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Willie's Picnic Was One For The Books!

Every once in a while, the names on a concert bill lift off the page, and you KNOW you just have to be there. So it was with Willie Nelson's 4th of July Picnic this year in Camden, NJ, just across the river from Philadelphia. Frankly, they had me at Mavis Staples. And that was just the beginning. Mavis at 85 years old this week continues to be a force of nature. She struts, she wails, she burns a hole in your soul. Her band, led by Rick Holmstrom was solid; funky, driving, and dynamic. By the way, we will be honoring Mavis this week on Somebody Say Amen, Sunday Morning 9am to 11am with Reverend Fred.

Next up was Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, who have somehow stepped it up even higher than last summer's FirstBank Amphitheater show in Franklin. JD McPherson blazed on lead guitar. Twin fiddles from Stuart Duncan and Alison were stirring, and Robert and Alison's voices complement each other in uncanny harmony. Of special note was their treatment of Matty Groves into Gallows Pole. You know both are grounded in Brit Folk, and this was a stellar example of how they share a music ethos.

Bob Dylan came to play the blues, on a grand piano facing the audience, no less, with another stellar group of musicians; Tony Garnier, Doug Lancio, Jim Keltner, and Bob Britt on guitar. Among favorites like Highway 61, and Ballad of a Thin Man, were some cool covers like 6 Days on The Road, Little Queenie, and the Fleetwoods Mr. Blue.

And then there was Willie Nelson and Friends, with Mickey Raphael, Waylon Payne, and Lukas Nelson flanking him. It was so good to see him, though he struggled a bit with breathing, he played a full set in the heat of the night. Lukas ripped on Texas Flood, and Waylon sang sweetly on Help Me Make It Through the Night. The rest was Willie center stage. He sang all the ironic songs, including Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die, I Woke Up Still Not Dead, and there was a special poignancy to On The Road Again. I go back almost 50 years with Willie shows, and I have to say this was the most emotional by far. There was so much love, on stage and in the audience, and there were countless tear stained faces. From the many 4th of July Picnics Willie has brought us, many of which I was able to broadcast for XM Radio, the Farm Aids, the concerts in Austin during SXSW, Willie has occupied a singular place centered in empathy. His placement of Living in the Promisedland was a perfect message for Independence Day.

Running through the whole day was the common thread of Great American Music forms, you know, these are the same ones we celebrate every day at WMOT. Each set grew its own branches and flowers out of this rich loam, but each artist in turn honored America's freedom with their set. The day brought exhilaration, meditation, and all the emotions music brings. It was simply magnificent.

Jessie Scott is WMOT program director, afternoon host and host of Wired In. Scott has a long history in radio and was the creator of XM's X Country channel.