Archive for the ‘News and Reviews’ Category

Willie Nelson, “My Way”

Saturday, November 10th, 2018

My Way Tracklist

  1. Fly Me To The Moon
  2. Summer Wind
  3. One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)
  4. A Foggy Day
  5. It Was A Very Good Year
  6. Blue Moon
  7. I’ll Be Around
  8. Night And Day
  9. What Is This Thing Called Love (with Norah Jones)
  10. Young At Heart
  11. My Way
by:  Doug Freeman

Since 1978 blockbuster Stardust, Willie Nelson has maintained a consistent diligence to recording standards and tribute LPs, most at least worthwhile if not revelatory. Taking on Frank Sinatra with his latest homage platter, Nelson, 85, rightly doesn’t try matching the velvet richness of “The Voice,” but instead finds his own unique inroads to a well-trodden catalog.

The country sovereign’s immaculate phrasing, sincere handling of the songbook, and experienced vocal feel on the material find enough spectacular moments worth revisiting. The surprising Caribbean rhythm running under “It Was a Very Good Year,” downright jaunty take on “Blue Moon,” and always notable Norah Jones duet on “What Is This Thing Called Love” rise above, but the closing title track makes the album. Nelson works through “My Way” with an understated tenderness, the years on his voice seeping into the song like distinctly familiar but unplaceable aroma, and emerges triumphant without the overwrought bravado.

Willie Nelson, “Vote ’em Out”

Friday, October 26th, 2018

“The biggest gun we’ve got
Is called the ballot box.
So if you don’t like who’s in there
Vote ’em out.”

— Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson’s new single VOTE ‘EM OUT.   Available now:
by:  Randy Lewis

Like many celebrities, Willie Nelson is doing his bit to motivate fans to participate in the upcoming midterm elections.

But with his latest song, the veteran Texas maverick musician and country outlaw isn’t serving up some soft-sell public service announcement.

“If you don’t like who’s in there, vote ’em out,” he sings in the appropriately titled “Vote ’Em Out.” “That’s what Election Day is all about.”

The idea, he said, came to him in the course of talking with young people at a benefit for March for Our Lives in Maui in spring, where he performed with a longtime friend, singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson, and several other musicians.

“It was right after the Florida shootings, and a lot of young people out there were doing protests against the guns and all the lobbying and everything, and so we did this benefit over there,” Mr. Nelson, 85, said on his tour bus this week while in Hollywood to tape a segment for “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” scheduled to air Tuesday.

“I was talking to the kids about well, you know, if you see something you don’t like out there, you vote ’em out of it,” he said. “I started thinking about it — It took about three minutes to write the whole thing.”

It’s aimed at all Americans, Mr. Nelson said, but he’s particularly focused on the population of young people who will vote for the first time next month.

“There’s a group of folks coming up to vote that ain’t never voted before, and they are very excited about it,” he said. “I think all the activity on both sides of the parties up there have shook ’em up a little bit. They’re saying, ‘Well, maybe we’re important,’ and, of course they are, and they’re going to go out there and prove it, I think.”

A few minutes later, backstage just after performing “Vote ‘Em Out!” for his segment on the show, Mr. Nelson met and spoke with Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, was among the 17 people killed in the Parkland, Fla., school shooting — an emotional meeting for all concerned during which Mr. Nelson and Mr. Kimmel thanked Mr. Guttenberg for his activism.

“It don’t take aim at anybody,” Mr. Nelson said. “Whether you’re on one side or the other, whoever you want to vote in or out, it’s something to talk about. If you like who’s in there, leave ’em in. I think it’s important now to take a stand and vote.”

Mr. Nelson’s politics, however, are no secret.

He introduced the song a few weeks ago at a political rally in Texas for U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic challenger to incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz. Such politicking, however, isn’t something Mr. Nelson typically does at his own shows.

“My shows are as nonpolitical as you can get,” he said. “I don’t care if you’re a Christian, an atheist, a Baptist or Methodist. I don’t care who you are or what you are: If you like our music, that’s cool. Come on out. We’re not going to bore you with politics. But right at this particular time, I think it might be a good time to say something.”

One reason Mr. Nelson avoids delving deeply into political issues at his shows is that he sees music as a unifying force in this era of extreme divisiveness and political partisanship.

“I’ve always believed that music was the equalizer, you know?” he said. “Everyone can relate to music. You don’t have a choice. Once you hear the melody and the words, it goes right into your soul, and you either like it or hate it, turn it on or turn it off, but you can’t ignore it.”

Some projects close to Mr. Nelson’s heart involve political issues. Those include the annual Farm Aid benefit shows in support of family farmers who struggle to survive in the age of agribusiness, and his budding operation selling medicinal and recreational marijuana under the brand name Willie’s Reserve. But he leaves the political dimensions of those operations to others.

