With Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, Bonnie Raitt and James Taylor at the top end of deep lineup for Friday’s “Harvey Can’t Mess With Texas” show at the Erwin Center, highlights were guaranteed to be plentiful. The headliners delivered, but some of the most memorable moments also came from the undercard. Here’s a look at our favorite things — plus one we’d have loved to see that didn’t transpire:
1. James Taylor with Bonnie Raitt on “You Can Close Your Eyes.” The tune from Taylor’s 1971 album “Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon” wasn’t one of Taylor’s biggest charting hits, but it’s one of his most beautiful ballads. Taylor and Raitt toured together this summer, which may have helped them get this duet version into splendid form. No single song from any artist sounded better all night.
2. Ruthie Foster and Martie Maguire joining Raitt on “Angel From Montgomery.” John Prine wrote it, but it’s long been Raitt’s show-stopping moment. The harmonies from local gospel great Foster and Dixie Chicks fiddler Maguire turned the moment into something special, with a vocal blend we might never hear on the song again.
3. Jai Malano singing with Ryan Bingham. No one played a better three-song set after the TV-broadcast portion of the show than Grammy-winning troubadour Bingham, and part of what made it special was the backing crew. In addition to Maguire on fiddle and musical director Charlie Sexton on guitar, Bingham brought out local rising star Malano, who took full advantage of her jump from club gigs to the city’s largest venue to shine brightly as a featured vocalist on two songs. She returned to sing with James Taylor on a cover of Eric Von Schmidt’s “Wasn’t That a Mighty Storm.”
PHOTO GALLERY: “Harvey Can’t Mess With Texas” concert at Erwin Center
4. Paul Simon & Edie Brickell dueting on “Waltz Across Texas” and “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly.” The first song came early and struck the sweet, graceful note that no doubt played well on the TV broadcast. The latter came later and offered a welcome touch of tongue-in-cheek levity from the couple who have raised three children together.
5. Ha*Ash. If many in the Erwin Center audience were not previously familiar with this sister duo from Mexico City, they are now. Hanna and Ashley Mosa sang two songs in Spanish and one in English, expressing their gratefulness to help Texas hurricane victims even as they’d “lived the earthquake” in their hometown earlier this week. On Twitter, our short clip from their set garnered 10 times as many likes and retweets as anything else we posted. Given the noted lack of Latin acts in this year’s Austin City Limits Music Festival lineup, it sure seems like Ha*Ash should’ve been a no-brainer to include.
6. James Taylor doing “Sweet Baby James” with Asleep at the Wheel. That signature tune is going to be a crowd-pleaser whenever and however Taylor plays it, but it baby James was especially sweet with Ray Benson and his band backing him up, particularly Eddie Rivers’ pedal steel accents.
7. Bonnie Raitt talking about playing with Jimmie Vaughan and visiting the White Horse. Eager to launch into the R&B classic “The Pleasure’s All Mine” with the Austin blues-rock guitar great, Raitt nodded Vaughan’s direction and exclaimed, “I’m so ready to play guitar with you I can barely STAND IT!” A little later, she waxed rhapsodic about an east side honky-tonk on Thursday: “I went down to the White Horse last night and saw a bunch of people form different generations dancing together. Man, I gotta move here!”
8. Bonnie joining Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats for “Delta Lady.” The Colorado band hopped out of the box blazing with their 2015 breakthrough hit “S.O.B.,” luring Ryan Bingham out to dance a wicked jig up front with Rateliff. But it was Raitt’s cameo on the late Leon Russell’s “Delta Lady” that marked the musical peak of their high-energy set.
9. Willie Nelson’s ad-hoc backing band on his show-closing set. All night long, music director Charlie Sexton had ushered in a variety of creative backing-band permutations to fit each performer’s needs. Nelson’s iteration was all kinds of cool: Asleep at the Wheel, with whom he’s recorded albums before, made sense as the foundation, but bassist Kevin Smith and harmonica ace Mickey Raphael from Willie’s own band were welcome ringers, and then there was Sexton in the mix too. The only thing better was when the entire cast joined in for the “I’ll Fly Away”/”Will the Circle Be Unbroken” grand finale.
….and one that got away:
1. No Willie Nelson/Paul Simon duet. Given that they’ve done this before on special occasions — YouTube turns up resplendent renditions of them playing Simon’s “American Tune” and “Homeward Bound” together — it was a shame not to hear the two towering living-legends on the bill team up. There must have been a reason, but we would’ve loved to hear them play a song together. Heck, maybe they should do a whole record together.
The concert benefited Rebuild Texas, a Hurricane Harvey relief fund. Contributions can be made at RebuildTX.org.