Dwight Yoakam’s new material highlights Nevada concert

Tahoe Onstage

The man on the T-shirt, Dwight Yoakam, rocked the Carson Valley Inn at Minden, Nevada, on Friday.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Mention the name Dwight Yoakam to anyone who has paid attention to country music the past 35 years, and the same images come to mind.

Big silverbelly hat. Blue jean jacket. Vocals that conjure up Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and scores of Bakersfield-sound pioneers. Lots and lots of hit singles from the 1980s and 1990s.

And, of course, the tight blue jeans that still draw howls of approval from his female fans anytime he does a twist, twirl or slide across the stage — even at age 62.

Those images capture part of the story, for sure. But the one part of Yoakam’s repertoire that inexplicably doesn’t seem to get its due is this:

The man can flat-out write a song.

He always could and, as evidenced by a couple of new selections performed at TJ’s Corral at Carson Valley Inn on Friday night, he still can.

In an era where the top draws in country music fill 20,000-seat arenas but seldom write their own songs anymore, Yoakam’s body of work stands up quite nicely with anyone in the history of the genre. There’s a good reason Johnny Cash called Yoakam his favorite songwriter all those years ago.

Dwight Yoakam

It was on display again Friday night at TJ’s Corral at the Carson Valley Inn in Minden, Nevada, where a couple of new mid-set originals did the impossible: for some fans, they stole the show in the midst of his regular avalanche of hits.

While many in the audience were hollering for “Guitars, Cadillacs” from the get-go, within 45 minutes, they were swaying along with a couple of songs called “Pretty Horses” and “Then Here Came Monday,” the latter of which Yoakam cowrote with Chris Stapleton.

“Pretty Horses” was especially good, and almost sounded as if it could have been recorded by the Byrds or the Flying Burrito Brothers decades ago. That’s not by accident. Yoakam, four decades into this business, remains as reverent as ever in terms of appreciating and keeping alive the music that influenced him.

Those two acoustic songs halfway through the set turned what started as a good concert into a great one as Yoakam and his band roared through 20 songs in an hour and 20 minutes, sending home a happy crowd that endured an early evening thunderstorm before highly entertaining opening act King Leg took the stage.

By going slower, the concert seemed to pick up its pace, and his vocals were the strongest of the night on a crystal-clear sound system.

With the Chuck Berry song “Little Queenie” in the opening slot that had been all “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke and Loud, Loud Music” for the past few years, Yoakam set a fast pace early with hits like “Streets of Bakersfield” before swinging into medleys of songs by his Bakersfield idols, Haggard and Owens.

The Haggard songs, including “Swinging Doors” and “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down,” sounded especially good. The band, featuring flashy guitarist Eugene Edwards and multi-instrumentalist Jamison Hollister, paid homage to the originals with everything from a fiddle, banjo, mandolin, keyboard, accordion and steel guitar. If you didn’t know better, you could have sworn those guys were Strangers.

Yoakam’s ode to Owens remains sandwiched in “Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose.” After he sings the line about “dancing to an old Buck Owens song,” the band lurches into the instrumental “Buckaroo” and two more Owens hits before returning to “Turn It On.” Somehow, it works every time.

While Yoakam always gives his musical heroes their due, it’s his own classic material that brings the show to a climax. “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere,” as always happens when played in these parts, sounds like it could have been written about the spooky and desolate lands of northern Nevada. “Little Ways” breaks into a singalong, “Guitars, Cadillacs” reminds the fans where it all started and show-closer “Fast As You” still sounds as fresh as it did when it first came blasting out of the radio 26 years ago.

And just to top it off, Yoakam chose “Suspicious Minds” as the encore. He’s done it for so long and so well, you almost forget it first became famous as an Elvis song.

As powerful as the closing punch was, the two “new” songs set them up. By going slower, the concert seemed to pick up its pace, and his vocals were the strongest of the night on a crystal-clear sound system.

And, it left you wondering why such great original material isn’t being played much on today’s country music stations. (You can hear them on Yoakam’s “Bakersfield Beat” Sirius station on Channel 349, however.)

Therein lies the frustration for an ever-shrinking cadre of classic country music fans. Yoakam is often credited with practically lifting traditional country from its grave in the 1980s — keeping all of the classic stringed instruments alive while sending honky-tonk, high-energy songs into the radio stratosphere all those years ago.

These days, you could almost make a case he belongs on a Mount Rushmore of Country Music with a couple of his idols. He’d probably bristle at the thought; he seems quite content making sure the monumental work of those who came before him won’t be forgotten.

So he keeps playing small amphitheaters when he probably should be in arenas, and keeps writing great songs that can’t find a home with commercial country radio stations dominated by truly awful bro-rock. None of this seems to faze him in the least; he has his own radio station now and at a venue as nice as TJ’s, it probably just felt like another great night playing in a backyard-style honky tonk.