“It’s something they have to deal with. I don’t have to deal with [anything],” he said.

Willie Nelson, “Waiting for the Miracle to Come” (premieres at Austin Film Festival TOMORROW)

Friday, October 26th, 2018
by:  Joe Leydon

More than three years after filming at various locations in and near Austin — including the preserved set of the fictional western town Luck on Willie Nelson’s ranch in Spicewood, Texas — Waiting for the Miracle to Come will have its long-awaited premiere Saturday and Monday, Oct. 27 and 29, at the Austin Film Festival.

The fanciful drama is the first dramatic feature written and directed by acclaimed documentarian Lian Lunson (Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man, Willie Nelson: Down Home), and lists German director Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas) and Irish rocker Bono (who wrote a song for the soundtrack) as executive producers. And if that’s not enough to pique your interest, consider this: Willie Nelson stars in Waiting for the Miracle to Come opposite no less a notable than Charlotte Rampling, the celebrated British actress whose lengthy resume includes such outstanding films as Georgy Girl (1966), The Damned (1969), Zardoz (1974), The Verdict (1982), I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (2003), and 45 Years (the 2015 drama for which she received an Oscar nomination as Best Actress).

And you know that song written by Bono? Nelson sings it during the film.

What’s it all about? According to the official synopsis: “Following the death of her father, aspiring trapeze artist Adeline Winter (Sophie Lowe) discovers a cryptic letter he once wrote directing her to a goldmine in a remote California desert. Upon arriving in a mysterious town, she finds herself at the gates of ‘The Beautiful Place,’ a house occupied by retired vaudeville stars Jimmy and Dixie Riggs (Nelson and Rampling). As she gets to know this mysteriously eccentric couple, Adeline discovers that her father’s posthumous words were directing her to a reward far more valuable than gold.”

Lunson says she wrote her script especially for Nelson, because “his presence and stillness as an actor is unlike anyone else’s. And growing up, I always wanted to be Charlotte Rampling, So bringing these two icons together on screen is a dream come true for me.”

During my brief conversation with Rampling on her final evening of filming in Spicewood, the actress praised Lunson for the audacious inventiveness of her casting choice. “It took someone with imagination, really, to think that we could be a couple — could be believable as a couple,” Rampling said. “And in fact, I think we are, you know? It’s really worked. There’s something special that happened. And that’s only when a director feels that this could happen between two people, do you know what I mean?

“That’s how directors are clever. The way they cast is really so important, because if you don’t have that chemistry, you can’t act it. You know, if you don’t actually, really feel that you’re connected to somebody, it’s difficult to act it. I mean, it’s always difficult to come across as connected to someone. But when it works, audiences feel very quickly that something’s truthful and real.”

The entire production of Waiting for the Miracle to Come was “a lovely experience,” Rampling said. “I had some truly beautiful scenes. I loved expressing Dixie’s fragility, I loved the singing — and I loved doing things with Willie because he’s such a special person, you know? He’s not an actor, so he’s very instinctive. He’s very natural. And in a way, this film was about that, too. There’s something very organic about this film.”

Willie Nelson offered his own take on Waiting for the Miracle to Come when we talked at the close of his own last day of filming.

Cowboys & Indians: OK, the last time we chatted a couple years back, you indicated that you didn’t really think much of yourself as an actor. Have you decided to change that appraisal?

Willie Nelson: [Laughs] No, no. My opinion hasn’t changed.

C&I: I’ve been on the set only a couple days, but it looked to me like you were really doing some good work out there.

Nelson: Yeah, I fooled you. Fooled you again.

C&I: You’ve worked with several outstanding directors, including Sydney Pollack, Michael Mann and Barry Levinson. What do you think is the most important lesson you were ever taught as an actor?

Nelson: To find your spot where you’re supposed to stand and remember your lines. If you do that you can’t go far wrong.

C&I: Anything else?

Nelson: I heard somebody say one time, “Don’t ever let them catch you acting.” I think that’s pretty good advice. If you can act without looking like you’re acting, maybe you’re doing something. Slim Pickens, I did a movie with him one time. And he told somebody in the press or something: “Willie Nelson plays himself better than anybody could.” That’s about it.

C&I: Director Lian Lunson says she wrote Waiting for the Miracle to Come with you specifically in mind.

Nelson: That’s always flattering when something like that happens. But it’s still a challenge to make sure that they didn’t make a mistake thinking you could do something maybe you couldn’t do. This movie has been pretty easy really, for my part. I know the crews work from sunup to sundown many days, but it’s been relatively easy for me because I live right up the street here.

