Pictured L-R: Mark Johnson (bass), Billy Sanford (fmr. guitarist), Mike Noble (guitar & band leader), Jesse Benfield (editor & playback), Keith Urban (curator), John Gardner (drums), Chris Knoll (keyboards & accordion), Steve Peavey (guitar).
Photo by Jeremy Westby / 2911 Media
Over a three-day period, country music history was made as Don Williams: Music & Memories of The Gentle Giant premiered at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center with the Nashville Symphony, original members of Don’s band and never before seen video footage of Don Williams live in concert from around the world.
As the show opened, those in attendance gazed at the 25-foot wide video screen, which flashed album covers, photos and footage highlighting Don’s nearly 50-year career in country music all while the Nashville Symphony performed a specially crafted overture. Keith Urban, who made a surprise appearance on Saturday night to watch the show he curated, popped up on the video screen to explain the concept of the show and to set the tone of the evening on what people would be witnessing. Then the night came to life!
Members of Don’s touring band, 5 in total, along with the Nashville Symphony kicked off a night of music that included twenty-five of Don’s most recognizable songs. From “Good Ole Boys,” to “Some Broken Hearts (Never Mend),” to “Tulsa Time,” to “I Believe In You,” all songs showcased just how powerful Don’s baritone voice, laid back personality and delivery of songs inspired and affected people of all backgrounds while proving that music has no boundaries. The video footage, which came from Africa, Ireland, and Branson, spanned from the 1980’s to 2014 and highlighted Don’s massive international appeal.
Thursday night featured special guests Trace Adkins and Tracy Lawrence, Friday night featured Victoria Shaw, and Saturday night featured Eric Paslay. Sara Evans fell ill and was unable to attend, although previously announced.
“When first hearing the concept of this show, it was hard to comprehend bringing a show together with the original band, a full symphony and Don Williams on a big screen and it actually working,” says Adam Marshall, a fan who attended all three nights. “I just didn’t understand it, but as a Don Williams fan I wanted to see it. After the first night I bought tickets for the next two shows. When I closed my eyes, I truly believed Don was sitting on his stool and singing to me live on stage. A few times during the show it was very chilling and surreal, especially towards the end when Don interacts with the audience as if he was really there performing and the audience was singing back to him.”
Much like the touring shows that involve Elvis, Roy Orbison and others, Don Williams will hit the road in 2020 breaking boundaries and making the Country Music Hall of Famer the first country artist to tour post-death.
About Don Williams:
Williams first came to prominence in the 1960s as a member of the folk group The Pozo-Seco Singers. The trio recorded several hit records, with the biggest being “Time.” By 1971, Williams had gone solo, and had signed a publishing deal with Jack Clement. The Hall of Fame producer was so taken with Don’s style that he offered him a recording contract with his JMI Records in 1972. Early hits included “Atta Way To Go” and “Come Early Morning,” as well as “We Should Be Together,” which became his first Billboard top ten hit from 1974. He then moved to ABC / Dot (Later MCA), where the hits increased. Tracks such as “Rake and Ramblin’ Man,” “Tulsa Time,” and “Nobody But You” helped to make him one of the most-played artists on Country Radio in the 1970s and 1980s. He took home the Male Vocalist of the Year trophy from the Country Music Association in 1978, and notched his biggest hit in 1981 with “I Believe In You,” which also crossed over to the top-30 on the Hot 100.
Subsequent moves to Capitol Nashville and RCA kept Williams on the charts into the 1990s, as he continued to play for huge crowds on the road. His success in the United States is well-documented, but the music of Don Williams has made him an international star – with followings in such places as Africa, England and New Zealand. He has placed 52 singles in the top-40 on the Country charts in the United States, with 17 going all the way to the top spot. Williams was a member of The Country Music Hall of Fame and The Grand Ole Opry. Williams appeared in the films W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings and Smokey & The Bandit II with Burt Reynolds.