All the witches flocked to Woodlands to honor their rock ‘n’ roll queen
Stevie Nicks performed a show just outside of Houston that featured a string of hits laced with magic, glitter, stories and a whole lotta rock ‘n’ roll.
The outdoor venue was descended upon by hordes of “witches”; people dressed as Stevie Nicks through the decades, from the iconic black outfit from the cover of Rumours in 1977, to the more recent In Your Dreams look of 2011 that features a hat adorned with feathers (the bigger the feather, the better). I think Spirit Halloween could take a tip from Stevie Nicks concert-goers and create a “Fairy Godmother of Rock ‘n’ Roll” costume that would include: a black dress, a fringed shawl, a black top hat, and fingerless gloves (platform boots and tambourine not included).
Lights flicker and an excitement comes over the audience as Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream” comes over the speakers. Stevie has always prided herself on being an “Honorary Heartbreaker,” and using the song as her prologue was one of the first (of many) nods to her departed friend, Tom.
The crowd erupts as a cloaked figure takes the stage to the tune of “Outside the Rain” and the background singers croon that “It’s only a dream.” This first song is from her 1981 album, Bella Donna and is the perfect opener as it begins to unfold the ideas that are consistent in her writing: “dreams,” “creatures of the night,” “a link in the chain.” All of the imagery is inherently Stevie.
Speaking of dreams, without a break in the tune or moodiness, the song shifts to the ever-popular chart-topper from 1977, “Dreams.” Looking around the crowd, it is clear that this song is a spiritual experience. People are swaying, twirling and crying. (If you can have this effect on a crowd by the second song , you’ve got them in the palm of your hand for the whole night.)
VIDEO: Fleetwood Mac “Dreams”
After “Dreams” ends, she tells the crowd that she’s “So glad to be in Texas tonight” on the penultimate stop of her first tour in about three years. Stevie is dressed in a black, Victorian-style dress, black platform boots, and has strands of silver and gold jewelry shimmering around her neck. “Let’s get this party started!” she says, and the Wednesday evening crowd cheers. The Houston Astros also just scored in Philadelphia during game 4 of the World Series, doubling the excitement in the crowd (dutiful baseball fans were keeping us all updated with the score throughout the gig).
Her third song is “If Anyone Falls” from The Wild Heart album of 1983, and playing behind her is the original music video: a young Stevie Nicks performs ballet in a white beaded gown, leg warmers and perfectly permed hair (Hello, ‘80s!). When the song ends, she tells us that her next song wasn’t meant to be on the Bella Donna record, but she was in need of a single. Her sometimes producer, sometimes boyfriend, Jimmy Iovine, was also working with Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers around this time, and he suggested that one of Tom’s songs should be the single. Thus began “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” with guitarist Waddy Wachtel taking on Petty’s vocals. It must be difficult to do a duet that is intended to be with a departed pal, so props to Stevie for staying strong through the song.
Revisiting The Wild Heart album, her fifth song is “Enchanted,” another song that symbolizes a key theme in her lyrical ouvre. While she sings of missed opportunities in love, destiny, and enchantment, there is a photo montage behind her of pictures from her youth. A lot of the pictures are even self-portraits (she has always been fond of a good selfie). She picks up her tambourine adorned with ribbons and lace for the first time in the show, and the crowd goes wild.
She tells the crowd that it has been a while since she’s recorded new material (met with a few people shouting “too long!” from the crowd), but back in September 2022, she released a cover of the Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.” She said that Stephen Stills (a fellow Texan) wrote the song about the Sunset Strip curfew riots – essentially, the cops were trying to enforce a curfew of 10 pm on the bustling Sunset Strip, and the people didn’t want that. Stevie says, “I don’t even go to sleep until like, 8 o’clock in the morning!” so she feels a kindred spirit with that countercultural moment. Listening to her haunting rendition of the song, the lyrics feels all-too relevant today.
AUDIO: Stevie Nicks “For What It’s Worth”
The next section of her concert was nothing short of magical. It began with “Wild Heart,” the song that seems to be the basis of all her life’s choices, “Where is the reason / Don’t blame it on me / Blame it on my wild heart.” Her musicians take over the song as she exits the stage. When she returns, she’sq wrapped in a dark-blue silk chiffon cape, and the piano strikes the soaring opening chords to “Bella Donna.” Another markedly Stevie song, the lyrics express her deep, spiritual connection to the moon and stars: “And the lady’s feeling / Like the moon that she loved / Don’t you know that the stars are a part of us?” She extends her arms and sings “Come in out of the darkness,” which is the ultimate invitation into her world of magic that she has conjured there on stage. During the final harmonies of the song, she turns her back to the audience to display her cape, and create a silhouette of herself with wings, emphasized by a slight fluttering of her hands.
