As we walked in the gates we were greeted by the opening notes of Asleep At The Wheel's set. This band has been around a long time, and has yet to lose a step. It was fun to see this legendary band at work and to watch everyone dance and sing along to the tunes. Despite coming off of a year in which they won 4 Grammys and released a "Very Best of..." album, this band was down to earth and sang mostly what the fans were yelling for them to play. When they went into "Hot Rod Lincoln" I was won over. I really enjoyed the combination of country and swing. After seeing this band it's easy to see why they've won 8 Grammys over the years, it takes something special, and this band has it.
Next up was the new kid on the block, Gary Allan. He's been around a little while, but he's not nearly as seasoned as these older folks. I was impressed by his stage presence and he definitely had quite a few fans in the audience. I wasn't too familiar with his songs, but people I talked to said he's one of the new up and comers on stations like CMT. Either way, he wasn't the stereotypical pop that passes as country today, he had the Texas edge which gave him integrity. I was most impressed that he was brave enough to test out some new material at such a big show. Honestly, those were my favorite songs he played. I look forward to following this man on the way up, he's definitely getting better at his craft.
Dwight Yoakum's set was odd and left me very resentful. For starters, a blue bubble chair was suspended from the ceiling right about the bass player's amp. I was sure that meant someone was going to come down from the ceiling to start the set, but it just hung there...whatever.
The set itself was damn fun to watch. Yoakum has a great deal of energy and walks with more confidence than he knows what to do with. He had the great poses a la Elvis Presley and made the women swoon. Also, despite the appearance, he tore through songs from all his releases covering over a decade worth of music. It was nice to see.
The part of the set that left me resentful was the fact that he performed and encore. I have never seen a more ridiculous act. An opener has no right to play an encore. Last time I checked, it was Willie Nelson's Family Picnic. This was a very pompous move and showed no respect to the man of the night.
The man of the night being Willie Nelson. When he started playing, the vocals were a bit off, the guitar runs were a bit sloppy and the sound wasn't very tight. But after the first 20-30 minutes, the band was tight as you ever expect and the music was flowing. This set was a dip into the Great American Songbook. Willie played all his best songs, songs by artists such as Kris Kristofferson, Billy Joe Shaver, and Waylon Jennings. All the honky tonk heroes were represented in this set, and you could feel the timelessness of the music being performed right in front of you.
Willie played an epic set. It was easily two hours with no breaks to talk in between. When you have as much to say in song as Willie Nelson does, you can't very well stop and talk to everyone about the weather as a lot of musicians do. It was a powerful performance that will leave anyone in complete awe.
After the show concluded, we were fortunate enough to go to the meet and greet with Willie Nelson. Normally this is something trivial I'd leave out of a review, but I was impressed that after all these years he took the time to talk to, sign autographs, and take pictures with everyone who wanted to, with no prejudice to who the person was. It was nice to see someone so down to earth despite being an American icon.
Samuel Barker is Senior Editor. Contact him at email@example.com.