He didn’t talk much. He doesn’t have too. When you’ve got such a great catalog of songs (old and new), you really can afford to just let the music speak for itself.

Well, that and his hat. And jacket. And, of course, as any of his female fans would tell you … the jeans.

— Mike Wolcott

  • Songs performed by Dwight Yoakam at TJ’s Corral at Carson Valley Inn on July 26, 2019
  1. Little Queenie
  2. Please, Please Baby
  3. Little Sister
  4. Streets of Bakersfield
  5. Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down
  6. Swinging Doors
  7. Okie From Muskogee
  8. I’ll Be Gone
  9. It Won’t Hurt
  10. Pretty Horses
  11. Then Here Came Monday
  12. You’re the One
  13. Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose; Buck Owens medley of Buckaroo, My Heart Skips A Beat, Act Naturally.
  14. Honky Tonk Man
  15. A Thousand Miles From Nowhere
  16. It Only Hurts When I Cry
  17. Little Ways
  18. Guitars, Cadillacs
  19. Fast As You
  20. Suspicious Minds

About Mike Wolcott

Mike Wolcott is the editor of the Chico Enterprise-Record. His proudest musical moment came when he was scolded by Who bassist John Entwistle for making too much noise at a Roger Daltrey concert. He especially likes classic rock, classic old-time country, Jimmy Buffett, Bob Dylan and all three Hanks. Parsons calls him “Wally.” When he’s not slaying deadlines, you can find Wally playing guitar in a Corning-based cover band called Punches the Clown.

9 comments

  1. Thanks for the great write up on Dwight Yoakam. He is truly in a class of his own. At 62 he puts on a show that makes you forget both he and you are older. If you have ever heard him interviewed he is also a man with some heavy duty smarts. In general country music today is bland except for Chris Stapleton. Long live Dwight!

  2. What a wonderful perfectly said write up. I proudly consider myself Dwight’s fan. I have chased him over 30 years. Getting totally lost in the power of his lyrics and performance. He is the best. You, Sir, done Dwight very proud. The best write up I have read in years or ever!!! Thank you, Mr.Wolcott.

  3. The preview band was NOT appreciated–they played for almost an hour when we expected to be hearing Dwight! He did not start until 9:30, ticket was 8pm

    • That is why it is called an “opening act.” It’s unfortunate that you did not enjoy them. They are getting quite a following, including many of Dwight’s longtime fans. I will admit that they, for some, may be an acquired taste, but then isn’t that true with any new sound? I had bought and listened to the King Keg CD when it was first released and had mixed feelings about some of the songs.
      Then in January of 2018, I took a trip to Nashville to see Dwight at the Ryman Auditorium. King Leg opened the show and I was hooked. The energy of the band is addictive but the voice if lead singer, Bryan Joyce “King Leg” sounded amaaazzzing inside the Ryman.
      I just urge anyone with mixed opinions of the band to give them another listen. You too may become a fan!!

  4. Spot on! I have been a huge fan of Dwight Yoakam since the beginning of his career. His songs speak to me, and it was such a pleasant surprise to hear that his voice still sounds the same after all these years. And the moves…… I also really enjoyed his opening act. The sound is similar to Dwight’s music, but I have to say it was too long of a wait for Dwight to appear!

  5. Just read your article and it’s terrific. I saw him last night in Primm, NV and he played a lot of the same music. I love everything he does but he has such a great selection of songs from Blame The Vain, 3 Pears and Second Hand Heart – I would love to hear more of those. But it’ a treat to watch him whip up the crown until they’re ready to storm the stage. He is truly in a class of his own.

  6. This is good article on Dwight. Love his music, and have every album he’s ever made. I have to say I was disappointed the ticket did not mention an opening band. They were fine, but played for an hour, and DY didn’t come on until 9:30. I thought I was paying to see Dwight at 8:00. I was seated behind a very tall man, and the view of the stage was completely blocked. I got a few glimpses of Dwight by peeking down between he and his friends shoulders for a few seconds. I was disappointed I was not able to watch him perform. The sound was very good, so I did enjoy listening to him perform. I would recommend buying the lawn seating instead, so a person could stand.

    • Dwight usually has an opening band but they are not always listed on the ticket. The reason is that when the concerts are booked and tickets go on sale, quite often it has not been decided who his opening band will be. I always figure an hour for the opening band, 1/2 hour to break down and get everything set for Dwight so he usually comes on about 1 1/2 hours into the show.
      I really enjoy most of the bands who I have seen open for Dwight, King Leg included. I have been introduced to some bands I might never have heard of if I hadn’t seen so many of Dwight’s shows over the years.

  7. The opening band was pretty good just didn’t expect it. I have seen Dwight several times in the past, and never had an opening band before, so I was surprised. The only real disappointment was not being able to watch him perform. I will keep supporting him though!

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