by John Tarpley
We're in the deep end of summer festival season, but make no mistake: This traveling showcase is the most Southern-fried of them all. The hyper-nomadic, red-headed septuagenarian has wrangled up a crew of hard-edged country singers to join him for the better part of five weeks, crisscrossing the map and laying into the guitars for Willie Nelson's Country Throwdown, a sort of Warped Tour for the country crowd. Willie, of course, headlines. But a crew of young torchbearers round out the cast. Jamey Johnson, Randy Houser and Lee Brice, all Nashville slingers with a history of heavy songwriting, share the bold print at the top of the line-up. Two other stages feature up-and-comers like Brantley Gilbert, Craig Campbell, Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real and others, including Little Rock regular Austin Lucas, whose latest record, "Live at the White Water Tavern," was recorded at the watering hole of champions and released by local Travis Hill's alt-country imprint, Last Chance Records.