World Café Live – the musical broadcast and performance entity that started as a WXPN radio show and morphed into a nationwide syndicated program and two performance venues – the original Philadelphia location and Wilmington’s World Café Live at the Queen – is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a very special event tonight, Friday, Oct. 28 at the Philadelphia location. Tickets are $100 and $200 and are available here.
Headlining the show are World Café stalwarts John Hiatt and theIndigo Girls, but the opening act is perhaps the most intriguing. Kicking off the 7 p.m. tribute celebration is the Little Willies – a side-project quintet of well-known and lesser-known musicians who are all well-respected among peers and critics for their primary work.
The group features Arden, Delaware native Richard Julian on guitar and vocals, Lee Alexander on bass, Jim Campilongo on guitar, Norah Jones on piano and vocals, and Dan Rieser on drums. The band first came together one night in 2003 when the five friends shared a gig playing country and Americana music together at the Living Room on New York’s Lower East Side. It was supposed to be a one-off event, but the group clicked musically and fans and critics responded. The group genuinely had fun playing together.
Picking their collective name as a tribute to Willie Nelson (or so they say), more shows at the Living Room were booked. While the band occasionally played a few originals, most of the songs performed were favorite country classics and lesser-known gems. It wasn’t until years later that the Little Willies decided to record an album. That eponymous debut was released by EMI’s Milking Bull Records in 2006. The well-received 13-track album featuredsongs by Hank Williams (“I’ll Never Get Out”), Willie Nelson (“Gotta Get Drunk” and “Nightlife”), Fred Rose (“Roly Poly”), Townes Van Zandt (“No Place to Fall”) and Kris Kristofferson (“Best of All Possible Worlds”), as well as four original songs.
The group played a number of show in support of the album, but eventually all of the band members drifted back into their regular careers. According the Little Willies official website, they all assumed they would eventually reconvene.
A second album, entitled For The Good Times is due in January 2012. Nora Jones says that work on For The Good Times actually began a full three years ago, but the album remained unfinished.
“It’s hard when everybody isn’t in town and we’re itching to play,” she says. “But then in March, Jim sent an email, like ‘OK, people, I miss you, let’s just play.’”
Again, the Little Willies dipped into the catalogs of some of their favorite songwriters, covering mostly lesser-known tracks (the obvious exceptions being Kris Kristofferson’s title song and a version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”). This time around, Jim Campilongo’s “Tommy Rockwood” is the sole original tune on the 12-song set. Here’s the complete track list for For The Good Times:
1. “I Worship You” (Ralph Stanley)
2. “Remember Me” (Scott Wiseman)
3. “Diesel Smoke, Dangerous Curves” (Cal Martin)
4. “Lovesick Blues” (Cliff Friend and Irving Mills)
5. “Tommy Rockwood” (Jim Campilongo)
6. “Fist City” (Loretta Lynn)
7. “Permanently Lonely” (Willie Nelson)
8. “Foul Owl On The Prowl” (Quincy Jones, Alan Bergman, and Marilyn Bergman)
9. “Wide Open Road” (Johnny Cash)
10. “For The Good Times” (Kris Kristofferson)
11. “If You’ve Got The Money I’ve Got The Time” (Lefty Frizzell and Jim Beck)
12. “Jolene” (Dolly Parton)
Tonight’s show is one of only a handful of performances the Little Willies currently have scheduled. The band plays the Westhampton Performing Arts Center in Westhampton, New York on Oct. 29, Brooklyn’s The Bell House on Oct. 30, and 3rd and Lindsey in Nashville, TN on Nov. 30.