and Mr. Nelson draws a more diverse audience than either Mr. Rogers or Mr. Sinatra. The last time he performed in New York, pot-smoking rock fans were sitting next to middle-aged businessmen and their wives and a few grandmothers, and all of them were hanging on to Willie Nelson’s every word.

The release this week of ”Willie Nelson’s Greatest Hits” (Columbia records) offers some clues, both in the music it includes and in what it omits. On first hearing, Mr. Nelson’s dry, reedy tenor can sound deceptively thin, but listening to his hits back to back, one soon notices a sinewy strength that’s barely hidden behind his apparently vulnerable sound and casual delivery. One also notices that most of his hit records have used a sound, a kind of musical formula, that refers to several traditions, including country music, rock, folk and middle-of-the-road pop, without really belonging to any of them. Their most characteristic sound is a softly strummed acoustic guitar, a wailing harmonica played by his band’s most prominent soloist, Mickey Raphael, and Mr. Nelson singing, straightforwardly and with just a hint of melancholy, about faded loves, rejection in love, and men who are drawn to the open road and can’t seem to help themselves, men who live like cowboys not because they want to but because that’s what they are. A Land of Cowboys

Cowboys – there’s a clue. America needs its cowboys. There’s a cowboy in the White House, a cowboy who likes living on his ranch and gives press conferences with his boots on. There were latter-day cowboys in ”Urban Cowboy,” one of the most successful films and record-album soundtracks last year. There are more and more countryand-western clubs opening, and more and more city slickers in western shirts and boots to go to them, even in Manhattan. And Willie Nelson is a cowboy.

He’s still a convincing cowboy at the age of 48. He crisscrossed Texas for years, playing in roadside honky tonks. He peddled his songs in Nashville, and some of them, most notably ”Crazy” and ”Funny (How Time Slips Away),” became country standards. But record producers in Nashville didn’t think he could sing, and when he did get a chance to record, he was saddled with string orchestras and inappropriate material. By the time he finally became a full-fledged country star, in the mid-70’s, he had been branded an ”outlaw” by Nashville’s conservative country-music establishment, and although he has long since become a pop star, with a fistful of platinum albums and singles and several film roles to his credit, he still projects that outlaw image.

This is a curious thing. What one sees is an outlaw – a cowboy gone wrong. What one hears, especially on Mr. Nelson’s recordings of ”Stardust” and other standards, is a weathe red but reassuring voicesinging the old songs as if they really matte r to him, against a simple, folksy musical backdrop. Apparently, American pop consumers won’t buy records of songs like ”Stardust” when they are performed by entertainers who project an old-fashioned, sophisticated showbusiness image, but they will buy them wh en the singer is a longhaired, pot-smoking rebel.

The counterculture of the 60’s has become the mainstream culture of the 80’s, an d Mr. Nelson is the one American popular singer who gives the impress ion of being part of both the counterculture and the mainstream at the same time. Back to Honky Tonk

Interestingly, ”Willie Nelson’s Greatest Hits,” a double album that includes two previously unreleased performances, has only one of his performances of pop evergreens on it -his hit version of ”Georgia on My Mind.” The rest of the album concentrates on hits that are clos er to country music and to country rock. There are several live performances recorded with his wonderfully idiosyncraticband, which l ayers electric guitars and back-country church-style piano over he avy bass and the two-beat cowboy drumming of Mr. Nelson’s long time sidekick, Paul English. There are tributes to Mr. Nelson’s honk y-tonk roots, including a fine reworking of Lefty Frizzell’s ” If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time” and two numbers, ”Fa ded Love” and ”Stay a Little Longer,” that were associated wi th the late Bob Wills, ”King of Western Swing” and probably the most popular Southwestern entertainer or all time. Mr. Nelson’s most celebrated duet with his fellow country ”Outlaw” Waylon Jennin gs, ”Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” is here, too.

So ”Willie Nelson’s Greatest Hits” is really the best of Willie Nelson, country singer, an album for his hard-core fans. Perhaps he feels that with his albums of pre-World War II pop standards and his movie appearances, he has been neglecting the people who made his reputation in the first place. At any rate, he is still a winning country stylist.

