by Julian Spivey
CMT aired “Outlaw: Celebrating the Music of Waylon Jennings” on Friday, April 7. The two-hour concert special was taped live on July 6, 2015 at Austin, Texas’ The Moody Theater and featured some of the country music genre’s finest artists paying tribute to the legendary Jennings, who died in 2002 at age 64.
It’s somewhat surprising it took this great night of Waylon Jennings music almost two years to see its television broadcast and CD/DVD release, which also happened on April 7. I hope the Merle Haggard tribute that took place last week, also taped for possible future television broadcast, doesn’t take that long to be seen.
Waylon Jennings is one of the most important, influential and greatest performers in the history of country music and no doubt had numerous hits to choose from when the artists performed on his tribute. It was surprising that some deeper cuts from his discography were chosen like his son Shooter Jennings performing “Whistlers and Jugglers,” Sturgill Simpson choosing “Memories of You & I” and Willie Nelson’s selection of “’Til I Gain Control Again.” All were good selections and great performances, but it was interesting not to have Waylon classics like “Good Hearted Woman” or “Good Ol’ Boys” performed during the special.
The two-hour televised special began with a terrific performance of “I Ain’t Living Long Like This” by Chris Stapleton and his wife Morgane. The song, written by Rodney Crowell, is one of Jennings’ rowdier hits and one of my favorites, though I do prefer Crowell’s original slightly.
Just about every performance throughout the entire special was a highlight, so ranking performances would be a hard task and waste of time. Some of my favorites performances though included Texas country legend Robert Earl Keen’s take on my personal favorite Waylon song “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way,” the beautiful, angelic takes on “Dreaming My Dreams with You” and “The Wurlitzer Prize” by Alison Krauss and Kacey Musgraves respectively and Eric Church’s perfect choice of “Lonesome, On’ry and Mean.”
One of my favorite things about the televised tribute to Waylon Jennings is it allowed actual country music to appear on television, especially on a network that was once dedicated solely to country music. Seeing artists like Keen, Simpson, Ryan Bingham and Lee Ann Womack on TV really put a smile on my face. I can’t recall the last time I saw that much real country music on television – it sure hasn’t been any of the recent country music award shows (even though there’s at least four annually).
Other great selections from the tribute included Womack’s “Ride Me Down Easy,” Kris Kristofferson’s “I Do Believe,” Bingham’s “Rainy Day Woman” and the emotional “Mona,” performed by Waylon’s widow Jessi Colter, who wrote the song specifically for him.
One of the more interesting performances of the special was Toby Keith doing “Honky Tonk Heroes.” Keith is an artist that has sort of lost his way in the last decade or so, but the performance showed what kind of talent he is when performing good, well-written music.
Keith would also duet with Willie Nelson on the classic “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.” Stapleton would join Nelson for a nice cover of “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys.” Another interesting performance was the sort of Highwaymen reunion with Nelson and Kristofferson joined by Jamey Johnson and Shooter Jennings (naturally doing his daddy’s verse) on “The Highwayman.” The special made me really want to see a modern-day Highwaymen-esque supergroup featuring Simpson, Stapleton, Johnson and Jason Isbell (who wasn’t a part of the Waylon tribute).
“Outlaw: Celebrating the Music of Waylon Jennings” ended with an all-star singalong, as these specials and tributes so often do with everybody taking turns singing “Luckenbach, Texas.”
The CD/DVD of this great event can be purchased on Amazon.