The US Festival was a three-day concert event, held in in San Bernadino, California, in 1982 and again in 1983, that gathered artists from different genres. June 1983 was designated “Country Day” at the US Festival, and featured both Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. Their respective performances from that day are now available on two DVDs courtesy of Shout Factory.
Waylon went on first, and Waylon Jennings: Live at the US Festival captures his 22 song set in all its outlaw glory. He plays all his best-loved songs, like “Amanda”, “I’ve Always Been Crazy”, “Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out Of Hand”, “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way,” “Rainy Day Woman” and “Honky Tonk Heroes”. He’s joined by his wife, Jessi Coulter, for a wonderful rendition of “Storms Never Last”, and he and his band (including the great Ralph Mooney on steel guitar) seem to be having a good time with each other and the crowd as the late afternoon sun lends a beautiful glow to the proceedings.
Given that the source material is nearly 30 years old, the picture looks surprisingly good, with only a few small imperfections here and there. The sound is fairly good as well, but most of that is down to Waylon himself, rather than the standard stereo mix. He was in top form for this almost hour-long set, and the songs themselves, of course, are fabulous. There’s one bonus feature on this disc: a short pre-show interview with Waylon, which is interesting to see despite the fact that the journalist (who is off camera) seems to be struggling with the entire situation. Waylon may or may not have been inebriated during the interview, but his state clearly didn’t adversely affect his later performance.
After Waylon Jennings left the stage that June evening, his buddy Willie Nelson was up. Willie was the headliner for “Country Day”, naturally, and Willie Nelson: Live at the US Festival documents his 80 minute set in a very straightforward manner.
My first thought upon watching this three decades on was “Is Willie on speed?” because every song seems like it’s in double-time compared to the arrangements with which I’m familiar, and because, well, it was the ’80s (though, to be fair, if Willie and his band were on anything besides pot back then, it probably wasn’t speed). Having faster, punchier arrangements isn’t a bad thing by any means, and it likely functioned as means to keep the band on its toes as well as a way to keep the crowd energized, it’s just very noticeable, until you get used to it.
The picture quality is, inexplicably, worse than that of the Waylon Jennings disc. There are some drop-outs and places where a place-holder (Announcing “Willie Nelson” or simply showing a green screen) appears for a few frames. However, the sound is good and the visual glitches stop, for the most part after a few songs.
There aren’t any bonus interviews or features on this disc, but you can choose to access the songs directly from that menu screen. Willie runs through all the classics, including “Whiskey River”, “Crazy”, “Why Do I Have to Choose?”, “Help Me Make It Through The Night”, “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain”, “Blue Skies”, a gorgeous “Georgia On My Mind”, “All Of Me”, “Stardust”, “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys” and several others. He does two versions of “Good Hearted Woman”, because, supposedly, Waylon Jennings didn’t get back to the stage in time for the first one.
Waylon also joins Willie for “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”, which is an obvious audience-favorite. Willie closes with a pair of favorites as well: a rousing “On The Road Again” and a lovely “Always On My Mind”. His performance that night may not have been quite on par with Waylon’s, but he is ever the consummate showman. and he certainly gave the crowd at the 1983 US Festival’s “Country Day” what they came to see.
Waylon Jennings: Live at the US Festival and Willie Nelson: Live at the US Festival are a must for any fans of either artist, or of country music in general. In spite of the age of these concerts, these performances hold up very well.