And it is somehow reassuring, at a time when most country entertainers can’t wait to get that first pop hit and start wearing tuxedos and playing Las Vegas, to find one who knows who he is and what he comes from. Maybe that’s why his fans accept the long hair and the rumpled clothes; they are outward indications that no matter how successful he becomes, the inner Willie Nelson is not about to change.

Willie Nelson in good health and fine form at Outlaw Fest

Saturday, September 7th, 2019
by: James Sullivan

GILFORD, N.H. — At ease, everyone. Willie just needed a little time to catch his breath.

Willie Nelson, the 86-year-old paragon of American music, resumed his Outlaw Music Festival tour on Friday at the Bank of NH Pavilion near Lake Winnipesaukee, after missing more than a month of shows due to respiratory trouble.

In an one-hour set, he and his longtime Family band played 20 songs that paid tribute to Nelson’s forebears (Hank Williams, Django Reinhardt) and some of his old running partners (Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard). Along the way, they sprinkled in a couple of choice cuts from Nelson’s own long list of signature songs.

The tour, which began in June, has?offered an unusual interpretation?of the definition of “outlaw” country music, with a rotating pool of?guests including Phil Lesh, Dawes, and the Avett Brothers. For the New Hampshire date, Nelson’s supporting acts included Bonnie Raitt and the flawless bluegrass singer and fiddler Alison Krauss.

With little comment beyond a hello, Nelson and his band took the stage just before 10 p.m., more than five hours after the night’s performances began. Huddled close in front of an enormous red, white, and blue Texas flag, the musicians — including Willie’s older sister Bobbie on piano, harmonica master Mickey Raphael, and drummer Paul English brushing a single snare — built a spare, cozy bed for Nelson’s voice and guitar.ADVERTISING

Mid-set he sang two of his biggest crossover hits, “On the Road Again” and his cover of “You Were Always on My Mind.” Maybe now more than ever, though, Nelson seems perfectly content to act as a human jukebox of country music history. On this night his selections ranged from Lefty Frizzell’s “If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time” (1950) to an amusing version of Mac Davis’s “It’s Hard to Be Humble” (1980), which Nelson recorded for his latest album.

His wry sense of humor certainly hasn’t taken a rest. He got a rise out of his rapt audience on “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” and he savored one line in particular while singing Billy Joe Shaver’s “I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train”: “I wasn’t born no yesterday.”

Nope, he was not. He alluded to that fact with a little more introspection on a brief encore medley of the backwoods hymns “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” and “I’ll Fly Away,” with Raitt joining onstage. It was enough to take your breath away.

There were other highlights throughout the day, from Krauss’s version of “Gentle on My Mind” to Raitt’s perfect pairing with the INXS hit “Need You Tonight.” But the show’s finest moment may have come when Krauss joined Raitt onstage to sing a crystalline version of John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery,” which Raitt, who got her start on the Cambridge club scene, first recorded in 1974.

“Come here so I can look over at those beautiful eyes,” Raitt said as she welcomed her duet partner onstage.

Read entire interview here.

Jimmy Buffett joins Willie Nelson’s son onstage in the Hamptons on Labor Day

Wednesday, September 4th, 2019
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Jimmy Buffett and Willie Nelson, a while back
by: Oli Coleman

Some surprise performances rounded out the season in the Hamptons.

On Labor Day, Jimmy Buffett stepped out of the crowd at Surf Lodge to join Willie Nelson’s son, Lukas, onstage for a few jams, while Anjelica Huston, Lorraine Bracco and John Varvatos looked on.

On Friday, 50 Cent put on a top-secret show along with DJ Cassidy at the hip hotel. Tobias Harris — who just signed a $180 million deal with the Philadelphia 76ers — was in the crowd.

Over at the Crow’s Nest, Nick Jonas threw a party for his new tequila, Villa One, on Sunday, along with wife Priyanka Chopra and brothers Joe and Kevin.


At the Surf in Montauck, NY (2013)

Willie Nelson and Jimmy Buffett

Willie Nelson headlines Mahi’ai Music Festival in Maui (August 24, 2019)

Saturday, August 31st, 2019
by: Jon Woodhouse

The seeds for a future Maui version of Farm Aid were planted on Saturday at the Mahi’ai Music and Food Festival held at Maui Country Club in Spreckelsville.

