Willie Nelson’s Country Throwdown Is A Rowdy Good Time

When Willie Nelson’s Country Throwdown Tour stopped at The Woods at Fontanel in Nashville Friday night (6/3), it was easily in the mid-90s. Which, when paired with some serious outlaw country, helps explain why the event was such a rowdy good time.

Brantley Gilbert, Craig Campbell, and Randy Houser. Photo: Alan Mayor

Back for its second year and now co-branded with Nelson, the Country Throwdown Tour—organized by the same folks who put on the Vans Warped Tour—is set to hit 24 cities through early July. Performers at The Woods included Nelson and outlaw heirs-apparent Jamey Johnson, Randy Houser, Lee Brice, Brantley Gilbert, Craig Campbell, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real and Drake White. Jack Ingram is supposed to join the trek later in June.

The tour also added a Bluebird Café component to showcase some of Nashville’s noted songwriters including Adam Hood, Austin Lucas, Brent Cobb, Caitlyn Smith, Dani Flowers, and Erin Enderlin.

The move to partner the tour with Nelson seems to have paid off, as the Woods amphitheater appeared close to its capacity for most of the evening. Lines to the beer vendors filled the pathways, and the queues for hot dog or barbecue vendors were even longer. Early in the evening, performances bounced back and forth between the main stage and smaller second stage near the festival entrance. At sunset, all the action shifted to the main stage.

Lee Brice performing. Photo: Alan Mayor

Just before 6 pm, Brice and band bashed out a gutsy, passionate set including his mega hit “Love Like Crazy” and his Garth Brooks mega-hit “More Than A Memory.”

Over on the second stage, Gilbert whipped the standing audience into a frenzy, rocking out on his songs “Dirt Road Anthem” (now a Jason Aldean hit) and “Country Must Be Country Wide.” By this point, audience members were removing clothing and the beer was flowing freely.

Houser followed on the main stage, showcasing his big, soulful voice. The audience was treated to his hits “Whistlin’ Dixie” and “Boots On,” as well as a lighter-worthy version of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man.”

A handful of the songwriters, who had showcased earlier in the day, took the stage during the equipment changeover and played a few original tunes in-the-round. Then it was Jamey Johnson’s turn.

And this was clearly Johnson’s audience, who roared with approval when he started his set with “High Cost of Living” from That Lonesome Song. The crowd hung on his every word, sang every chorus, and generally went nuts with every new tune he introduced. His hard-earned underdog stance resonated with these folks, and he made sure not to disappoint.

For “In Color,” Johnson brought his daughter out to sing along which was both unbelievably cute and oddly affecting. Houser came back out to duet with him on “Can’t Cash My Checks.” And just for good measure, he threw in a swingin’ cover of “Tulsa Time.”

Around 9:30, it was time for the main event. Unlike some of the previous artists, Willie used the stripped down approach on this stage. His drummer just uses a snare and some other basic pieces, his sister Bobbi is at the piano, and his familiar old classical guitar never leaves his body.

The hour-long set wasn’t nearly enough for Willie to thoroughly cover his extensive career, but he brought out the big guns. “Whiskey River,” “Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground,” “On The Road Again,” “Always On My Mind” were all present and then some. He was joined by Johnson, Houser and a whole cast of others for a rousing finale on “I’ll Fly Away.”

Yes, it was unbelievably hot, sticky and grimy on Friday but it hardly mattered. With musical performances this soul-satisfying, Throwdown audiences nationwide are sure to be pleased, even if they have to strip down to stay cool.

The festival crowd and view of the second stage. Photo: Alan Mayor

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