Red Willow

Returned a bit ago from the Red Willow Band performance at the Washington Pavillion. My main reaction: those of us from the era when they dominated the South Dakota music scene were very damn lucky.

Most of the times I saw Red Willow in college was at a bar. By the time the band started playing, many (okay, most) of us were not in the sharpest states of mind. Moreover, although you listened to the band, a good portion of time was spent talking and drinking. Hearing them tonight proved beyond doubt what we were thinking back then — there may never be a better homegrown band. Hearing them in a setting with near perfect acoustics and in a much, much, much less impaired mental state did nothing but solidify their reputation and legend. And it seemed as if the audience was just as comfortable with the band as if we had just seen them within the last couple weeks.

Red Willow took bluegrass, country, country swing, R&B and flat out rock ‘n’ roll and melded into a unique, undefinable style. Just as the band was homegrown, so was much of the music. Their talent makes Red Willow perhaps the epitomy of South Dakota roots music. (If you’ve never had the pleasure yourself, you can buy a CD containing both of their albums from the 70s here. Hopefully, the CD compilation of live performances sold at this week’s shows will also be available online.)

Thirty years ago when Red Willow was playing bars, barns and outdoors, none of us could have imagined seeing them in a venue like the Great Hall. What a way to revisit a fondly recalled past. All I got to say to Chris, Marley, Kenny, Hank and Barry is thanks not only for some great years but for sharing that group talent with us once again and reminding us just how good we had it.

1 comment to Red Willow

  • I thought I knew all the South Dakota bands, but it was only a few months ago when I first heard of the Red Willow Band. We’re working on a big 20 page feature for South Dakota Magazine profiling South Dakota’s musicians.

    My current favorite is Violet, which was one of my assignments. Red Willow and about 20 other bands will be in there, too.