C&I: No long commutes?

Nelson: No, I just drive down the hill and do my lines and go back. It’s a perfect way to do a movie for me.

C&I: I have to admit that when I first heard you were co-starring in a movie with Charlotte Rampling, I thought, well, that’s certainly offbeat casting. But now that I’ve seen the two of you doing a few scenes together, I find myself thinking: “Of course! Why didn’t someone think of this before?”

Nelson: Yeah, I guess that’s where Lian comes in. She can think of those things. Like, “Well, if I put these together, it’ll be a good mix and they’ll work out something.” She’s good at that.

C&I: How would you describe the experience of acting opposite Charlotte Rampling?

Nelson: It’s always a pleasure to be working with a professional you know and have known for years. She is a professional, so you didn’t expect anything less from her. She was fantastic and that was what we expected.

 C&I: What was the most difficult part of playing your character, Jimmy Riggs? What was the toughest nut for you to crack?

 Nelson: [Looking at his feet] These bleeping shoes.

C&I: Are they really that bad?

Nelson: They’re uncomfortable [Laughs] No, they’re not that bad. It’s just something to bitch about. Just kidding. As I said, I can’t play anybody but myself. So this was an easy role to play, really.

C&I: Finally, what was the most enjoyable part of making this movie? Besides the short commute?

Nelson: Working with people like Charlotte, Lian, and [co-star] Sophie Lowe. And this whole crew — these guys are great. It’s always nice when you see something working. As Leanne said, we’re waiting for a miracle. And we’re seeing them every day out here.


Billy Bob’s Ticket Glitch Fixed

Thursday, October 25th, 2018

Photo:  Ben Noey

Fans of Willie Nelson who have already bought tickets to the singer’s November shows at Billy Bob’s Texas may have been surprised — or even worried — on Thursday when they received a refund for their tickets.

But the Nov. 16-17 shows are still on. The ticketing system inadvertently refunded all ticket buyers. But that was a glitch.

“The system should be back up soon and reinstate all of the tickets and the buyers will have their same seats,:” Pam Minick, vice president of marketing for Billy Bob’s, says in an email. “We’re asking them to be patient and check BBT social media for updates.”

Billy Bob’s is on Facebook at @BillyBobsTexas, and also on Twitter at @BillyBobsTexas.

Willie Nelson, songwriter

Wednesday, October 24th, 2018

Willie Nelson says he can’t stop writing songs.

The 85-year-old country music legend has been in the music business for decades but isn’t even thinking about retiring, because even though he has moments where he doesn’t want to “write another song”, ideas keep coming to him.

He said: “I think there’s some things that can only come out in songs. You can write a beautiful book, but take verses out of it and put a melody to it and you’ve got another dimension.

“I wrote something the other day that said, ‘I don’t want to write another song, but tell that to my mind!’ I just throw them out there and try to make them rhyme.’ I write everywhere, anywhere. I write a lot at home at night.”

The ‘Always On My Mind’ hitmaker thinks in lyrics first and then adds the music afterwards, as he believes songs are just “poems with a melody”.

He added: “Usually it starts as a poem. At some point I’ll get up and go get the guitar and see what kind of melody those words suggest.”

He said: “I thought everything that happened there was unforgivable. We have a statue that says: ‘Y’all come in.’ I don’t believe in closing the border. Open them suckers up!

“We need those folks. I used to pick cotton and pull corn and bale hay and I’m lucky to play guitar now, but we have to have the people who want to work, and take care of them.”

The ‘On the Road Again’ singer averages 150 days on the road in a year, and says he loves travelling the country as it lets him soak in the differences between each US state.

Speaking to The Guardian newspaper, he said: “I’ve moved around a lot in 85 years. And I went through a lot of political spaces in our country – four years of this, eight years of that.”

Willie Nelson & Family at the Chelsea in Las Vegas (October 19th, 2018)

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018

by: Brock Radke

Willie Nelson’s rescheduled concert dates (from January) at the Cosmopolitan’s blank-canvas venue the Chelsea were quite a bit different from his February 2017 shows at the Venetian. The now 85-year-old legend had to cancel a few shows last year due to illness as well but bounced back to thrill an appreciative audience. Inside the Chelsea Friday night, he strummed his ancient guitar Trigger and rolled through classic Texas tunes as expected but provided ample time for his son to shine throughout the night.

During an opening set of his own tunes — including several from last year’s “Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real” studio album — the 29-year-old Lukas Nelson did more than wake up a Vegas crowd anxious to see and hear his famous father. He effortlessly won the audience over, especially with the bluesy ballad “Find Yourself” and its invigorating chorus, “I know the love that I deserve.”

