When the opportunity arises to see country royalty, you should take it. And when said royalty brings along the most successful bluegrass band of the last 20 years and country’s current “it girl” along for the ride you are looking a breathtaking night of music.
That scenario played out on June 14th as the ageless Willie Nelson, the heavenly Alison Krauss & Union Station, and the breathtaking Kacey Musgraves took the renowned Merriweather Post Pavilion stage in Columbia, Maryland.
You can often tell a lot about opening acts at a big summer outdoor concert by how crowded the lawn section is for their performances, especially on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Oftentimes, the lawn is empty as the parking lot is littered with revelers drinking, playing corn hole, drinking, listening to tunes, grilling and of course drinking. “Opening acts be damned, we’re here to party before the main attraction” unfortunately seems to be the norm.
Such was not the case on this particular day as the house and lawn seats were packed to see one of the hottest new comers in country music – Kacey Musgraves. This attendance alone, spoke volumes to the lore of this remarkable 25-year-old Texas singer/songwriter.
Musgraves and her colorful band were up for the task as they hit the neon cacti adorned stage and played their way through a set of nine songs, including two new ones (the recently debuted “Trailer Song” and “It’s High Time,” both were fantastic).
Naturally, the performance featured songs from her award-winning debut album, Same Trailer, Different Park. Eschewing the album’s fist-pumping second single “Blowin’ Smoke,” Musgraves and her band delivered with “Stupid,” “It Is What It Is” and one of my personal favorites “Silver Lining.”
The performance really picked up during the last four songs as the band first launched into a swayingly southwestern, yet true-to-the-original cover of George Strait’s “I Just Want To Dance With You” which had the crowd singing right along in perfect chorus.
From there, Musgraves picked up her banjo and performed “the song that started it all,” the stunningly haunting, trapped in suburbia, “Merry Go ‘Round.” The inspirational, just be true to yourself fan-favorite and third single “Follow Your Arrow” followed and once again Musgraves encouraged the crowd (who obliged) to sing along to the catchy chorus, “Make lots of noise. Kiss lots of boys. Or kiss lots of girls, if that’s what you’re into. When the straight and narrow gets a little too straight, roll up a joint (at this point she added ‘Willie would’ to cheers.) And follow your arrow wherever it points.” It truly was a special moment to hear so many voices unify in the name of tolerance, individuality, and I suppose, smoking a little weed.
Musgraves and her band (whose suit jackets were at this point lit up in blinking lights) took their final bows and saluted the crowd with a sweet a capella version of the Dale Evans and Roy Rogers classic “Happy Trails,” a perfect send-off after a wonderful performance.
Legendary bluegrass band Alison Krauss & Union Station (featuring Jerry Douglas) were up next with a spectacular set featuring a treasure-trove of songs from their storied career. All ears were on the angelic vocals and fiddle playing of Krauss and the sturdy, yet folksy singing and guitar playing of Dan Tyminski.
The band kicked off their performance with a gorgeous version of “Let Me Touch You For A While” and kept rolling with instrumentals, stories told by Krauss, and songs led by both Krauss and Tyminski.
Tyminski took to the mic to sing the always popular “Man of Constant Sorrow” from the movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?. When Krauss introduced Tyminski to the crowd, she told the story of how he came to record “Hey Brother” with popular EDM artist Avicii. Moments later, Tyminski and Douglas were together on stage playing a strictly bluegrass version of the dance hit. No surprise here, it worked just as well without the big beats.
Douglas then performed two solo instrumental songs on his dobro. The pickin’ and slidin’ sounded great, but it was easy to see that it may have went on for about five minutes too long as many in the crowd found time to hit the concessions. In a much smaller venue this particular performance would have been the stuff of legends.
Krauss’ beautiful soprano lilted on the title-track from their last album, 2011’s Paper Airplanes. The show closed with the band huddled around Krauss’ microphone for three final songs: “When You Say Nothing At All,” “Whiskey Lullaby” and “Down to the River to Pray.” It was a remarkably intimate moment for a concert at packed amphitheater, and it worked tremendously.
The minutes leading up Willie Nelson & Family were both excruciating and humorous. Having never seen Willie before, I was completely over-anxious for the performance to kick off. I also couldn’t help but wonder if the show would start with a smoking 30 foot bong being rolled onto the stage. I soon realized that this was not a Cypress Hill show and soon enough Willie and his band casually sauntered onto the stage and do what they do best – play.
The 81-years-young Red Headed Stranger was in fine form as he strummed and sang songs spanning his entire career. It was the hits though that had the crowd singing right along. Good thing he has few of those. The country legend played “Good Hearted Woman,” the humorous “Me And Paul,” and the rallying “Beer For My Horses,” all to a tremendous response.
When Willie sang the classic “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” he didn’t even have to sing the chorus. He’d simply yell, “Mammas” and the crowd took it from there. It certainly put a smile on his face.
An even bigger smile was put on the crowd’s faces when he performed a quartet of his most beloved songs that he either wrote or recorded. “Crazy,” “Georgia On My Mind,” “On The Road Again,” and “Always On My Mind” all brought the crowd to its feet. He also paid tribute to the great Hank Williams with a trio of songs, “Fun On The Bayou,” “Hey Good Lookin’,” and “Move It On Over.”
Alison Krauss & Union Station and Kacey Musgraves and her band helped close out the night with a spirited version of “Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die.” The joy on Musgraves’ face when she was singing the chorus was undeniable. Finally, the three generations of artists ended the night with another Hank Williams song, the country gospel tune “I Saw The Light,” an ideal end to an amazing concert experience.