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Willie Nelson’s “Country Throwdown Tour” literally “threw down” amazing performances in Ontario, CA this Friday night with up-and-coming songwriters, rising stars, and a country music legend. The event truly became a party as country music lovers across generations joined together to stomp their boots, raise their hats and drinks, and sway to the soulful sounds of country music songwriters. With performances from Lee Brice, Randy Houser, Jamey Johnson, and Willie Nelson on the main stage, the love of country music and songwriting was demonstrated. The event truly became a family affair, as Willie Nelson’s son, Lukas Nelson and his family band, joined Nelson on stage for his set.
The tour included performances from artists including Craig Campbell, Brantley Gilbert, and Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real, among others, who put on their shows outside of the venue starting at 3:00. Outside of the Citizens Bank Arena, fans gathered around the Bluebird Café Stage and the Side Stage to enjoy the tunes of these rising country singers and songwriters. There were tents set up that were selling merchandise and CDs of the artists and also, tents where artists, such as Lee Brice, were doing autograph signings. I approached one tent that had a particularly long line and when I went to find out what everyone was trying to get, it was beer, of course!
The love of drinking beer tends to be a common facet for country music lovers, which is why Lee Brice announced that he hopes for his song titled “Beer” would be his next single from his second CD. Lee Brice took the stage inside of the main venue shouting, “Who’s ready for a country throwdown?” as he energetically took the stage. Brice brought down the house and actually surprised me as he completely rocked out and jammed with his band. He introduced his band, who he claimed had been with him since the beginning, and performed with an aggressive energy and powerful voice. Most known for “Love Like Crazy,” which he says is “the song that changed [his] life,” had the whole crowd singing along. He ended his set with Lukas Nelson, Willie Nelson’s 22 year-old son, on stage performing a “Red House,” a Jimi Hendrix cover.
Another thing that made this tour great was the fact that they had fillers in between sets, instead of long gaps in between performances. The singer/songwriters who performed on the Bluebird Café Stage earlier were brought up on stage to perform one acoustic song each. Singers such as Brent Cobb, Dani Flowers, Austin Lucas, Caitlyn Smith, and Adam Hood entertained the fans as they awaited each set to begin on the main stage.
Randy Houser began his set with his hit “Boots On,” and he got the whole crowed clapping and shouting. He totally rocked out with amazing energy and a powerful performance as the fans stomped their boots and danced to his songs, including “They Call Me Cadillac,” “My Kind of Country,” and “Whistlin’ Dixie.”
Jamey Johnson then took the stage, appearing confident, collected, and portrayed a genuine down-to-earth approach on the stage. He swings his guitar over his head with the leather strap embroidered “Jamey” and opens his show with “High Cost of Living.” He continues his set with his soulful songs in the style of a Hank-William ballad as the audience sways, truly a time for the lighters to come out. His hit song “In Color,” brought the audience to their feet as they sang along, as well as a nicely-done cover of George Strait’s, “Give it Away” that he performed to end his set. Not saying much throughout his show, he let his songs speak for themselves. His style appeared similar to that of the outlaw country that Nelson himself has been known for.
After Jamey Johnson played, I headed backstage to get a glimpse of the excitement of the artists and crew as we awaited Willie Nelson taking the stage. Waiting around, I ran into Lukas Nelson who generously took a picture with me! He and his band had played earlier in the day on the Side Stage, and he was also going to be taking the stage with his dad, which truly makes this tour a family affair. I asked him what it was like to be on the road with his dad and taking part in the Country Throwdown Tour, and he said, “I just like being out here with everybody and playing with everybody and making all the new friends“. Lukas Nelson can certainly play the guitar, and play it well. He may sound similar to his dad, but he also tries to develop his own individuality in his music and the songs he writes. Of course, his dad has greatly influenced his music (which he says), and he has also been inspired by artists including Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Waylon Jennings, and Led Zepplin, who he was sporting on his green t-shirt. Lukas, being a songwriter himself, says that a good song is one that “can make somebody feel something deeply.” The tour aimed to connect the generations by bringing together both Willie and Lukas Nelson to appeal to the variations of the crowd and they truly succeed by bringing in such a fresh and talented rising star. If you have not yet heard Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real, it is definitely some music to check out.
Country music Hall-of-Famer and legend Willie Nelson took the stage, accompanied by Lukas and his family band, and played an outstanding set of hits songs that everybody sang along with. The singer/songwriter/poet/author/actor/activist delivered to his fans with quality music and sound. The backdrop of the Texas state flag truly brought the ambiance of Texas country music into the room as the legend opened the set with “Whiskey River”. Nelson and son not only played a great show, but the performance also included a variety of percussion players, a piano player, a harmonica player, and even a live painter on the side of the stage, who by the end of the show had completed a painting of Willie Nelson with his braids and bandana. The legends’ voice sounded great and uniquely wonderful, as always. Nelson’s 6-decade career includes about 200 albums. From these albums, Nelson played a variety of hits including “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys,” “On the Road Again,” “Beer for My Horses,” “Always On My Mind,” “Georgia On My Mind,” “Good Hearted Woman,” and ended the set by bringing up all of the artists onto the stage to clap and sing along to “I’ll Fly Away.” The vibe of the songwriters and outlaw notion of country made this show enjoyable and entertaining to the fans throughout the generations who were able to rock out to the loud-blasting music and also sway to the tunes that made me want to hold up a lighter. The legend, Willie Nelson, seemed to be fully appreciated and honored by those who preceded him and by his fans.