Once Willie arrived onstage with rousing standard “Whiskey River,” it became a true family affair, thanks to “Little Sister” Bobbie Nelson’s piano and younger son Micah’s steady percussion. Lukas traded guitar licks with his dad on several songs before grabbing the spotlight again for a cover of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Texas Flood,” a big-time blues bomb flush with soulful harmonica from longtime band member and producer Mickey Raphael.

Lukas’ presence wasn’t the only change from last year’s Venetian shows. Willie also deftly covered Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon” without making it sound like an obligatory Vegas offering, injecting that unique tenderness that sets his iconic voice apart. There was more emotion, of course, for “Georgia on My Mind,” and then after a fun trip through “Still Not Dead,” he was done. A little more than an hour of music would have to be enough on this night and no one was complaining.

Willie Nelson cancels Nov. 14th show in Panama City, FL, following effects of Hurricane Michael

Saturday, October 20th, 2018
Willie Nelson show has cancelled the Marina Civic Center on November 14:

Due to the devastating effects of Hurricane Michael across the panhandle of Florida, the Willie Nelson concert scheduled to play at the Marina Civic Center on Wednesday, November 14 has been cancelled.

The show will play in Montgomery, AL at The Montgomery Performance Arts Centre on the same day. Our thoughts and prayers are with residents of the panhandle at this time.

Tickets purchased for the Marina Civic Center performance can be refunded at the point of purchase.

Willie Nelson, “Funny How Time Slips Away”

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018
by:  Patrick Doyle

At his show at Forest Hills Stadium this summer, Willie Nelson did something unusual: He played his classic “Funny How Time Slips Away” in full. Regulars of his shows might have noticed that he usually plays a short version of the 1961 song as part of a medley alongside “Night Life” and “Crazy,” but because he was playing a shorter set, he decided to drop some other songs and switch things up. “I like to keep it in [my set] if I can,” he told Rolling Stone afterward.

The performance was reminiscent of another excellent version: In 1997, Austin City Limits threw a songwriter special with several old-school legends: Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Porter Wagoner, Mel Tillis, Billy Joe Shaver, Ralph Emery, Mickey Gilley, Bobby Bare, Kimmie Rhodes and more. It was intimate and full of moving moments, like Kristofferson opening up about a profound religious experience that led him to write “Why Me Lord.”

But one musical performance stood out — Willie picking up his guitar, Trigger, and playing “Funny How Time Slips Away.” He wrote the song during a dark period, when he was living in Houston in the early Sixties, working as a radio DJ, trying to support his family. By the time of this performance, he’d played the song thousands of times. But it quickly became clear that this was not a normal performance. “Well, hello there,” Nelson sang, hitting a dissonant chord that he quickly resolved, launching into a performance that perfectly combined his unique phrasing and acoustic jazz escapades (listen to the solo). In the clip, you can see the effect of the performance: Kristofferson has tears in his eyes; Shaver moved in deep meditation.

Nelson just released a new song, “Vote ‘Em Out,” and will bring his Outlaw Music Festival to L.A.’s Hollywood Bowl this Sunday, playing alongside Phil Lesh & Friends, Sturgill Simpson, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Margo Price, Particle Kid and more.

Willie Nelson, family and friends at Outlaw Music Festival at Saratoga Performing Arts Center (9/23/2018)

Monday, October 8th, 2018

Outlaw Fest Breaking All the Rules at SPAC
Article and photos by:  Jim Gilbert

It must be illegal to have so much talent on one stage, but Willie Nelson’s Outlaw Music Fest broke all the rules at Saratoga Performing Arts Center Sunday, September 23, 2018. From keeping SPAC open past August to country singers crooning about open-mindedness and love, Outlaw Fest challenged all the norms you might expect at a country music fest.

The concert opened in the afternoon with Nelson’s youngest, Micah Nelson whose band is titled “Particle Kid.” Sounding like a Green Day alternative band, Particle Kid’s heavy bass, melodic whistling, and guitar changes made by a stagehand wearing an astronaut helmet lent a fun feel to the afternoon. Nelson’s words to his third song, “I’m in love with the ocean / Does the ocean love me back?” aptly demonstrates the depth of the lyrics and vibe of the performance. Particle Kid was yearning, stretching, and laughing a bit too during the set.

Lucas Nelson and the Promise of the Real followed. Lucas is Micah’s older brother and a favorite in both music and films at present. His band, The Promise of the Real, lives up to its name. The musicians played guitar solos beautifully between songs, lending a lovely transition. Lyrics about turning off the news and raising kids to be more hopeful were running themes. Lucas at one point voiced that “Trust builds trust,” and the crowd cheered. There was both a hopefulness and a musicianship that was reminiscent of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s works in the 1970s, both in representing themes around peace, nature, and love and musicians tackling more challenging blends and chords. When Lucas vocalized, “I believe every heart is kind / some are underused,” the crowd cheered and shared optimism back with the singer.