Opening with his classic “Whisky River,” country icon Willie Nelson headlined the sold-out fundraising event which featured an incendiary set by Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, joined by Micah Nelson (who also performed as the Particle Kid), uplifting reggae with Marty Dread, Pat Simmons, Jr.’s heartfelt songs and Tavana’s dazzling slide guitar playing.

Proceeds from the festival will benefit the Mahi’ai Foundation and the Hawaii Farmers Union Foundation.

“Through the generous support and vision of the Willie Nelson ohana, this event will usher in future public Hawaii Farm Aid-style events in support of our family of farmers here in Hawaii,” says Hawaii Farmers Union United President Vincent Mina, who joined POTR on stage playing harmonica on Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.”

The Mahi’ai Foundation plans to provide a model for Maui and the neighbor islands by “uplifting the stewards of our land,” according to their website.

“Mahi’ai is about using the communal power of live music to unite body and soil, educate the community about the importance of the aina, empower local regenerative agricultural programs, and ultimatelycreate a more sustainable future for Hawaii.”

For a number of years, Micah Nelson has envisioned some kind of Farm Aid event on Maui that would support regenerative agriculture.

“I grew up on Maui, and this is a way of giving back a little bit,” explains Micah, who has been touring on the Mainland for the last three months. “I met Vincent Mina, and we started talking about how we should do something for the farmers. I visited his farm in Wailuku, and we talked about the importance of regenerative farming and healthy soil. Later, I was playing a Mana’o Radio show at Casanova [in Makawao], and Jaime Moreland approached me and said, ‘I’ve been envisioning some kind of sustainable concert on Maui.’ We started meeting and brainstorming this event.”

With his dad out on the road a lot and his brother, Lukas, touring with Promise of the Real and Neil Young, it was challenging to pick a time that worked for everyone.

“It’s been a while in the making,” Micah continues. “I knew around my mom’s birthday every year on Aug. 27, we’d all be on Maui. This date worked out because everyone was going to be here.”

Long a champion of farmers, 86-year-old country legend Willie Nelson was able to perform on Maui even though he had to cancel some Mainland tour shows to rest up. At the festival, backed by his sons, he was in top form performing some of his best loved gems and demonstrating his impressive electric guitar playing.

Back on the road again in early September, Willie reported in an interview with San Antonio’s KSAT News that he planned to “keep singing, keep writing. That’s what keeps me going.”

With Neil Young and John Mellencamp, Willie organized the first Farm Aid concert in 1985 to raise awareness about the loss of family farms and raise funds to keep farm families on the land, encouraging a system of agriculture that values family farmers, good food, soil and water, and strong communities.

There had been talk of bringing the actual Farm Aid event to Maui, but it was cost prohibitive.

“I’ve been trying to get Farm Aid to come to Maui for a long time, and they’d love to, but it’s just not cost effective,” says Micah. “It wouldn’t really benefit the farmers. Once I realized that, I said, ‘Well, then I’ll start my own Farm Aid on Maui and it can keep growing as an established aid to the farmers when our own government doesn’t really seem to get the picture.’ We can help them out, have a great time doing it with live music events, and feed the future.”

While the Maui Country Club was a private event, Micah assures the next step is a public show.

“It was easy to do the first one at Maui Country Club because we had done a concert there before, and it was great. Marty Dread’s manager Richard Pechner is a club member, and he helped produce the event. It’s a template for what we eventually want to do in a public place. We did it this way to raise funds so we could seed the foundation, so we can do an annual public concert.”

There were rumors that Paul Simon might also perform at the Mahi’ai Festival after his brilliant MACC benefit concerts, however he was off-island.

“Paul Simon has been so supportive,” says Micah, “He donated part of the proceeds from his concerts at the MACC to the Mahi’ai Foundation. He’s such a cool, humble guy. He’s been happy to help something like this which is so connected to the values that make Maui such a special place.”

Hopefully by next summer or early fall, we’ll see a Maui Farm Aid concert.

