AUSTIN, Texas --
After all, the special concert, "We Walk the Line: A Celebration of the Music of Johnny Cash," unraveled a highlight reel. For two and a-half hours, bold names across the board -- including Outlaw country pioneers (
"Tonight we're here to celebrate the Man in Black," said host Matthew McConaughey early on. "Is everybody ready?"
Lee's languid "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" was stunning, Williams' "Hurt" rivaled Cash's own ache and the Carolina Chocolate Drops' energetic string-band take on "Jackson" nearly imploded the joint. Train's Pat Monahan doubled down with a deeply soulful version of Kristofferson's "Help Me Make It Through the Night."
Kristofferson constantly appeared in song (
"Johnny Cash influenced a great spectrum of music," musician-producer Don Was said backstage.
"I've been in a band for 19 years named after ["Wreck of the Old 97"]," Rhett Miller said. "[Playing that song tonight is] a perfect way to say thank you. Johnny Cash was so honest, you could hear it in his voice."
Miller's gloriously head-banging version closed the first 10-song set.
The second soared with equal measures swagger (McConaughey and local rocker Jesse Dayton's "The Man Comes Around") and swoon (Crow and Nelson's "If I Were a Carpenter" with longtime Nelson sideman Mickey Raphael on harmonica).
"I would definitely have your baby!" Crow joked as what McConaughey termed as the "hottest band around" -- including recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Ian McLagan (keyboards) and Buddy Miller (guitar) -- dove into the latter.
Buddy Miller deserves particular kudos. The celebrated guitarist's gnarly grooves sent Kristofferson's rendition of "Big River" skyward and elegantly fueled Dunn's electrifying take on "Ring of Fire."