Nathaniel Rattliff and The Night Sweats quickly took the stage next, with very little downtime between performers. The band channeled Johnny Cash old style sound, producing a wall of music complete with blaring trumpets, tenor sax, and drums. The high energy, hand clapping, the brass screaming sound had the crowd on its feet. The bass was so heavy the screens on either side of the stage were vibrating, and Rattliff’s Baptist church voice brought almost a revival feel to SPAC. Rattliff and the Night Sweats sustained this energy for over an hour of blues, swing, and country feel, peaking with high energy and joyfulness on the faces of the musicians and fans alike.

After this fevered pitch, Sturgill Simpson took the stage with a much heavier, rock country sound that prompted many in the crowd to request earbuds Sturgill is a southern rocker, and there was no apology to how he added noodling and long jams within his set. While different from those before and after him at the festival, Sturgill was fiercely loyal to his own sound and had integrity within his set too, representing his beliefs about keeping an open mind in a genre that doesn’t always celebrate diversity and cognitive flexibility.

Nathaniel Rattliff and The Night Sweats quickly took the stage next, with very little downtime between performers. The band channeled Johnny Cash old style sound, producing a wall of music complete with blaring trumpets, tenor sax, and drums. The high energy, hand clapping, the brass screaming sound had the crowd on its feet. The bass was so heavy the screens on either side of the stage were vibrating, and Rattliff’s Baptist church voice brought almost a revival feel to SPAC. Rattliff and the Night Sweats sustained this energy for over an hour of blues, swing, and country feel, peaking with high energy and joyfulness on the faces of the musicians and fans alike.

After this fevered pitch, Sturgill Simpson took the stage with a much heavier, rock country sound that prompted many in the crowd to request earbuds Sturgill is a southern rocker, and there was no apology to how he added noodling and long jams within his set. While different from those before and after him at the festival, Sturgill was fiercely loyal to his own sound and had integrity within his set too, representing his beliefs about keeping an open mind in a genre that doesn’t always celebrate diversity and cognitive flexibility.

The crowd would have to wait for Neil Young and the Promise of the Real to take the stage, but it was totally worth the wait. Lucas and Micah Nelson joined Young, who was clad in a flannel, jeans, and old felt hat. Young’s positive connection with Lucas and Micah has clearly energized him; after a brief “How ya doin’?” Young jumped right in with tunes from his entire career. Young is a star in his own right; many in the crowd traveled to SPAC just to see him perform. “Heart of Gold” was so well received by the crowd that they seemed to be moving as one heart, swaying and singing. Young would dance and lean into guitar player Lucas Nelson, laughing and jumping like a much younger man.

Willie Nelson concluded the festival, crooning his love songs accompanied by his sister and sons. Rattcliff came on stage for a song, and Young joined for two songs too. Nelson seemed to speak some of the lyrics more than sing them, but no love was lost between him and his fans. As the night took on a cool September chill, fans stayed in abundance to cheer on their well loved favorite country star.

See all the photos at:

Outlaw Fest Breaking All the Rules at SPAC

Willie Nelson, long may you run

Sunday, October 7th, 2018

McCartney, who is 76, said when he later ran into Willie Nelson — who McCartney said “is even older than I am” — he asked Willie when he expected to retire.

McCartney said Nelson, who is 85, replied by asking “Retire from what?” That’s all the encouragement McCartney needed.

During the past few weeks, both McCartney and Willie have released new albums — and they’ve both shot up the Billboard album charts.

McCartney’s new album “Egypt Station” debuted at the number one spot on the Billboard Top 200 upon its release.

Willie’s new album of Frank Sinatra’s songs titled “My Way” debuted at number 2 on Billboard’s Jazz Album charts when released two weeks ago and has since remained in locked in the number 2 position because another couple of artists have kept a lock on the number 1 spot for the past couple of weeks — 92-year-old Tony Bennett, whose new duet album with Diana Krall, titled “Love Is Here to Stay,” debuted at the top spot and so far hasn’t budged.

Not to worry though. Willie’s “My Way” debuted in the top 40 of Billboard Top 200 chart, which covers all genres, peaking at the number 36 position. “My Way” is not listed on Billboard’s Country Music Charts. Go figure.

Bennett and Willie are followed on the Billboard Jazz Album charts by Paul Simon, who is 76 and recently completed his Homeward Bound Farewell Tour.