“That’s the idea,” Micah concludes. “It’s a thrill to see it coming to life. I’m so excited.”

Micah will soon be featured in an upcoming episode of Southwest Airlines new video series, “Sites and Sounds,” that celebrates musicians and the destinations. The first episode focused on Maui and Lukas Nelson with visiting country artist Nikki Lane.

Willie and his sons will all perform at Farm Aid 2019 in Wisconsin on Sept. 21, alongside Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Bonnie Raitt. Willie will also be among the legends featured in Ken Burns’ latest documentary series “Country Music,” which chronicles country music from its roots in hymns and blues in the early years in the 1920s through the period of rock and roll, and finally into the 1990s, opening on PBS on Sept. 15.

And Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real recently opened (on Aug. 14) for the Rolling Stones in Seattle.

“It was a real honor,” Lukas reported. “It was amazing.”

POTR’s set at the fest included the title song of their latest album, “Turn Off the News (Build a Garden).”

“It’s about the actions you can take when you’re not debilitated by fear from the news, and getting anxious,” Lukas explains. “What we’re trying to do with ‘Turn of the News’ is to encourage people to connect to their local community even more. This (festival) fits right in with what we’re trying to do with the record.”

See more photos and find out what’s also going on this week in Maui.

“Thanks to all my fans” — Willie Nelson

Sunday, August 11th, 2019

“Dad will be back on the road again soon”

Thursday, August 8th, 2019

“Dad will be back on the road again soon. Sometimes congestion keeps him from singing. He will be OK. Thank you for all your kind prayers and well wishes.”

— Lana Nelson

Willie Nelson postpones tour

Wednesday, August 7th, 2019

Willie Nelson & Family in Minneapolis (8/2/2019)

Monday, August 5th, 2019
by: Keith Harris

Willie Nelson doesn’t play many sports arenas these days, so his Friday night gig at Target Center had an air of novelty.

Not that it really matters what stage the 86-year-old legend takes. On any given night, at any given casino, amphitheater, or music festival, Willie and his five-piece band put on much the same show as they had the night before. They lurch into motion with “Whiskey River,” toss in a weed number or two, zip though some instrumental showcases and a medley of Hank Williams covers, make sure not to stint on the crowd favorites from Willie’s own songbook, and at last render “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” a moot question. Then they pack it up and move on.

And Willie’s band, the Family, has remained essentially the same since 1973, with “little sister” Bobbie on nimble honky-tonk piano, drummer Paul English rapping on his snare with brushes, and harmonica maestro Mickey Raphael filling the gaps. Before Kevin Smith took over bass duties from the late Bee Spears in 2012, additional percussionist Billy English was the new kid in the group—and he joined in ’83.

Willie’s almost as reluctant to slot a new original song on his setlist as he is to add a new player to his band. In fact, in the interest of presenting himself as the institution he’s indubitably been for decades now, Nelson undersells himself as a continuing creative force. He’s released 16 albums this past decade, with 2018’s Last Man Standing such a solid, casual collection of originals it may soon sound like a classic in retrospect, and this year’s Ride Me Back Home is a worthy successor. Not one of the songs Nelson wrote for those two recent albums was to be heard in Minneapolis on Friday night.

Then again, you don’t become the most widely beloved living American musician (who’s his competition, really, besides Stevie Wonder, maybe, or Dolly Parton?) by throwing hard curves at paying customers, a whole mess of whom certainly didn’t want to go home without hearing “On the Road Again” or “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” or “Always on My Mind.” (He couldn’t possibly have sung “Maybe I didn’t freak you quite as good as I could have” during that last title but at least one other person heard it that way besides me.) And really, why should they have? But would they really have missed “Beer for My Horses,” the unfortunate-to-say-the-least celebration of lynching Willie recorded with Toby Keith 16 years ago and insists on keeping in his set? (Hmm, maybe don’t answer that.)

But don’t let my focus on the familiarity of Friday night’s show register as faint praise. After all, what Willie Nelson offers isn’t predictability, it’s a brilliant consistency—and, at this age, maybe a little reassurance. Anyone (not unrealistically) worried about the old guy’s health would have been happy to hear no audible frailty in his voice. If that relative robustness came at the occasional expense of nuance— still casually conversational on his recordings, on stage Willie’s more declamatory—his vocal ingenuity remains when it comes to tempo, as he sidles in behind the beat with the offhand cunning of a jazz singer.

