Willie Nelson’s first-ever virtual Luck Reunion concert

by: Matthew Leimkuehler

Nothing can replace the ritual of a concert. 

Stepping inside the venue sparks an unmistakable cocktail of anticipation and excitement – a feeling served best when minutes stand between you and a storyteller who’s penned the soundtrack to life’s never-ending turbulence. 

Side-by-side with like-minded listeners, a good show washes away all worry that awaits just outside the club doors. 

And, sure, the coronavirus temporary snagged that ritual from music faithful in Nashville and beyond. 

But listening helps. And at least 100,000 listened Thursday night as Luck Reunion hosted a virtual concert from basements, living rooms, studios and record stores around the world. 

Faced with cancellation this year, the self-described “annual anti-festival” instead asked performers to play online, where fans could watch and donate to a virtual tip jar. Dubbed “‘Till Further Notice,” acts could donate the tips to a charity or fellow performer in need. 

Artists – from Willie Nelson in Texas to Oh Boy Records newcomer Tre Burt in California to the soothing country of Temi Neilson in New Zealand – offered messages of hope and reminders to “stay safe” as music fans continue to practice social distance to combat the spreading virus. 

As Texas songwriter Paul Cauthen said, “Our world’s in a weird time, but with music and love we can get through anything.” 

Read below for highlights from the five-hour virtual jam.

‘We can lift that weight’

First: Nothing about a virtual concert feels “normal.” Artists called in from apartment corners and practice spaces, sometimes playing on laptop connections or one-shot camera feeds. 

Still, a good song can overcome the strangest circumstances – and Nashville noisemakers offered plenty Thursday night. 

Tenured songwriter Lucinda Williams busted “Bad Day Blues,” a riffy new cut from her upcoming album. Rounder Records newcomer Katie Pruitt offered a pair of sobering songs, reminding viewers not to give into “the fear and the panic.” Early James, an Alabama-based artist produced by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, brought a full band for his brand of tilted folk-rock. 

Devon Gilfillian, an East Nashville artist serving intergalactic soul, stripped down two fitting songs – “The Good Life” and “Lonely” – off his excellent new LP, “Black Hole Rainbow.” 

Devon Gilfillian performs live via a laptop as part of the Luck Reunion ‘Til Further Notice’ virtual concert Thursday, March 19, 2020.

“The whole nation and the whole world is in the same boat, feeling the weight coming down on them,” Gilfillian said. “Everyone coming together and staying on their own, we can lift that weight.” 

Nashville-based wife-husband duo Margo Price and Jeremy Ivey began a living room set with “1-800-Jesus,” a new tune from Price’s forthcoming album, “That’s How Rumors Get Started.” 

Candles burning on a piano in the background, the pair followed with a live duet favorite, “All Kind Of Blue.” 

Margo Price performs during the tornado relief benefit concert “To Nashville, With Love” at Marathon Music Works Monday, March 9, 2020.

“This is our first-ever livestream,” Price said, adding later: “We’re happy we have this to do because we finally cleaned up our house or at least this corner of it. … Everybody out there, they’re doing the same thing. We’re all in this together.” 

Performing songs off his new solo album, “And It’s Still Alright,” Denver-based soul-stomper Nathaniel Rateliff reminded viewers to “take care of each other.” Get the Entertainment newsletter in your inbox.

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“I hope in all of this … well you know –,” a tearful Rateliff said. “We find something good in all of this. We find something about ourselves and a better way to understand ourselves and each other.” 

Earlier in the show, Kurt Vile (and his daughter) popped by for three songs: “Hysteria,” “Loading Zones” and “Wakin’ on a Pretty Day.” 

Paul, Edie and … Woody Harrelson?  

Taking a brief step out of retirement, celebrated folk voice Paul Simon popped by the virtual carousel for a rendition of 1973’s timely “American Tune” (which Nelson covered in 1993). 

Joined moments later by songwriter-wife Edie Brickwell and an unbilled Woody Harrelson (yes, seriously), the group recited a tender cover of Everly Brothers’ classic “All I Do Is Dream.” 

“Stay safe everyone,” Simon said. “Stay well.” 

PAUL SIMON: 8 p.m. Bridgestone Arena, $45-$160

Closing with Willie Nelson and Neil Young

The surprise appearances wouldn’t stop with Harrelson’s “Dream” cameo, either. Fans who waited five hours for a few songs from the Nelson family would be greeted with a familiar face before the Luck Reunion headliner: Neil Young. 

Barefoot and behind his harmonica, Young performed “Vampire Blues,” singing that “good times are comin’/I hear it everywhere I go/ good times are comin’/ but they sure are slow.” 

MAY 17

The show closed with a family jam from Nelson with singer-songwriter sons Lukas and Micah Nelson. 

“Don’t forget to stop by the concession stands,” Nelson joked after kicking off the round with “Whiskey River.” 

The family shared songs, including Nelson’s classic “On The Road Again” and Lukas Nelson’s 2010 number, “Just Outside of Austin.” 

The family wrapped with Lukas Nelson’s poignant “Turn Off The News (Build A Garden).” 

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