Just for laughs, I'd love to see ol' Willie open this show by leaning into the mike and intoning, "And now, we'd like to begin with a tune by Mr. Ornette Coleman "
Nope, in what is probably music's surest bet, the red-going-gray-headed stranger will punch the opening chords to "Whiskey River" on Trigger, his hole-ly (literally and figuratively) battered Martin guitar while Mickey Raphael's sweet harmonica weaves in and out. This annual show, of course, shares name only with his infamous events of the '70s. That means no cumulus reefer clouds, no topless cosmic cowgirls and no food allowed inside at The Woodlands (so much for the "picnic" aspect). Still, you can gleefully gorge yourself on the sonic comfort food that is Willie Nelson and Family and his amazing catalog of songs, which for this show may include "The Rainbow Connection," a nod to Kermit the Frog and title track from his most recent record, along with material from the upcoming The Great Divide.
The support bill is particularly strong this year. Dwight Yoakam brings Tomorrow's Sounds Today and his traditional Bakersfield country back to the Picnic after "Little Dwight," encased in his tight blue jeans, threatened to steal the show in 1999. Rodney Crowell should get a hero's welcome after his recent autobiographical Bayou City concept album The Houston Kid, and Asleep at the Wheel will continue to summon the ghost of Bob Wills with its workingman's western swing. Most interesting, though, might be the set by newly single movie star Dennis Quaid and the Sharks (can a battle with Russell Crowe's group with Meg Ryan as the prize be far behind?). Gary Allan and Cooder Graw round out the bill.
Willie Nelson Family Picnic
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
Sunday, August 12; 713-629-3700
Benignly overseeing all with an illegal smile, of course, will be the show's namesake. Though pushing 70 and last year's winner of a Lifetime Achievement Grammy, Willie Nelson still keeps a relentless recording, filming and playing schedule with more than 250 dates a year. Maybe there's a little something extra in those brownies on the tour bus.
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