Live Review: Willie Nelson with Jerry Jeff Walker and Jakob Dylan at Red Rocks

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Photo by Eric Syl Gruneisen

Willie Nelson & Family with Jerry Jeff Walker and Jakob Dylan Tuesday, August 26, 2008 Red Rocks Amphitheater Better Than: Sitting inside watching the Hillary Clinton speech.

It was a gorgeous night at Red Rocks when Jakob Dylan and his three band members took the stage. I wasn’t sure what to expect; I never was much of a Wallflowers fan. But I was pleasantly surprised to see how Dylan’s sound has matured into a dynamic alt-country with killer harmonies.

Jerry Jeff Walker went next, and while it was clear that there were a number of die hard Walker fans at Red Rocks, I couldn’t say that I was very familiar with his music before last night. He greeted the crowd with a “Hey Buckaroos,” and went on to sing about a pickup truck, and I realized I had never listened to Walker because I’ve never been a fan of this sort of straight country sound with noodly, twangy guitars and talking-style vocals. But most of the crowd seemed to enjoy his set.

Willie was next.

I saw him at Red Rocks the last time he was in town, and he really blew me away with his unique arrangements of old favorites and his stellar guitar playing. The crowd would have to wait for more than an hour after Walker’s set ended to see Willie take the stage. But at least he showed up.

He opened with “Whisky River,” followed by a few songs played in the straight forward style of his albums. When he launched into a medley of “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Crazy” and “Night Life,” he started to play around with tempo, phrasing and the more the unique guitar soloing that makes seeing Willie live such an and unforgettable experience. I’ve seen Billy Corgan, J Mascis and other great guitarists live many times, but they all seem to rely heavily on multiple guitar changes and huge pedal configurations, but Willie never plays with anything but his trusty nylon-string acoustic, plugged straight into his amp. Even at the age of 75, Willie can still play better than any guitarist I’ve ever seen.

This show was billed as Willie Nelson & Family, and they really do mean that family part – Willie’s little sister Bobbie Nelson is on piano, and his long-time drummer Paul English and his brother both play percussion.

I’ve always been partial to Willie’s ballads, like “Angle Flying Too Close To the Ground” and “Always on My Mind,” especially played live with his unique arrangements, but his up-tempo songs like “Mama Don’t Let Your Baby’s Grow Up to Be Cowboys” and “On The Road Again” were real crowd pleasers. He also played a Waylon Jennings song (“Good Hearted Women”) a cover of Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee” and a Hank Williams medley of “On the Bayou,” “Hey Good Looking” and “Move It On Over.”

Willie covered all the bases and represented more than 50 years of classic country music last night in less than an hour and a half – not a small feat, but if anyone can do it, it’s Willie. -- Aubrey Shoe

Critic’s Notebook Personal Bias: I can appreciate the appeal of Willie’s music and see how has it has transcended country in it’s appeal and influence, but Jerry Jeff Walker’s sound is by-the-book “country” and his songs about pickup trucks, rednecks and trashy women were a bit too cliché for me. Random Detail: The crowd was as eclectic as they come -- spanning generations and styles – but nearly everyone was fed up with the hour-long wait between Jerry Jeff Walker’s set and the time that Willie took the stage. Lots of grumbling was heard. By the Way: Willie was flying a huge Texas flag behind him during his set, and Jerry Jeff Walker made reference to the “Texans for Obama” bumperstick on the back of his guitar. Thank god for those blueneck Texans.

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