And lord does this man love a well-crafted song. Willie was more than willing to demonstrate the breadth of his taste by performing three of the covers that fill out Ride Me Back Home. Two were keepers: Guy Clark’s exquisite “My Favorite Picture of You,” which glided along on Bobbie’s piano, and “Maybe I Should’ve Been Listening,” one of those solid, oft-recycled country compositions that no one ever quite made into a major hit. As for Mac Davis’ “Hard to Be Humble,” which was a country radio smash when I was 10 and struck me as corny as hell even then, I’d have personally preferred “Immigrant Eyes,” the more timely of the Clark songs Nelson recorded for his latest album. But Willie engaged the crowd in an enthusiastic singalong to the Davis song anyway, so mileage clearly varies when we’re talking comic narcissism.

And if Willie’s setlist doesn’t vary much, his band’s ramshackle virtuosity offered plenty of spontaneity. When Nelson antagonizes the beat with a brassily resonant low E-string plong on his weathered and heavily amplified Martin acoustic, he’s not so much confident that the band will adjust to his improvisations as he is indifferent. Few bandleaders ask less of their accompanists than Willie Nelson—or do I mean more?

Willie’s solo showcase was, as usual, Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages,” a performance paradoxical in the way a genius’ tribute to his idol often is: While demonstrating how much he’s borrowed from the French “gypsy jazz” pioneer, Nelson’s playing was also idiosyncratically his own. (Raphael’s harp impeccably mimicked an accordion throughout.) Willie’s guitar dominated the mix, which was rattling at first, but he hardly bullied his bandmates; each player went about his or her business with determined abandon. You could call it a model of democracy in action, and we sure can’t have too many of those right now.

If a basketball arena was occasionally an odd locale for one of Willie and the Family’s homely romps, it could have proven a downright perverse mismatch for the intimate pop-bluegrass of co-headliner Alison Krauss and her band Union Station. That wasn’t at all the case: Krauss’ lovely, large soprano actually seemed to demand a room this big, while retaining the human quality and modest appreciation of melody that sets her apart as a singer. Her performance of “Gentle on My Mind” was a small miracle, summoning all the smoothened lushness that the architects of countrypolitan had sought from orchestras and choirs with nothing more than a bluegrass band’s precise, warm instrumentation.

Krauss doesn’t vary her setlist much either these days, which underscores how distinctively ecumenical her songbook is and how thoroughly she’s made the material she’s borrowed hers. Selections that once seemed audacious given the uniqueness of the originals, like the Foundations’ “Baby Now That I’ve Found You” or Keith Whitley’s “When You Say Nothing at All,” now flaunt a well-worn familiarity. Oh, and Krauss also covered Willie Nelson himself, so don’t be surprised if soon you also think of “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” as an Alison Krauss song.

Whiskey River
Still Is Still Moving to Me
Beer for My Horses
Good Hearted Woman
Down Under
If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time
Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys
Shoeshine Man
It’s All Going to Pot
Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die
On the Road Again
Always on My Mind
Jambalaya (On the Bayou)
Hey Good Lookin’
Move It on Over
My Favorite Picture of You
Maybe I Should Have Been Listening
It’s Hard to Be Humble
Will the Circle Be Unbroken/I’ll Fly Away

It Doesn’t Get Any Better Than Willie Nelson

Saturday, August 3rd, 2019
by: Erik Ritland

Willie Nelson brought both kinds of music to the Target Center: country and western.  

There’s nothing to say about Willie Nelson that hasn’t been said. He’s one of the last handful of surviving legendary country singers. His catalog of hits and country standards is practically endless, and his overlooked albums since the 80s mostly stand up with them.  

He still releases an album of worthwhile material every year. His latest, Ride Me Back Home, came out in June. It’s a tender, gorgeous collection of mostly new songs.  

