Willie Nelson’s Annual Festival Anti-Festival ‘Til Further Notice’ Online Reviewed
This year, the annual festival-anti-festival ‘Til Further Notice’ organized by Willie Nelson in his own backyard could not happen for obvious reasons but they decided it would still be happening via the wonders of modern technology
I watched parts of this marathon online-concert which started around 4 pm PT (6 pm CT) via twitch.tv/luckreunion and if the entire thing wasn’t close to a real festival – how could this possibly be the case when each performer was doing his or her thing from a remote place, alone – it rather looked like a series of acoustic and intimate performances with poignant and joyful moments.
The long lineup included plenty of country musicians, from artists on the rise winner Ida Mae, an English duo which performed from their living room with a steel guitar and ferocious harmonies, to the man himself, Willie Nelson, headlining the entire thing with two of his sons, Lukas and Micah, almost 6 hours later
Hosted by Ray Benson, the lineup had many western artists I was not familiar with, like Thomas Csorba (who sang an acoustic song called ‘Jericho’ alone on guitar), old school red-hot Honky-Tonker Tami Neilson, Devon Gilfillian, Ian Ferguson, Katie Pruitt, David Ramirez, Randy Houser, Tré Burt… and all of them played very stripped-down renditions of a few of their songs, no more than 2 or 3, while many had a rather depressing to very melancholic tone.
It’s actually difficult to cover such an event because it drags for such a long time and because so many acts are just playing a few songs you have never heard before in a very stripped down manner. I watched distractedly the first 2-3 hours, but the experience got better and better as we progressed through the night.
The fundraising had nevertheless some odd moments, Nikki Lane showed us how to make an advent calendar with some toilet paper rolls while smoking… weed as if she was the Martha Stewart of country, a guy named Orlando, who seemed to come straight from a western movie, ironed a few felt hats, and, of course, we were often reminded to contribute and ‘pass the boot and tip artist’ while the total amount raised during this live music marathon would be shared between different charities such as Farm Aid (helping family farmers and their families), myhaam (helping musicians access affordable healthcare) or SIMS (providing musicians mental health and substance use recovery services).
Obviously, social distancing was the key and Nikki Lane did a google-meet performance with her keyboardist in his bed, her drummer outside while she was singing inside. If David Ramirez had a voice with Willie Nelson vibe but often taking a soporific tone, Paul Cauthen on a keyboard (a nice change) had this amazing vocal instrument, a beautiful voice with many nuances and great depth. That reminded me I was supposed to see him in April with Tanya Tucker and Orville Peck, and I truly hope this event will be rescheduled when we see the light of this Covid-19 tunnel. A few hours later, the always upbeat Peck made a very welcome unannounced appearance and did the Ned Sublette’s song ‘Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly Fond of Each Other’ made popular by Willie Nelson.
There were other familiar faces like badass Lucinda Williams and her raw drunken howl, and a cool duo, Shovels and Ropes who harmonized with ease. Talking about harmonies, I would have never thought Courtney Barnett would join Lucius for a vibrating classic ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’, but this is what they did, followed by Barnett’s ‘Avant Gardener and Lucius’ very emotional ‘Dusty Trails.
Randy Houser had some sincere character, Tré Burt sounded a bit like Dylan, while Early James played his weird indie country with a grin, but he was the only one who played on a real stage surrounded by musicians. Sitting in front of their piano, Margo Price & Jeremy Ivey played with a beautiful spirit and harmonies, a few songs including ‘1800 Jesus,’ ‘World’s Greatest Loser,’ ‘All Kinds of Blue,’ and Jeremy went on piano for ‘Better than Nothing’ which brought a magical saloon-gospel vibe.
Kurt Vile’s kid in the background seemed to be as bored as everyone else during her father’s set, the current situation is troublesome (to say the least) but this was probably the most depressing moment of the night, even though the kid was whispering the titles of the songs in the ear of her father in the very cute manner. Sunny War definitively looked like the new Tracy Chapman, playing her emotional melodies with a skilled fingerpicking guitar. She played just before Paul Simon who was at home with wife and daughter and… Woody Harrelson? Their segment was a cozy and playful experience as the quartet did together a cover of the Everly Brothers’ ‘All I Have to Do Is Dream’ while faking an argument about the lyrics. Just before, Paul Simon also did ‘American tune’ with, strangely, a lot of birds in the background and Edie Brickell showed us she wrote a cute little song about that famous virus and her quarantine.
Everyone sounded so upbeat and having fun while Jewel looked rather dramatic in front of her hundreds of candles while her over-the-top vocal performance dramatized the scene even more. Lonely Nathaniel Rateliff seemed totally in shock, looking almost scared while getting very emotional during the rendition of songs of his new album (such as ‘Time Stands’)
Neil Young made also a surprise appearance with a dark ‘Vampire Blues’ from his album ‘Earth’ that he sang while sitting by a fireplace with an angry and sinister eye, and finally, Willie Nelson and his two sons Lukas and Micah closed the long night, starting with ‘Everything is Bullshit’ by Micah and a trippy sock, followed by the convivial trio doing a few favorites, ‘Whisky River,’ ‘On the Road Again,’ as well as a few by Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, ‘Set Me Down on a Cloud,’ ‘Just Outside Of Austin,’ ‘Turn Off The News (Build A Garden).’
The performances oscillated between charming and cozy – Lulu Simon actually came back for a sweet ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ with the help of Woody and her father – and dramatic and emotional. ‘Welcome to the grand ole quarantine,’ told us the Nelsons with large smiles on their three faces, they seemed to tell us that, in the end, everything will be alright. However, while watching and reading this avalanche of news we receive every day, my mind is actually doing the same, going back and forth between the Nelsons’ cheerful smile and Neil Young’s somber and sad gaze.