Photo courtesy of Willie Nelson

Almost as much as Willie Nelson is known for Austin, he's known for Nashville — and for subverting it. The 90-year-old singer has made an iconic, and extremely long career of conforming to and bucking against musical expectations, and now he's circled back around to tradition — without losing his own sound.

Nelson's new LP, Bluegrass, is his first album-length tribute to the traditional country genre. Yet, released on September 15, it's not even his first album of 2023. It follows I Don't Know A Thing About Love: The Songs of Harlan Howard, a tribute to the Nashville songwriter who gave folks "I Fall to Pieces."

Bluegrass, in a way, is Nelson's genre-bent tribute to his own work. The setlist gathers a dozen of the songwriter and his fans' "favorite" songs he wrote, according to a press release, re-rendered with a bluegrass ensemble.

The focus on orchestration highlights that this is a collaborative effort by the amiable, but largely solo performer. One song, "Good Hearted Woman," is the only track on the album not just written by Nelson, thanks to the similar creative genius of outlaw country great Waylon Jennings. Willie's son, Micah Nelson, created the cover art: an appropriately blue portrait of the singer with warm undertones and a wreath of familiar recreational leaves. The album was produced by Willie's longtime collaborator Buddy Cannon.

Willie Nelson BluegrassNelson's son created the cover art — in blue, of course.Image courtesy of Willie Nelson; created by Micah Nelson

Even if a listener doesn't recognize each song on the album, Nelson's voice is as unmistakeable as ever. Against a bluegrass arrangement, it floats undisturbed and unhurried. At times, it even sounds like Nelson and the band are performing in different meters, the band bustling along cheerfully while the singer lounges around the beat — but never on it.

In fact, listeners who avoid Bluegrass may find their tune changes when listening to these laid-back renditions. "Still Is Still Moving To Me" brings the more frenetic tempo and multi-part harmonies that the genre is known for at its most ferocious; but iconic songs like "Sad Songs and Waltzes" and "Yesterday's Wine" may not even strike listeners as bluegrass if they're not listening for it — just very string-heavy traditional country tunes.

"On the Road Again," "Man With the Blues," and album-opener "No Love Around" are perhaps the tracks that benefit the most from the Bluegrass treatment. All three seem a little more cheerful, a little more upbeat, and a little more reassuring than their original forms. There's nothing warmer than hearing the iconic "On the Road Again" melody on gut strings — except perhaps listening to the country legend offer his "advice" over that plucky, self-assured backcountry orchestra.

Most important, the arrangements rework rather than rewriting the songs. None of the renditions give off an air of hokeyness or trying to shake things up; These are just great country songs that sound even better with a banjo. It makes sense that the change in instrumentation wouldn't shift much, since according to the release, Nelson decided to record the tribute because the style informed so much of his natural songwriting style.

"Using his own catalog as source material, in the spirit of traditional bluegrass sourcing hillbilly folk music, Willie chose songs combining the kind of strong melodies, memorable storylines and tight ensemble-interplay found in traditional bluegrass interpretations of the roots (from European melodies to African rhythms) of American folk songs," acknowledges the release.

By Texas Monthly'scount (shared in the release), this is Nelson's 151st album. Avid collectors can look forward to a 12-inch special edition pressed in blue vinyl, available for purchase on September 29. Preorder ($29.98) at willienelson.com.

This year the songwriter was honored with a five-part documentary series, a blowout 90th birthday concert, the naming of a prestigious arts endowment by the University of Texas at Austin, and two Grammy Awards. His book, Energy Follows Thought: The Stories Behind My Songs, comes out October 23. He will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame days later, on November 3.

Listen to Bluegrass on your favorite streaming platform. More information is available at willienelson.com.

