The road goes on for the Willie Nelson picnic
Riverport Ampitheatre, St. Louis, Sept. 5, 1999
By Robert Wooldridge
ST. LOUIS - Since 1973, the Willie Nelson Picnic has been a celebrated annual event in Texas. This year's road version made a triumphant stop here.
Opening was Marty Stuart, who informed the crowd that he was celebrating the 28th anniversary of the day he was hired to play with Flatt and Scruggs. Stuart did his expected hits ("Tempted," "Hillbilly Rock"), as well as some well chosen covers (Johnny Cash's "Blue Train" and Merle Travis' "Dark as a Dungeon"). But it was on tunes from his latest album, "The Pilgrim," that Stuart was most impressive. Stuart, who said the death of Bill Monroe inspired the pure country approach of "The Pilgrim," performed the title track and "Sometimes the Pleasure's Worth the Pain."
Though not of the cookie-cutter mold, Deana Carter, who followed, was the least country sounding performer on the bill. Still she was well received, particularly on songs from her debut ("Strawberry Wine," "Did I Shave My Legs For This").
Dwight Yoakam, touring for the first time in three years, followed with a flawless show. He mixed in tunes from his recent albums with his better known hits, threw in a cover of "Mystery Train" and rocked the crowd with his version of Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love." The most surprising aspect Yoakam's set was his choice for an encore - a Dylanesque acoustic solo version of "Suspicious Minds." Throughout the show guitarist Pete Anderson thrilled the crowd with his solos, while Yoakam frequently elicited squeals from female fans with his hillbilly shuffle.
Nelson closed the show in his usual impeccable style. While he did stellar versions of his traditional crowd pleasers ("On the Road Again," "Whiskey River," "Always on My Mind, etc."), Nelson seemed more inspired when he threw away the blueprint and jammed on "Milkcow Blues" and the arrangement of "I Never Cared For You" from his critically acclaimed album "Teatro." Nelson was also generous in sharing the spotlight as sister Bobbie Nelson did a couple of piano instrumentals and guitarist Jody Payne did vocals on a few tunes, including "Working Man's Blues."
Though the length of the show - over five hours - seemed too much for some as the crowd thinned a bit as the clock neared midnight, most would have gladly stayed and listened to Nelson and friends for a few more hours. Hopefully Nelson will continue this tradition and give fans around the country the same treat St. Louis fans had on this evening.