The Willis Clan Performing In Silver Dollar City
I'll admit, I knew nothing of The Willis Clan...
As I have grown older I have given less and less time to the music of today. My radio, when it is on, is tuned to the classic genres, country/western and rock. I do not listen to any station which plays songs of today's artists. I do not have Sirius radio either, so I do not have access to stations which are exclusively Bluegrass (although I would love that). All of this leaves me quite self-limited in music, rather stuck in the past so to speak.
And as I have limited myself, I had not heard of The Willis Clan. When I asked my wife, who enjoys reality television shows, whether she had heard of their TV show she replied that she and our youngest daughter had enjoyed their show while on TLC. She, at least, was one step ahead of me. And so, I went into this week not knowing what to expect.
Who are The Willis Clan?
I did know that D.A. Callaway, SDC's promoter extraordinaire, would not bring in any act that was not supremely talented so I was assured of that. But what I experienced during the five days and fifteen performances was far, far more than mere talent. And it will be hard to put into words exactly what I experienced that you, gentle readers, will be able to understand, But try I will...
The Willis Clan consists of an even dozen children but only half of them tour and perform at present. Those who came to our little city were Jeremiah, Jennifer, Jackson, Jedidiah, Jasmine and Joy-Anna. Jennifer was the spokesperson for the group and explained that currently, Jeanette, who normally toured, was not feeling well and would be replaced by Joy-Anna. Together these six talented siblings played a total of fifteen instruments while performing on the stage of our Riverfront Playhouse. And oh, the music they played was amazing! For the duration of their time with us I tried to put their style of music into a box, one of the generally accepted groups of music known as Pop, Rock, Country, Bluegrass or Christian, but in the end I was unable to shoehorn or pigeonhole what they played into a single genre. As we were loading them out I told Jackson that to be honest, I could only term their music as uplifting, and that is how I will describe them to others moving forward.
- The Willis Clan • Official
The Willis Clan’s official website
Their music crosses boundary lines as if they didn't exist. Alternating between bluegrass, Irish and country with a dash of Christian tossed in for good measure they blend seamlessly together to produce something truly unique and satisfying in a way I have never, ever heard. Songs such as Heaven, City That I'm Looking For, and Paid In Full blend the Irish vocals and Christian beliefs together effortlessly to create an incredibly pleasing sound to the ear. And a true classic from Johnny Cash takes on an entirely new life as a love song without peer when they sing Ring of Fire. Prior to this song they explain how it came to life as they were invited to a get-together on Johnny Cash's estate last year, which came with two instructions: 1) you had to appear in all black a la The Man In Black and 2) you had to sing a Cash song. But rather than merely sing a song by Mr. Cash they recreated one, changing the tempo and chord progression to give the song new life. This song is included on their newest CD, Speak My Mind, now available on their website.
This new album is what I would have to believe was a cathartic experience for them, considering what they have gone through in their past. From America's Got Talent quarter-finalist to revelations concerning their private lives (which out of respect for their privacy I will not go into) to bursting through the flames of that hell and performing once more, they have traveled a road none of us would desire to travel. More about this album a bit later.
They have recently began to travel and perform again and this stop at SDC was among their first performances. But beyond the performances, beyond the stage came their entry into the public life once more. And I for one can say that they handled their time here wonderfully. They gave every second, every minute of themselves that was requested by their fan base willingly, with smiles and a generosity I found endearing.
Of the fifteen performances they gave during their time here I was able to see all but one. Now I will give you an insight into just how wonderful they were: are you ready?
Every performance consisted of the same songs, every set the same. They did this for simplicity's sake I'm sure, as getting back on the road is difficult and having to do fifteen different sets a challenge to say the least. But I didn't mind, and neither did the audiences. Jennifer admitted that every set would be the same at the beginning of each set and still I saw people returning time and again just to hear them sing their songs.
They are that good, people. From Jackson's banjo and an Irish drum known as a Bodhran to Joy-Anna's penny whistle to Jasmine's mandolin to Jedidiah's bass to Jennifer's fiddle and accordion to Jeremiah's guitar and bouzouki they change instruments and play songs that weave their way into one's very soul. And their voices, oh their voices. Individually and in harmony they are extraordinary. Jennifer, Jasmine and Jeremiah are the vocalists at present and together they alternately come together in note then offset to slightly different notes that combine to create a depth I have never encountered before. I was entranced.
But as talented as they are, their talent is nothing next to their personalities. Nice is an understatement. They were as pleasant as could be at all times with no cracks in their demeanor, no egos, no nothing: they are as nice as they seem while on stage. How do I know? Because I was honored to be an escort for them when they wanted to ride our rides over the course of their stay. At different times in different groups from only a couple up to nearly double digits (their family and friends came to visit) I would take them to various rides on park and arrange for them to ride. As they had limited time between sets this allowed them to experience our hospitality more easily. During these times we would talk a bit and I would see that they are an outstanding group of people who truly understand what a family is. Their love for one another was evident and the way they treated one another and other guests was a joy to behold. To watch them together is to watch how a family cares for and about one another. Laughter, hugs, caring glances, making sure each one of their family group got whatever was needed at any moment be it a pat on the back or a hug of reassurance. Their mother Brenda was there and some of the family brought significant others along, from spouses to boy or girl friends, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends and all, ALL were treated with the utmost respect and love. Their love for one another was a gift I just didn't expect and I am grateful for having witnessed it.
Now, back to their music. Beginning with their first album to their newly released one you can see a steady progression of polish and form taking place. Each has special songs, ones to make you tap you toe and smile - up to the newest one, Speak My Mind. This album has an edge to it, and rightly so.
The title track is a part of what broke open the situation involving the family and gives us an inside look at a subject we wished wasn't real, but is all too often. Songs such as What's Life About, How Much Of Me Is You, and Paper Dolls are very well written and performed, and while they are not easy songs to listen to, still they have an important place both in our society and this family. In particular, Jackson's song The Line is heartrending, powerful in its message and the writer's realization of what is occurring. I applaud this family for standing up, taking a stance and then moving forward in the healing process. You have my utmost respect and admiration and prayers to you as you move through your lives.
Please, please, please listen to their songs and touch base with their website. If you see they are anywhere near you, go and listen to them live: I promise you will not be disappointed. They are perhaps the best group I have listened to in my time at SDC, and stand among the best I have ever listened to in my life.
© 2018 Mr Archer