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Lucinda Williams Opens Up About Friendship with Rhett Miller and Her County Fair Appearance

Lucinda Williams has produced some of the best music of her career in the last couple of years.EXPAND
Lucinda Williams has produced some of the best music of her career in the last couple of years.
courtesy the artist

Lucinda Williams plays Old 97's County Fair at Main Street Garden Park on Saturday, April 8.

Lucinda Williams has received a lot of praise in the course of her career, but the last couple of years have been particularly kind. Her most recent two albums — 2014’s Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, and last year’s The Ghosts of Highway 20 — are sprawling and deeply personal meditations on love, loss and her Southern roots, and they’ve earned her some of her most positive reviews yet.

“Yeah, I just have a couple of things usually going on,” Williams deadpans. She’s calling from Nashville, where she has just finished rehearsing for a Merle Haggard tribute helmed by Don Was and Buddy Miller. “I’m always doing stuff like tribute albums and concerts and sitting in on other peoples’ projects.”

Next she’ll be collaborating with American jazz pioneer Charles Lloyd. “I met Charles through Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz, who both played a lot on my recent albums,” she says. “Charles is coming through L.A. and wants me to sing with him on his new album and at a show at Royce Hall.”

During our conversation she was also quick to share some more news that will be greeted warmly by fans. “We just got done re-recording my Sweet Old World album for this year’s 25th anniversary of its release. It’s just off the charts and I’m so thrilled with it. It sounds like a completely new album. It’s the same songs, but everything just sounds so much better. It’s pretty cool.” 

Williams has been revered as a songwriter since she penned her first album, Happy Woman Blues, in 1980, and the accolades have only grown since her seminal ’98 release Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. She also keeps up a busy touring schedule, traversing the country for a good portion of the year.

This Saturday, Williams’ schedule brings her to Dallas, where she’ll play the annual Old 97’s County Fair at Main Street Garden Park, alongside some kindred artists in the Americana scene.

Williams goes back a bit with 97’s lead singer Rhett Miller. “He may remember things differently but I think my first encounter with him was back in the early 2000s when he came to L.A. while promoting one of his first solo records,” Williams says.

When curating this year’s fair, Miller made it a point to include more female artists. He struck gold with the additions of upstart Ohio rocker Lydia Loveless and then reached into the stratosphere by securing performances by Mavis Staples and Williams.
“We like him a lot and have formed a friendship with him over the years, especially the past few years. I didn’t realize he was such a big fan of mine,” Williams says. “He communicated a lot with Tom [Overby, Williams’ husband and manager], and Tom said, ‘I just really like this guy.’”

Miller and Williams have had plans to collaborate. “Rhett and the band were out in L.A. a few weeks ago, too, doing one of those late-night shows. He had mentioned to Tom that he wanted me to come over and sing on one of his new songs [the 97’s new single ‘Good With God’], but we were in the studio and unfortunately our schedule didn’t mesh up with theirs.”

After then missing out on an opportunity to see the Old 97’s live in Los Angeles, Williams is excited to finally catch up with Rhett and the band this weekend.

“He’s [Rhett] just so enthusiastic. It’s just nice to see that in somebody,” she says. “It’s amazing how successful he’s gotten with this festival and he’s been the driving force behind it.”

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While a duet or two between Miller and Williams would certainly be welcomed by festival attendees, it’s unclear whether that’s in the cards. “Usually I just have to focus on my set,” she mentions, emphasizing the often hectic nature of the multi-act setup. “When I get a minute, I’ll often stand in the wings and watch, though.”

What fans will get to see, though, is Williams leading her veteran backing band of “straight ahead rockers” — guitarist Stuart Mathis, bassist David Sutton and drummer Butch Norton — through a streamlined, hourlong set slightly favoring her heavier sounding material.

“In a festival environment where you only have a limited amount of time, we’re usually of the mindset to rock out. We’re not gonna shy away from doing some slow songs, but we focus on bringing some of the stronger sounding material. It’s more like, ‘Go forth and rock!’” she says, laughing. “You’ve got an hour to make it happen, so go kick ass.”

The Old 97’s County Fair, Saturday, April 8, at Main Street Garden Park, 1902 Main St. Also on the lineup are Mavis Staples, the Jayhawks, Jonathan Tyler, the Texas Gentlemen, the Vandoliers, Lydia Loveless, and the Gordon Keith Band. Aside from musical entertainment, there will be a 40-foot Ferris Wheel, corn dogs and a bevy of games sprawled out over a midway. Tickets are $45 at old97scf.com.

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