Jamie O’Neal, Willie Nelson Brighten ASCAP Luncheon

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Mercury recording artist Jamie O’Neal strutted her estimable stuff Friday (March 1) for registrants of the Country Radio Seminar. The occasion was the annual ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) luncheon, co-sponsored this year by Mercury Records and held at the Nashville Convention Center. Willie Nelson and Lee Ann Womack served up the musical dessert.

O’Neal repeatedly thanked the audience of radio programmers for playing her songs as she pranced and vamped through a generous sampling of pop-flavored tunes from her debut album, Shiver.

Backed by a six-piece band that includes her husband and sister, O’Neal opened with the throbbing, insistent “Sanctuary.” Her next number was the hit, “When I Think About Angels.” Following a practice now horridly common among performers, O’Neal thrust her microphone at the audience midway through “Angels” and bade it sing the lyrics. To anyone not terribly in need of an emotional connection, this ploy seems both intrusive and presumptuous — the pop quiz of concert-going.

O’Neal, whose strong theatrical voice and take-charge demeanor are perfect vehicles for the statement songs she favors, paced her 45-minute set with quips, anecdotes and dedications. She dedicated “You Rescued Me” to firemen and their families and her cover of Aretha Franklin’s “A Natural Woman” to “all you guys” in the crowd.

In setting up the latter song, O’Neal reminisced about her “Girls Night Out” tour last year with Reba McEntire, Martina McBride, Sara Evans and Carolyn Dawn Johnson. “[It was] five girls, shopping their way across the states,” she said, “talking about makeup and guys. What else is there?”

After singing her first hit, “There Is No Arizona,” O’Neal noted that she had just returned from Los Angeles. “I did get to met Kid Rock and Pamela Anderson,” she said, “and, let me tell you, all three of them are very real.”

Labelmate Mark Wills joined O’Neal for the duet “I’m Not Gonna Do Anything Without You,” a cut that appears on his Loving Every Minute album. O’Neal dedicated the last song of her set — “Frantic” — to the people in radio dealing with the problems of consolidation and to “multi-tasking” women.

Following O’Neal’s exit, Mercury/Nashville president Luke Lewis came to the stage. He spoke of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack (which is on a Mercury-affiliated label) winning the album of the year Grammy, noting that it was a first for an album recorded in Nashville. “I’m not bragging,” he said, “I’m just proud. … I think that next year, if there’s justice in the world, we’ll have two more Grammy-winners out of here.” With that, he introduced Willie Nelson and Lee Ann Womack, who wrapped up the show with Nelson’s current single, “Mendocino County Line.”

Wearing a black hat and hip-length black leather jacket, Nelson was typically understated. Except for a soft, almost imperceptible “Thank you” at the end of the song, he never spoke to the crowd. He stood unmoving beside the slightly more animated Womack and sang with his left hand thrust comfortably in his pocket. His trail-worn, all-knowing voice continues to be a thing of wonder.

Set List


“When I Think About Angels”

“You Rescued Me”

“A Natural Woman”

“There Is No Arizona”

“I’m Not Gonna Do Anything Without You” (with Mark Wills)



“Mendocino County Line” (Willie Nelson, Lee Ann Womack)

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Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.