Legendary singer and fiddle player Alison Krauss opened the night with her signature blend of folk, pop, and bluegrass. Opener “River in the Rain” (the Roger Miller tune) was especially beautiful, and “Forget About It” and Glen Campbell’s “Gentle on my Mind” were also highlights. Her voice was as big and bold as ever, especially on a breathtaking cover of Willie’s “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” and “Down to the River to Pray.” 

The Red Headed Stranger

Willie’s set focused on the classics. And man, are there classics. Quintessential country stomp “Whiskey River” opened the show, as it always does. Then the hits kept coming: “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys,” “On the Road Again,” “Always on my Mind,” and on and on and on.  

A few new songs made the cut, though, including Snoop Dogg collaboration “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” and a couple tracks from Ride Me Back Home.   

Perhaps most importantly, a Willie Nelson concert brings joy. The crowd sang along to practically every song, and the closing medley of old spirituals “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”/”I’ll Fly Away” is the closest you’ll get to church without actually being there. And that’s a compliment.

More than a country music icon, Willie Nelson is a true American original. His singular voice and guitar playing, along with his vast catalog of classic songs, make him one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. His concerts, even at 86, are required viewing. 

Willie Nelson with Alison Krause in Ashwaubenon, WI (8/1/2019)

Friday, August 2nd, 2019
photo: Sarah Kloepping
by: Kendra Meinert

Willie Nelson walked out at the Resch Center on Thursday night without so much as a whiff of an introduction, lifted his cowboy hat to a crowd that roared in approval, strapped on his trusty guitar, Trigger, and got to work.

“Whiskey River, take my mind …” rang out from a stage adorned with nothing but a giant flag of Texas and a modest band setup that looked more roadside honky tonk than arena.

At 86, that’s how the country music legend rolls. That’s how he’s always rolled. 

No matter how many times you’ve experienced it, that moment when the “Red Headed Stranger” takes the stage feels like history. There’s only one Willie. There will never be another. An American original in braids, boots and a red, white and blue guitar strap, playing a beat-up guitar with a hole worn it.

The buddies he dedicated songs to — Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings among them — are gone, but Nelson is forever on the road again. So as long as that still happens, somehow it feels like all is right with the world.

He played for an hour for his co-headlining visit with Alison Krauss, giving a crowd that looked to be about 6,000 strong the biggest of the big hits. His delivery is more storyteller than singer these days, letting the crowd help him out on such favorites as “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” and “On the Road Again,” but the voice, even when it drifts in and out, is always distinctively Nelson.

He can still put some outlaw giddy-up in “Good Hearted Woman” and make an audience gasp with the first words of “Always on My Mind.” His guitar picking on “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground was as pretty as it comes.

Willie’s Remedy Review

Saturday, July 13th, 2019
by: Kevin Curtin

It’s a triple-digit afternoon at Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic and I can’t wait to get into the air conditioning of Willie’s bus. You know the bus: holy ground, a rite of passage, one of the most notorious tour vehicles to ever endlessly crisscross American highways: the Honeysuckle Rose. But that’s not the Willie bus I’m getting on.

This bus looks similar to the Honeysuckle Rose – sans the exterior mural of horses running a mountainous terrain. It certainly smells similar to the Honeysuckle Rose. It’s often parked in proximity to the Honeysuckle Rose, but it’s not the Honeysuckle Rose. This is the Willie’s Remedy bus, a promotional RV that currently goes wherever Willie Nelson & the Family Band are playing, spreading the gospel of the country hero’s expanding line of CBD products.

On this day, the bus actually carrying Nelson hasn’t yet arrived to the Circuit of the Americas, but his secondary promotional bus seems to be a popular backstage attraction. Young Canadian folksinger Colter Wall is stepping off as I step on and the motor coach is bustling with people buzzing on cups of Willie’s Remedy coffee – comprised of CBD sourced from Colorado-grown organic hemp that’s bonded to the essential fatty acids in Colombian coffee beans during roasting.

On the Remedy bus sits Devin Jamroz, whose scrappy small business was miraculously transformed by Willie and his wife Annie Nelson.