Simon’s not the only musician of his era to say they’re ready to quit the road. Both Elton John, 71, and Joan Baez, 77, are currently in the midst of farewell tours. That’s not the case with Baez’s former companion, Bob Dylan, who at 77 keeps up a relentless touring schedule, with concert stops scheduled for Tulsa and Thackerville, Oklahoma, on Oct. 12 and 13.

Baez has said Dylan doesn’t have to worry about the condition of his throat like she does. How do you know, Joan? No telling how hard he’s worked to achieve that sandpaper and gravel sound. (I’ve never known of Dylan canceling a concert because of a raspy, sore throat, though. No problem— just keep singing).

Speaking of concerts, both McCartney and Willie are well-known road warriors — especially Willie, who is constantly on the road again.

Both are also in the midst of current tours — with McCartney performing last night, Oct. 5, during his Freshen Up Tour as headliner for the first weekend of the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Texas. He’s returning for what is billed as Weekend 2 for another concert next Friday, Oct. 12, before embarking for Japan at the end of the month and then playing selected European dates in December, including a homecoming date in his native Liverpool.

He’s set to return to the U.S. on May 23, 2019, with a kickoff concert in New Orleans. (Alas, no Oklahoma dates are included at this point).

Although Willie is strongly identified with Austin, he won’t be able to join his buddy McCartney onstage next weekend. That’s because Willie is kicking off another tour on Oct. 12 that includes a concert date in Nevada and a swing across California.

Willie’s fans in the Sooner State can rejoice, however, because his tour includes a Nov. 24 concert at WinStar World Casino Resort in Thackerville — the tour’s last stop before he winds it up with four dates in Texas — including a three-night stint in Austin performing with his son, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, a band which often includes another son, Micah Nelson.

So while some of their contemporaries are going into self-proclaimed retirements, I’ll congratulate and encourage Willie, McCartney, Bennett, Dylan and all those who keep on keepin’ on with the title of a Neil Young song.

“Long May You Run.”

“What the heck is the deal with Texans boycotting Willie Nelson?”

Sunday, September 23rd, 2018
by:  David Courtney

Q: What the heck is the deal with this boycott of Willie Nelson thing I’ve been seeing pop up on my social media accounts recently? Did I miss something?

Colt Johnston, Los Angeles, California

A: Well, hello there! My, it’s been a long, long time. How are you doing? The Texanist hopes you’re doing fine. How’s your new love—

Whoa! Please excuse the Texanist—he was lost in song for a moment there. And what a song! The Texanist bets he’s listened to that one a million times, and it still gives him goosebumps.

So, okay, you asked the Texanist a question, didn’t you? Right—Willie Nelson, social media, boycotts. Got it. OK, here’s the deal: the topic at the heart of your query, the news stories about all those upset Willie fans calling for people to stop listening to his music, is a great big load, nothing more than another minor road rage event on a desolate shoulder of the information superhighway.

Rolling Stone, the Washington Post, Fox News, HuffPost, People, and a slew of other outlets reported on the supposed kerfuffle. But beneath the eye-grabbing headlines— “Willie Nelson Fans Furious Over Announcement That He’ll Headline a Rally for a Dem Candidate,” “Willie Nelson is Playing a Political Concert for Beto O’Rourke. Some Fans Are Abandoning Him”—virtually all of the articles noted that the surprising thing about the reaction was that there was a reaction at all, which is exactly what surprised the Texanist and caused this thing to get stuck in his craw.

All Willie fans know that he’s been a first-rate country act since way back in the 1950s, having written and recorded enduring classic upon enduring classic; and that he bucked the Nashville system and moved to Austin where he grew his beard and hair and started cavorting with the hippies; and that he pioneered the “outlaw” movement in country music; and that he’s had ups and downs in his personal life; and that he’s created a sound and persona totally unto himself, including but not limited to having duetted with the likes of Ray Charles, Julio Iglesias, and Snoop Dogg, among many others, and even going so far as to release a reggae album; and that through the years he’s become known as an avid partaker in the martial arts, golf, jogging, and marijuana. And these same fans, even the most casual among them, would surely also be well aware that Willie is known for his activism and occasional stance taking.

What Willie fan, after all, isn’t familiar with his advocacy for American farmers, via his 1985 founding of Farm Aid; his boosterism of alternative fuels, via Willie Nelson Biodiesel; his support for LGBTQ rights, via the release of “Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly Fond of Each Other”; his endorsement of the legalization of marijuana, via his very public usage; and his allegiance to America, via his championing of liberty and the pursuit of happiness? And what Willie fan worth their salt doesn’t also know that he’s openly backed numerous politicos, D’s, R’s, and I’s, going all the way back to his support for Tex Ritter, the Murvaul-born country singer and actor who fell short in his 1970 Tennessee Republican Primary bid for the U.S. Senate seat held by Al Gore, Sr? Everybody know this, fans and non-fans (if there even is such a thing) alike.

