Left to right: Lance Zimmerman, Duaine George, Jason Johnston and Mike Boren appear in Camelot Theatre's 'Spotlight on Willie Nelson.' - Photo courtesy of Steve Sutfin

A look at a country music icon

Local musicians Duaine George, Mike Boren, Jason Johnston and Lance Zimmerman will put the country music in Camelot Theatre's "Spotlight on Willie Nelson."

The show, written by Brian O'Connor and directed by Presila Quinby, presents a look at the American outlaw country singer's career from the days of his earliest songwriting to his tours with The Highwaymen.

"Spotlight on Willie Nelson and Friends" previews Thursday, April 25, and opens Friday, April 26, at Camelot Theatre, 101 Talent Ave., Talent. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through May 5. Tickets cost $18 for the preview, $24 for all others and may be purchased online at www.camelottheatre.org, by calling 541-535-5250 or at the theater box office.

O'Connor also narrates the show.

"We've given it an old-time radio feel, complete with old commercials," he says.

The production will feature 24 of Nelson's songs, arranged by Dal Carver and Andy Stallman. Keyboard player Don Harriss, pedal steel guitar and harmonica player Will Bartell, guitarist al Dinardi, bassist Steve Harris and drummer Steve Sutfin will make up the supporting band.

The idea for "Willie Nelson and Friends" arrived when George approached friends Boren, Zimmerman and Johnston about doing the show. As experienced, professional musicians, they all had participated in various national competitions of Country Music Showdown, an annual talent contest.

"We all had sort of worked around each other, but never together," George says. "We selected the songs together, gathering Willie's most iconic stuff."

George then took the idea to his friend O'Connor at Camelot.

Nelson started writing songs in the early '60s, creating hits for such performers as Ray Price ("Night Life"), Faron Young ("Hello Walls") and Patsy Cline, who recorded Nelson's "Crazy" in 1962. That song went on to become the biggest jukebox hit of all time.

In the mid-'70s, Nelson's own albums took off, with "Phases and Stages" (1974), featuring the songs "Bloody Mary Morning," and "Red-Headed Stranger" (1975), with "Blue Eyes Cryin' in the Rain." Later, Nelson began recording duets with country legends Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard, producing hit songs such as "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys" and "Pancho and Lefty."

"Spotlight on Willie Nelson and Friends" also will showcase music Nelson performed in the mid-'80s with Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash. As The Highwaymen, the supergroup released three successful albums featuring hits such as "Desperados Waiting for a Train," "The Road Goes on Forever," "Silver Stallion" and "It Is What It Is," and toured around the world.

"We're really looking forward to finally singing together on stage," Boren says. "Doing a 'Spotlight' is more formatted and structured than anything we've done. Who knows? This may be the start of a new group."

Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at rbkent@mind.net.

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