Sons of the Pioneers, the self-proclaimed longest-running singing act in popular music history, came to town on Thursday. Mom and Dad were big fans, so I grew up listening to “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” — the song and the album — on eight-track, then record, then cassette tape, until the song finally graduated to CDs about a year ago. Matter of fact, I liked this show just on principle, because Mom and Dad actually went. Because I couldn’t stay the entire time, I didn’t get to hear “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” or “Cool Water,” their two most iconic songs, in person. But, I did get to hear some old favorites, and, got to see the Sons in action.
Even though the group’s target demographic is slightly older than I am, I liked what I saw. The guys clearly enjoy what they do, and mixed a healthy dose of humor into the show. They talked about the group’s history, too, and spent time lauding each members’ accomplishments. In fact, that’s part of why I didn’t get to hear as many songs as I’d hoped — spend a few minutes talking in between each song, and that eats up a chunk of time. I enjoyed the humor, though, and my Mom was tapping her toes and singing along with every song.
Clearly, they’re talented. That’s why the group has amassed an impressive number of awards and distinctions over the years. (For a more in-depth look at the group’s background, check out my preview article.) Instrumentally and vocally, the Sons of the Pioneers are not just a cutesy little act. They’re good. Even the humor portions, at least some of which I’m guessing are scripted, come across in a natural and entertaining way. It’s not forced, it’s not cheesy — it’s just good, ole’-fashioned western music and humor. My personal favorite was when Mark Abbott lobbied for a chance to sing a solo, and showed off his sweet dance moves.
The best part about revisiting childhood favorites is discovering what artists are doing now. I’d always loved Dwight Yoakam, and grew up listening to his hits like “Fast as You” and “Ain’t That Lonely Yet.” But the ’90s passed, and I was more apt to see Dwight Yoakam in a movie than hear him on the radio. Then he came to the Corn Palace Festival in August. I was pretty jazzed, so I actually took the night off work to go.
Not only did I get to hear classics like Streets of Bakersfield, between doing the interview and going to the concert, I was introduced to songs from his latest album, “3 Pears.” My personal favorite is “Waterfalls,” which I love for its sense of whimsy:
“If I had a big giraffe,
He’d have to take a real long bath
And that’s why waterfalls …
Are really neat.”
As I said, this is a song more to be appreciated for its sense of whimsy and imagery rather than its realism. But, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the rest of the concert, too. I’ve tried to link to some videos here that I took with my shiny new phone — yes, I will plug that wherever I can — but all videos and photos made the band look like angels. So I’ll need to keep working on that. Sound is good, though.
How about you? Did you go to the concert? Did you think the crowd was boring? What did you think?
Often times, my concert coverage is limited to visiting with the performers via phone far in advance of a show — if they grant me an interview, that is — then maybe catching 10-20 minutes of a show if I’m assigned to take pictures during the concert. I work nights, which means I rarely attend a concert in it’s entirety.
Then, Willie came to town.
I’d just gotten back from vacation, and I’d been unable to get an interview with Mr. Nelson for a preview. Our publisher sat me down and said rather than do a standalone photo, as we sometimes do, he’d like me to cover the concert. Willie Nelson is a Country Music Hall of Famer, and an industry legend, after all. I had no problem with that.
Even though I was happy to cover a country concert, I didn’t really realize what a big Willie Nelson fan I am until that night. I mean, if you grew up listening to country music, as I did, you’ve heard something he’s written and/or recorded. But I knew, and liked, every song.
He stood up there with his iconic, long gray braids, guitar and jeans, and sang hit after hit. Even though he’d just turned 80, he kept a rapid-fire pace going, barely speaking between songs. He’d occasionally lift a hand to his ear, encouraging the audience to sing along, but otherwise he just sang. And sang. And sang. Some songs, like “Crazy” (made famous by 1960s country star Patsy Cline) I had known were written by Willie Nelson but recorded by other artists. I had just forgotten. Then I heard him sing “Crazy,” along with many of his other hits and “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” which is my favorite Hank Williams song. I didn’t get to stay for the entire show, but I was impressed with what I saw.
The absolute highlight for me, though, was when he sang “On the Road Again.” This has long been an inside joke in my family, which I’ll summarize like this:
(DenOuden family member, calling my dad to find out where he is when traveling): “Dad, where are you?”
Dad DenOuden (with a musical lilt): “On the road again.”
Doesn’t matter where he is. If he’s in a car, and you ask him this question, that is the answer you’ll get. Every. Time. Aside from the fact that his non-answer drives our mom crazy — bonus — it illustrates what my family often does, which is weave song titles and lyrics into our everyday conversations. Often. Most come and go, but for whatever reason, dad’s Willie reference stuck. And I got to hear Willie Nelson sing that song in person. So, check that off the bucket list. Forgive me for taking a personal tangent, but it was one of the best things I did this summer. (Alas, I did not yet have my shiny new phone, or you can bet your bootstraps I would have recorded that to turn into my new favorite ringtone.)
So, what about you? What’s your favorite Willie Nelson song? Did you enjoy the concert as much as I did?