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Live Review: Hank Williams Jr. w/ Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Tyler Halvorsen @ Jiffy Lube Live — 5/18/24

At his recent show at Jiffy Lube Live, Country Hall of Fame Member Hank Williams paid respect to the many traditions informing his music. This is fitting for the son of the most iconic figure in the history of country music, Hank Williams, Sr., but Jr.’s sense of tradition is much broader and more expansive, extending to blues and southern rock.

The set included covers of Hank Sr.’s songs, to be sure, but there were also covers of ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis, and Hank mentioned R&B legend Fats Domino.

Williams might seem to be a little outside of my wheelhouse, and I certainly don’t share his conservative worldview. Several years ago, while we were waiting for our Ubers after a show with Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, and Dwight Yoakam, a fellow concertgoer mentioned how, despite disagreeing with Earle’s politics (which fall at the opposition end of the spectrum from Hank’s), he respected the craft. I feel much the same way about Hank: I respect his musicianship and the craft of his songs, even when I don’t agree with the message. There’s no denying his talent, and I think we’d find common ground in our mutual appreciation of American roots music, of classic honky-tonk, gritty, greasy, roadhouse blues, and pulse-pounding rock & roll.

At Jiffy Lube Live on May 18, Hank’s set opened with a cover of, of all people Neil Young: “Are You Ready For The Country?” His version rocks harder and louder than the original, acoustic version on Young’s album Harvest, and the arrangement owes more than a little to the one used by his fellow outlaw, Waylon Jennings. He followed that up with the first of many tales of hard living, “OD’d in Denver,” territory he would return a few songs later with “Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound.” He got self-referential with “The Blues Man;” he may sing about himself a lot, as he did later on “Just Call Me Hank” and “Rich White Honky Tonk Blues,” but, given the amount of self-insertion I engage in in these reviews, I have no room to criticize.

Watch Hank Williams Jr. perform “Just Call Me Hank” live on YouTube:

The first nod to his father’s work was a medley of “Move It On Over” and “Mind Your Own Business.” Later in the set, he did “Kaw-Liga,” and he played “Your Cheatin’ Heart” in a medley with “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On.” During his solo acoustic mini-set, he performed “There’s A Tear In My Beer.”

The set continued with “The Conversation.” “Just Call Me Hank” was followed by the combination of “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over” and “I Like Girls” (he’s just like me!). Hank did the companion piece, “All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down)” during his solo acoustic set, in a medley with Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line.” That portion of the evening began with a medley of “Outlaw Women” and “Dinosaur” (which made me wonder, what is his favorite dinosaur?).

A major attraction of the evening for me was the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, who played an hour set before Hank’s performance. As bandleader Jeff Hanna noted during their set, they’ve been around for nearly 60 years, and they’re wrapping things up later this year. Hanna also mentioned they played their first song with Hank Jr. about 40 years ago. Known for their respect for country and roots music traditions, nowhere expressed more fully than their 1972 album May The Circle Be Unbroken, on which they worked with many of the foundational figures in those genres. 

The Dirt Band has always included a number of covers in their repertoire, and they opened their set with Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.” Their eclectic set also included Rodney Crowell’s “Long Hard Road (The Sharecropper’s Dream),” the country gospel classic “Take Me In Your Lifeboat,” Jerry Jeff Walker’s standard “Mr. Bojangles,” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Cadillac Ranch.”

There were, of course, original Dirt Band songs, too: “Partners, Brothers, and Friends,” “Cosmic Cowboy,” which had the audience contributing a hearty hoot, “Fish Song” (sung by drummer Jimmie Fadden), “Fishin’ In The Dark,” and “Bayou Jubilee.” “Workin’ Man (Nowhere to Go)” was influenced by their time spent touring with Willie Nelson. “People tell us we had a really good time,” Hanna joked.

Watch the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band perform “Working Man (Nowhere to Go)” live for Farm Aid 2006 on YouTube:

The Dirt Band closed their set with a medley of the traditional song “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” and The Band’s “The Weight.”

The evening kicked off with a brief set by the young singer-songwriter Tyler Halvorsen. “I write country and western and marijuana music,” he said. (I thought marijuana music was jam bands, but I could be wrong.) He opened with a song “about a generation drug dealer,” followed by a “trashy little tequila song” and a number “about rich girls who like expensive horses.” (Are there cheap horses?)

Hank was in fine form during his set, as ornery as ever, but that’s part of his charm. He rocked hard, and so did the Dirt Band, once they got going. They are going to be missed when they hang it up later this year.

Here are some photos of Hank Williams Jr. headlining Jiffy Lube Live on May 18, 2024. All pictures copyright and courtesy of James Todd Miller.



And here are some photos of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band opening Hank Jr. on May 18 at Jiffy Lube Live. All pictures again by James Todd Miller.