Just as most of the news reports reported, a person who knows all this would have to be crazy—crazy for feeling so outraged, crazy for feeling the least bit surprised by such an announcement. The Texanist was left completely flummoxed by the whole mystifying thing. What the disparagers were thinking, he does not know.

A few of the stories, such as a fine one penned by the Texanist’s colleague Dan Solomon for the Texas Monthly website, used the incident to comment on the current hyper-polarized state of our public discourse, which does at times resemble a broken-down heap on the aforementioned shoulder of the information superhighway. The Texanist, though, a glass half full type, has managed to find a glimmer of hope amidst the wreckage. The way the Texanist sees it, the country’s opposing sides seem to have finally, at long last, sunk all the way down and hit the rockiest of rock bottoms when it comes to the quality of our political dialogue. There simply is no level lower than the one at which folks see fit to besmirch Willie Nelson for being Willie Nelson. The Texanist welcomes the return of simple civility, mutual respect, and general level-headedness that will surely follow, preferably while that classic 1974 Willie album, Phases and Stages, a real fan favorite, plays in the background. Boy, that is a good ‘un.

For his part, Willie responded to the hubbub in the Williest of ways, with aplomb and his signature wry humor. “I don’t care—they’re entitled to their opinions and I’m entitled to mine,” he told the hosts of the television talk show The View. “I love flak. We’re not happy ’til they’re not happy.” The Twitter account for his cannabis company, Willie’s Reserve, responded to calls for the burning of Willie’s records by tweeting, “If you’re going to burn something, burn Willie’s Reserve.” And later in the week, Willie, similarly unfazed, brushed off the dustup on an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert before promoting this year’s Farm Aid Concert, Willie’s Reserve, and his brand new and aptly titled album, My Way.

Thanks for the letter, Mr. Johnston. Now, in the words of that great American icon of iconoclasm, let’s pretend it never happened and erase it from our minds. Onward and Upward!

Willie Nelson: My Way

Sunday, September 9th, 2018
60 years in the spotlight
by:  Thomas H. Green
Of all the great country superstars of his era, Willie Nelson is truly the last man standing (as was made clear by the title of his last album… Last Man Standing). In his mid-80s his output has, if anything, become more prolific. However, if his 1970s outlaw persona could peek into the future and see what 2018 Willie was up to, he might be surprised. His latest album, a tribute to his old pal Frank Sinatra, has wandered far off into the world of late night jazz bar shuffling.

In truth, Nelson has form in this area. A couple of years ago he released a set of George Gershwin standards – and even as far back as 1978 he was covering Sinatra-friendly cuts such as “On the Sunny Side of the Street” in a jazz style – but My Way still seems especially mellow, bow-tied and urbane.

The truth is these versions of well-worn songs are not vital or necessary but, by the same token, Nelson’s ease with them makes listening likeable. He doesn’t amp up the croon factor or melodrama like so many young Bublé wannabes. He simply inhabits the songs, his voice, with its distinctive quaver, giving the appropriate lived-in feel to cuts such “One for My Baby (and One for the Road)”. His very age brings forth the emotional content of numbers such as “Young at Heart”, the ever-poignant genius of Ervin Drake’s timeless classic “It Was a Very Good Year”, and even lends the hackneyed, over-played “My Way” a little charm.

A commercial selling point may be the appearance of Norah Jones on a rather throwaway version of “What Is This Thing Called Love” but, on the other hand, the album is most especially aided by fine instrumental work, from the 3.00 AM rustling drums to the orchestration of Buddy Cannon and Matt Rollings. Most exceptional of all is some stunning guitar work, both jazzily virtuosic and lazily lovely. By the time the listener reaches the closing “Blue Moon”, even a cynic like this writer, entirely sick of predictable Alexander Armstrong-style “American songbook” bollocks, may be somewhat persuaded by Nelson’s effortless take on it all.

Willie Nelson and Van Morrison at Outlaw Festival (September 8, 2018)

Sunday, September 9th, 2018
by: Scott Tady

BURGETTSTOWN — Well, it was a marvelous night for a moon dance Friday, with Van Morrison at KeyBank Pavilion singing many of his classic songs.

Not that the lazy fans in the second-tier seats got up on their feet to shake and groove until the very end, though it looked rather lively on the lawn.

Granted, Morrison’s 90-minute performance got off to a slow start, bringing initial fears of, wow, what if the 45-year wait to see the Northern Ireland legend on a local stage didn’t meet expectations? Morrison and his band sounded too quiet, especially compared to the guitar-shredding set of alt-country artist Sturgill Simpson that had preceded them.