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Here are the top 7 things to do in San Antonio this weekend

Weekend Event Guide

Holly jolly happenings and live entertainment are on the schedule for the days ahead. Enjoy a tree lighting and seasonal festivities at La Cantera Resort & Spa, or settle in for an evening in conversation with Priscilla Presley. Check out the top seven things to do in San Antonio this weekend. For a complete list of events, go to our calendar.

Thursday, November 30

La Cantera Resort & Spa presents a Holiday Tree Lighting
The annual Holiday Tree Lighting ceremony returns to La Cantera Resort & Spa. Highlights of the evening include appearances by Santa and the Grinch, light bites, festive cocktails, children’s activities, and more. Guests will also get to enjoy a Vegas-style revue and live musical performance by jazz vocalist and saxophonist Patrick Lamb in the resort’s lobby plaza. For more details, go to lacanteraresort.com.

Ballet San Antonio presents The Nutcracker
Photo by Marty Sohl Photography

Ballet San Antonio presents The Nutcracker now through December 10.

The Light Park
Cruise into an illuminated wonderland with millions of lights synchronized to holiday music classics with the entire family at Retama Park. The Light Park is a one-mile, drive-thru experience complete with dazzling light displays portraying the magic of the winter holiday season. For more information, go to thelightpark.com. The Light Park is open through January 1, 2024.

Majestic Theatre presents This Is Important Live!
The co-creators and stars of the popular Comedy Central show Workaholics will host their podcast, This is Important, in front of a live audience at Majestic Theatre. The group, comprised of Adam Devine, Anders Holm, Blake Anderson, and Kyle Newacheck, will dive into and discuss a myriad of not-so-serious topics facing society, ranging from naked grandmas to grown men fighting children. Pick your seats for this hilarious evening of conversation at majesticempire.com.

Friday, December 1

Somos Cultura y Más presents "Posadas y Poinsettias"
Celebrate Mexican heritage and traditions through food and educational activities at Mi Familia at the Rim. Visitors can enjoy specialty cocktails, posada games, and more while raising funds for Dia de los Niños and Somos storytellers programming. Guests will also get to take a special gift home to commemorate the evening. Get your tickets at somosculturaymas.org.

Majestic Theatre presents Elf in concert
Enjoy a holiday film favorite with a live music twist at Majestic Theatre. Guests will enjoy a screening of Elf, starring Will Ferrell, accompanied by a live-to-picture playing of John Debney’s score. Get tickets and more information at majesticempire.com.

Ballet San Antonio presents The Nutcracker
Get lost in a world of holiday wonder and whimsy when you enjoy The Nutcracker performed by the talented dancers of Ballet San Antonio. This production at Tobin Center for the Performing Arts features a children’s cast of more than 100 youth dancers, and will be accompanied by music from the San Antonio Symphony. Showtimes are scheduled through December 10. To purchase tickets, go to balletsanantonio.org.

Saturday, December 2

Empire Theatre presents An Evening with Priscilla Presley
The original first lady of rock ‘n’ roll, Priscilla Presley, comes to Charline McCombs Empire Theatre for one night only. Audience members can listen to Presley’s retelling of her teenage years, her romance and marriage to Elvis, her early years as a mother, and more. Go to majesticempire.com for more information.

San Antonio's famous Western museum reprises art sale with history of pieces under $1k

art on the horizon

As it closes out 2023 and prepares for the future, the Briscoe Western Art Museum has an exciting lineup of events over the next few months. The marquee event is the annual Night of Artists exhibition and sale in March 2024, which transforms the museum into a vibrant showcase of contemporary Western art and culture.

Marking the Briscoe's 10th anniversary as a public institution, the Night of Artists brings together more than 280 new works by more than 85 artists. Starting with an Annual Briscoe Bison Society Collectors Summit and opening weekend dinner, the museum becomes a stage filled with the talent, passion, and vision of today's leading Western artists.

From paintings and sculpture to mixed media, the diversity of contemporary Western art will be on full display — non-collectors may view this as a good opportunity to check out new art before it disappears again into private collections.

