Wish I had the space to wax extensively about each of them. But even the internet has limits. So I’ll give you highlights from the musical feast that drew more than 5,000 fans to a middle-of-the-week festival.
Surprisingly, especially to me, I had never seen Anderson in concert. Glad I finally did. The Country Music Hall of Fame member, taking the slot of an ailing Ray Price, was in fine voice and jovial spirits. He was so old school, right down to pedal steel guitar and fiddle in the band. Anderson even got a surprise visit from Johnson to perform “Give It Away,” the hit they co-wrote for superstar George Strait.
Smith, LaRue and Whiskey Myers were also concert newbies to me. I was impressed by their genuine passion and robustness. Smith and LaRue, backed by potent bands, had the Rodeo Plaza crowd fist-pumping engaged. Ditto Whiskey Myers inside on the Honky Tonk Stage. The band was loud and proud Southern rocking country.
Smith, in his picnic debut, showed confidence during a rocking rendition of “Good Hearted Woman,” and a couple of thoughtful originals, “The Baseball Song” and “Twenty-One.” LaRue has forever etched “Down In Flames” onto my brain.
I’ve forgotten how many times I’ve seen Shaver and Hubbard onstage. It never gets old. The moment Shaver, accompanied by three band members, launched into “Live Forever,” I felt right at home. That is his most reflective, transcendent song. It’s one for the ages. Sing it again, Billy Joe.
Hubbard was a hoot, what with his sly humor between songs and his swampy good tunes, especially “Snake Farm,” “Screw You, We’re From Texas” and “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother.” Also, how cool to once again see his son Lucas Hubbard playing guitar in his band.
And then we have Johnson, who brooded through an hour-long show that cemented his intense outlaw reputation. He gave us great songs – “High Cost of Living,” “In Color” and a cover of Waylon Jennings’ “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” – and even an inspired guest appearance from Lukas Nelson.
Lukas Nelson was all blistering energy. He played the electric guitar with his teeth, jumped off the drum platform, and wailed like living depended on it. He’s got Willie’s voice, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s blues-rock guitar prowess and Duane Allman’s Southern rock swagger. The kid was incendiary.
Lukas, naturally, made a return spot during dad Willie’s headlining gig, which featured sister Bobbie Nelson, harmonica player Mickey Raphael and the rest of the trusted band. Willie never lets us down, even as he runs through his concert standards – “Whiskey River,” “Still Is Still Moving to Me,” “Good Hearted Woman,” “Mommas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys,” “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Crazy” and so many others.
His guitar playing was fluid and frenetic; his singing was signature behind the beat, almost jazzy and bluesy. Excellent stuff. In that picnic menu, Willie Nelson is the hearty sandwich.