Morrison seemed to notice it, too, making a few upward pointing gestures, as in, hey, turn up the volume. Morrison played sax on “Benediction (Thank God For Self Love),” and he and his lightly jazzy pop-rock band sounded OK on “Magic Time,” but they were still too quiet and in need of more energy. Sporting a dark suit, tinted glasses and stylish hat, Morrison added harmonica to the blues standard “Baby, Please Don’t Go,” which perked up things. Everything finally started to click — evidently volume adjustments were made — as Morrison’s signature, soulful voice got good and peppy on “Here Comes The Night” by his 1960s band Them.

From there, it truly was a marvelous experience, as the band began to assert itself, including soothing female backing vocals on “Carrying a Torch” then the classic “Moondance,” somewhat re-arranged, with a prominent bass line behind Morrison’s jaunty vocals.

Van The Man even cracked a smile during “Broken Record,” where he and the band imitated a broken record, complete with a scratching, stuck needle sound effect, and him repeatedly singing “broken record, broken record, broken record…”

The excitement grew with a back-to-back “Days Like This” and the classic “Wild Night,” while Morrison played piano for “I Can’t Stop Loving You.”

And talk about an epic ending, with the famed “Brown Eyed Girl” sparking the crowd to sing “Sha la la la la la la la la la la, dee dah” — just like that — and then a spry “Gloria,” in all its G-L-O-R-I-A glory, getting even those spectators in the pavilion’s second tier to stand and dance.

Not only did local Morrison fans get to a cross an item off their bucket list, they saw a fine performance.

For many of the 17,500 or so spectators, Morrison was the main draw, though six other acts made memories at this Outlaw Music Festival, including headliner Willie Nelson, who at 85, still has a charming stage presence. With a huge Texas flag unfurled behind him, Nelson, armed with his trusty and battered acoustic guitar, chugged through classics like “On The Road Again,” “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” and his set-launching “Whiskey River.”

Nelson’s son Micah played drums with brushes, giving the sound a nice country-western shuffle, with Willie’s other boy, Lukas, bringing some smoking guitar and a voice similar to his dad’s on the high notes during “It’s Floodin’ Down in Texas.”

From a Hank Williams medley to a lovely rendering of “Always on My Mind,” Nelson proved he’s still a quality entertainer.

His boys both got to play an afternoon set, with Micah, under the stage name Particle Kid, conjuring an intriguing sound that mixed twangy country, conga drums and psychedelic vocal effects. The crowd loved his “Everything is Bull—-” for which brother Lukas came on and added air guitar before seamlessly starting his own set that showcased exciting guitar and great songwriting.

Lukas and his band, Promise of the Real, connected with the crowd on “Turn Off The News,” a song that begins “I believe that every heart is kind/some of them are just a little underused” before getting to a message of skipping the TV news and doing something positive instead, like planting a garden or spending time with your kids. “We might feel a bit less hardened,” he says.

You’ll hear more about Lukas Nelson and Promise of The Real when they appear as the band in the much hyped “A Star is Born” reboot with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.

Compared to Lukas Nelson’s set, outlaw country artist Sturgill Simpson and his band seemed too sprawling and self-indulgent, though there were some thrilling moments amid their lengthy jams.

Maybe the finest performance of the day came from Brandi Carilie whose rocking band entertained and delivered a message. Carlile mentioned her two daughters and her wife, saying she feels compelled to talk about them on stage to assert their rights to be a family. Alone on stage at that point, she sang the touching song “The Mother,” with a cute line about her first-born: “the first things she took from me were my selfishness and sleep.”

Carlile uttered something about there being no junkies, just people suffering through hard times, as she set her full, warm voice loose on “Sugartooth,” a song she wrote about a friend who had a drug addiction and took his own life.

Carlile ended her set with an impressive, full-bodied rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You.”

The sparse crowd entering the gates by 2:45 p.m. saw a wonderful opening set by Pittsburgh’s own The Commonheart. Clinton Clegg’s soul-searching voice, backed by scorching guitar, shined on a few originals and an excellent cover of “With A Little Help From My Friends,” done Joe Cocker style.



Farm Aid: Concert for America 1985

Monday, August 27th, 2018

Thank you, Phil Weisman, for these Farm Aid souveniers.

Waylon and Willie due at ChicagoFest (August 9 1979)

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2018


Two big stars for ChicagoFest will be country music singers Waylon Jennings on August 8 and Wiie Nelson on Aug. 9.  Willie, who likes only Southern cooking, is bringing his own chuckwagon and chef.  Joe drives the chuckwagon with his motorhome behind it.    The rock group Kiss will perform at the international Amphitheater on Sept. 22.