Collectors will have a chance to participate in an auction (with estimated prices as low as a few thousand dollars and up to $50,000) and a popular "Luck of the Draw Sale" that makes things a little more accessible with fixed prices. The 2023 gallery featured prices as low as $650, and it appears that many pieces did not sell — so competition may not always be fierce.

What visitors will see
The event catalog features a dynamic range of contemporary visions of the American West. Viewers can expect to see works from artists like Teal Blake, who leverages his knowledge of ranching and cowboy culture to create intimate paintings of cowboys and ranch life.

Visitors will also find Gladys Roldan-de-Moras' passionate images of Spanish culture, Liang Yong's historically accurate Native American portraits, and Kevin Red Star's modern interpretations of heritage and identity on display.

Beyond appreciating the artworks, Night of Artists offers a feast for the senses. The opening weekend includes an elegant preview dinner and live auction, followed by Saturday's grand exhibition opening reception. For Western art enthusiasts, collectors, and the culturally curious, the Night of Artists is a premier destination event.

"Night of Artists highlights the continued vibrancy and relevance of Western art," said Briscoe president and CEO Liz Jackson in a press release. "Thanks to Night of Artists, talented artists, and dedicated enthusiasts, the museum is one of the preeminent homes of Western art in the world."

Following the opening weekend on March 22 and 23, the Night of Artists public exhibition and sale runs March 24 through May 5, 2024. Right now, the museum is asking interested parties to save the date; Tickets are not yet available, but they are expected to sell out.

More opportunities to experience the Briscoe
You don't have to wait until next year for a taste of the Briscoe's offerings. The museum has a slate of exhibitions and programs lined up for the end of 2023.

  • Now until January 22, 2024 — Photographer Anouk Masson Krantz's exhibition "American Cowboys" includes evocative images of real-life cowboys.
  • November 30 — The Briscoe will screen the documentaryExposing Muybridge, about pioneering photographer Eadweard Muybridge.
  • December 3 — Cowboy Santa visits the museum on a free-entry day filled with crafts and a scavenger hunt.

Hill Country's famous Salt Lick BBQ smokes out new location in Fredericksburg


A storied Central Texas barbecue joint is heading for the hills. Driftwood institution the Salt Lick BBQ is set to open a new outpost in Fredericksburg along the Highway 290 Wine Trail. Although an exact timeline has yet to be announced, day trippers can look forward to sopping up the restaurant’s signature vinegar-based sauce by the end of 2025.

Though the business lends its name to two satellites at the Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin airports, the upcoming outpost will only be the third full-sized eatery in the mini-chain. The current Dell Diamond Salt Lick in Round Rock replaced a shuttered Capital of Texas Highway location, but a planned restaurant in Grapevine was never executed.

According to a release, the 9,000-square-foot eatery will feature all the classic menu items of the flagship, including sandwiches, sides, and meats by the pound. There’s no word yet on whether diners will be able to take advantage of the popular family style option featuring all-you-can-eat brisket, sausage, and pork ribs.

Photo by Mackenzie Smith Kelley

The rambling restaurant will be part of an upcoming mixed-used development, The Sycamore. The 117-acre plot will cluster retail and hospitality concepts around a large central promenade, The Ellipse. The football field-sized stretch will flaunt landscaping, creek beds, and a bandstand to be used for seasonal programming.

Rendering courtesy of SA Partnership and Norris Design

Most tenants will be announced closer to the opening date, but developers promise a range of food and beverage options and retailers selling hats, boots, clothing, and jewelry. The Salt Lick will be joined by Salt Lick Cellars —a tasting room for The Salt Lick’s wine portfolio — and a still unannounced new concept from Salt Lick owner and pitmaster Scott Roberts.

“We could not think of a better place to plant our roots than in Fredericksburg,” said Roberts via the release. “We have found the perfect partner in The Sycamore and can’t wait to see the whole project come to fruition.”