In 2014, shortly after discovering the healing properties of cannabis while treating a herniated disc in his back, Jamroz and his roommate began experimenting with infusing coffee with THC out of their Colorado home. It was as DIY an effort as you might imagine: roasting coffee in a stovetop popcorn popper, then running into the backyard and pouring the still-smoking beans into a colander, while spritzing it with a marijuana tincture.

At the beginning they made a lot of admittedly bad coffee, but continually refined the process until they were making excellent coffee – the kind of stuff that even impresses coffee snobs and professional roasters. When the CBD market got interesting, Jamroz shifted focus away from THC and began selling bags of CBD-infused whole roasted coffee beans online. Starting out, business was slow; a really good week would see $90 in sales.

“Then there was this random customer online named Annie Nelson, who we didn’t know from ‘Annie Whoever,’” recalls Jamroz. “We’d occasionally have orders from her that were five times what we would do in a really good month. She’d order 10 pounds and we’d wonder, ‘Who is this saint?’ She’d have it shipped all over the country; we’d ship it to Texas, we’d ship it to Hawaii. It was the weirdest thing, this woman buying so much coffee, and we’re shipping it to random places.”

This went on for years. Annie would even send what Jamroz called “secret agents” or “ghost buyers” to trade shows and buy huge amounts of coffee. Eventually one of them spilled the beans on who Annie Nelson was and that her husband, iconic musician and transcendent toker Willie Nelson, was an avid drinker of Jamroz’s CBD coffee.

“We almost fell out of our chairs,” he remembers.

Now that coffee serves as the the flagship product of Willie’s Remedy, a growing line of CBD products rolled out since February. It’s a sister brand to Willie’s Reserve, which formed in 2014 and began selling adult-use cannabis two years later.

On the bus, I quickly down four cups of iced coffee. I’m a moderate – all right, heavy – THC user and I don’t want the positive effects of CBD coffee to get lost in the shuffle of other cannabinoids in my system. It’s a palatable brew; medium dark roast with an exquisitely balanced flavor. The most incredible thing about it: The CBD really balances out the caffeine. You can drink it ad infinitum and not get jittery.

It’s by no means a whopping dose of CBD. I’ve in the past experimented with putting a several-hundred-milligram CBD squirt of tincture under my tongue, which ushers an immediate and undeniable effect. Elizabeth Hogan, who co-founded Willie’s Reserve/Remedy with the Nelsons and Willie’s longtime manager Mark Rothbaum, explains that they view the 10mg dose as “daily supplement model” – good for more minor ailments and regular use.

That suits Willie. She characterizes he and Annie as “night owls” and says Willie will drink coffee long after most people go to bed.

Opening a jar of the WIllie’s Remedy Full Spectrum Soothing Balm, a shea butter/coconut oil/CBD mixture that I later rub on my knee to effectively alleviate post-basketball joint pain, I ask Hogan how seriously involved Willie actually is in the product line that bears his name.

“He’s very involved,” she insists. “First, it’s about his values: personal freedom, medical efficacy and advocacy, agricultural and environmental impact, and, finally, social justice – never looking away from the fact that there are people still sitting in jail for what we can now legally sell. “He also calls himself the ‘Chief Tester.’”

Hogan says that when she gets on Willie’s bus, he’s always eager to know what products they’re going to test.

“I’m not going to lie, he loves all of it. He’s not a scientist, he’s a musician and a poet, but in terms of how to appreciate it: The man has a lot to teach us all.”

In the week following the Picnic, I’ve been engaged in a practice that’s totally foreign to me: drinking hot tea – specifically Willie’s Remedy loose leaf green tea, also infused with full-spectrum hemp oil. When steeped for two minutes (I’ve learned that over-steeping causes green tea to turn bitter), it’s a pleasant, natural-tasting beverage that accentuates the benefit of low-dose CBD that I find most rewarding: relaxation and relief from stress.

In the week following the Picnic, I’ve been engaged in a practice that’s totally foreign to me: drinking hot tea – specifically Willie’s Remedy loose leaf green tea, also infused with full-spectrum hemp oil. When steeped for two minutes (I’ve learned that over-steeping causes green tea to turn bitter), it’s a pleasant, natural-tasting beverage that accentuates the benefit of low-dose CBD that I find most rewarding: relaxation and relief from stress.

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