She then tells the audience all about the cape. It’s the original Bella Donna cape that is featured in the album photographs from 1981. She tells us that the cape “never gets old…like me!” then doubles over in laughter and throws the cape off the stage. She ominously tells the crowd that she will someday tell us her secret to anti-aging, and then continues into the story behind the next song.
When she feels like she’s in a rut, she tells us that she takes her mattress off the frame and puts it on the floor, then she adorns it with an old quilt, vintage pillows, and flowers – everything old and beautiful. She then will say to herself, “Now, I am Stevie.” She tells us that we should try it sometime, and then begins the song “Gypsy.” Part of what makes her such a good songwriter is that she has lived and continues to live in her songs. Her words come from a tiny magical box inside her heart. She does her signature twirl during the song, and many of us audience members follow suit, while others erupt into applause.
She tells the story of how, 16 years ago, she wrote a song called “Soldier’s Angel” after doing some work at Walter Reed Hospital (the National Military Medical Center). Since the war in Ukraine began, she has brought it back into her setlists with Ukrainian imagery playing on the screens behind her. She dedicates the song to a woman named Julia who hand-painted a box that was given to Stevie as a birthday present just as the conflict was going from bad to worse. She assures us that Julia has made it to Prague, but to keep those who haven’t been able to get out in our thoughts. Lightening the mood, she performs her Prince-inspired hit “Stand Back” (the synth parts were inspired by “Little Red Corvette”).
The spell-binding performance of “Gold Dust Woman” begins with string sounds, a strong cowbell on the up-beats, and a guitar jam by Waddy Wachtel. Stevie emerges wearing new shawl, one that looks as if it was spun from golden thread. The current timbre of Stevie’s voice transforms the song completely, making the live version miles better than the original studio version. The song then goes through a few sequences – a variation on “The Chain’s” “runnin’ in the shadows,” and a section where she becomes completely bewitched by the music – she shakes her hair and I swear that pixie dust falls out.
VIDEO: Stevie Nicks “Gold Dust Woman (Live)”
After the epic of “Gold Dust Woman” comes to a close, she tells us the story behind “Landslide,” and how she wrote it at an uncertain period of her life – she was tired of being a waitress, and was ready to be famous. She dedicates the song to her dog, Lily, whom she brought on stage to meet the audience. Stevie tells us that Lily is from Houston, Texas, and is very happy to be home. “Landslide” is a showstopper. It’s hard to not be moved by the song as it picks up on a connecting thread between all of mankind – mortality. Stevie and the band leave the audience with glossy eyes.
The first encore begins with just drums, and then Waddy returns to the stage for a guitar jam. Then, the legendary percussive guitar strumming of “Edge of Seventeen” begins, and the crowd goes wild. “Just like the white winged dove / sings a song sounds like she’s singin” is like a battle cry for everyone in the audience; the aisles are suddenly filled with people ready to twirl with their own hand-made capes. Pictures of Prince flash in the background as silhouettes of doves cover the screen (this is her way of paying homage to him through their shared connection with doves – “When Doves Cry”). Stevie has a tradition of doing what’s called the “Edge Walk” during this song – where she takes her tambourine to the edge of the stage and interacts with her crowd – in the past she would shake hands, but I’m sure in our times of COVID, she’s limited herself to just blowing kisses and waving her tambourine.
Returning for another encore, she tells us that she has a special message “They think the Astros are going to win – we’ll play this song and then you’ll be the first to know.” The iconic opening strums of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” ring out and the crowd cheers. Throughout the song, pictures of Stevie and Tom appear on the screen behind her in ultimate tribute to one of her best friends. I pick up on the fact that the lyrics of the song feature one of her favorite “creatures of the night” – vampires (“Now all the vampires walkin’ through the Valley / move west down Ventura Boulevard”). Stevie congratulates the city on the Astros win against the Phillies in game 4 of the World Series, and says “If I told you I didn’t know what the Houston Astros play, would you believe me? But I know they must be good because they won!”
For her final encore, she takes the stage to the tune of “Rhiannon” and closes the night out with the witchiest of all her songs, and one of her first hits with Fleetwood Mac – a full circle moment. The song was inspired by the “old Welsh witch” from the Mabinogion, but tonight she’s twirling on stage in Woodlands, Texas.
VIDEO: Stevie Nicks “Edge of Seventeen”