Thursday, June 19, 2014

Concert Review: Willie Nelson, Alison Krauss and Union Station, Kacey Musgraves - Lewiston, New York - June 7, 2014

A beautiful late summer evening greeted thousands of music fans gathering at the Artpark Amphitheatre on the banks of the Niagara River Gorge on June 7 to see and hear one of the most varied and eclectic package shows in recent memory.  Indeed, the cross-generational appeal of the bill featuring young rising singer-songwriter Kacey Musgraves, the so-incredibly-talented Alison Krauss and Union Station and the timeless legend that is Willie Nelson was a show for the ages.  This show was out of this world.

On the road in support of her GRAMMY winning album "Same Trailer, Different Park", Kacey Musgraves is one of the very few young artsits in country music today that is producing high quality material.  Her songwriting is impeccable, as evidenced by the cool "Blowin' Smoke", her uplifting signature song "Follow Your Arrow", or the beautiful and melancholy "I Miss You." For long time country music fans like me, Kacey Musgraves is a breath of fresh air.  A young lady who is sticking to her guns seemingly not to care about what's commercially successful on radio, just carving out her own path doing what feels right for her.  The album has gone gold, she has had significant radio air play, the people recognize she's real and are buying it.  One other intangible that I loved about her performance was the respect for the history of country music she shows: her backing band were all dressed up in smart, Nudie Cohn-style suits, they performed a latino-style cover of the George Strait hit "I Just Wanna Dance With You", and closed the show with an a capella version of "Happy Trails."  Kacey's performance was the perfect way to kick off the show.

What more can one really say about Alison Krauss and Union Station.  Ms.Krauss has been courted by virtually every major record label in Nashville, but continues to record for Massachussetts based independent Rounder Records.  Union Station could arguably be the greatest collection of backing musicians ever to take a stage.  Couple that with Ms. Krauss's angelic vocals and you have one of the most timeless groups in the history of country and Americana music.  When Alison Krauss and Union Station take the stage, you arguably have the greatest collection of musical talent in any genre in one place.  Performing many of their best known songs in a lengthy set which included "Every Time You Say Goodbye", "The Lucky One", "Ghost In This House" along with several instrumentals, the group left the audience spellbound.  What makes this group function so well together is that they're smart enough to recognize each other's talent.  When you have a musician that is the calibre of Jerry Douglas, it's only right to turn him loose on a couple of songs.  When you have a talent the calibre of Dan Tyminski, it's only proper to put him out front on lead vocal on a few tunes, most notably the song that kicked off the whole roots-revival, "Man of Constant Sorrow".  While Alison Krauss is the featured vocalist and is clearly the featured performer, she is smart enough to realize that her fellow artists deserve to share in the spotlight and she is more than accomodating.  They are a special group of artists who deserve the respect and appreciation they receive.

It's recently dawned on me that a Willie Nelson concert is really an experience, one that is to be appreciated.  Now well in to his 80's, Mr. Nelson has transcended beyond a country artist or singer-songwriter.  He is a national treasure, an icon in the true sense of the word.  Touring with The Family in support of his newly release album "Band of Brothers", Willie took the crowd on a non-stop hour and 45 minute trip through the history of his career.  Kicking off with "Whiskey River", and moving us through a stretch that paid hommage to his fellow Outlaw, Waylon Jennings, Mr. Nelson performed his lengthy set without even stopping for water.  He showed the world he still has the guitar chops on his version of "Night Life", a signature song for fellow Country Music Hall of Fame member the late, great Ray Price.  A solo version of his duet with Toby Keith, "Beer For My Horses" worked it's way in to the set, as well as a couple of instrumentals featuring Mr. Nelson's sister Bobbi on piano.  The final moments of the show re-created a church revival, as Kacey Musgraves, Jerry Douglas and others joined Willie on stage for rousing versions of "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" and "I Saw the Light."  Post performance and with the band still playing, Mr. Nelson graciously signed autographs for those lined up at the foot of the stage for several minutes before waving goodbye, thanking the audience and leaving the stage.  

And thus concluded an outstanding night of music from the best cross-section of artists you could gather.  A beautiful and talented newcomer who's brigtest days are ahead of her; a beautiful and talented group of artists that are still at the top of their game and getting better; and an icon in music and artistry who showed his two opening acts that if they keep honing their craft and staying true to themselves, that it's entirely possible to keep doing this thing they all love for 50+ years if they so choose.

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