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Durham, NC--Imagine if your resume included working with the likes of Waylon Jennings, Kitty Wells, Charley Pride, Johnny Cash, David Allen Coe, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, Emmy Lou Harris, and three generations of Hank Williams’ to name but a few. What if it boasted your major influence on songwriters, singers, guitarists, and musicians for over half of a century? How about if it held your claim to fame as a founding member and co-president of FARM AID, the best thing to happen to our nation’s farmers since sunshine and rain?
Photo by Gabriel Nelson
Willie Nelson holds such a resume. Nelson has earned career status and a permanent high-level position in the halls of country and country-rock music. By his own admission, the road has sometimes been rough and rocky. Along the road to success, Willie has professed to have “been busted for things that I did and I didn’t do.” He has been labeled an outcast, an outlaw, and an ole’ Texas hippie. He’s been under IRS siege, harassed for his harmless “consumption” of cannabis, and, in spite of all of this, he still remains one of the greatest honky tonk heroes of his time.
Playing to a backdrop of the proud flag of his home state of Texas, this legendary cowboy blazed through 30 + songs. From the traditional opener of “Whiskey River,” to the closing new and funny “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” Willie covered recordings from 1972's Red Headed Stranger through 2010s T-Bone Burnett produced Country Music and a song or two off each album in between.
Photo by Gabriel Nelson
Willie and family, showcasing sister Bobbie, who excelled on piano; and harmonica virtuoso Mickey Raphael, who won large favor with the crowd, played all the popular songs, the sing-alongs and mainstays like “Good Hearted Woman,” “Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” “On the Road Again," and “The Night Life Ain’t No Good Life.” Willie also premiered two new humorous tunes said to have been written while recovering from surgery, entitled “Superman” and “You Don’t Think I’m Funny Anymore.”
The rowdy songs may bring back memories, but the night clearly belonged to Willie’s sweet and tender ballads and love songs. The stunning “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain” hushed the sometimes boisterous crowd. The sweet and somber “Angel Falling Too Close to the Ground” and the emotionally stirring “Always on My Mind” brought tears to some audience members. “Hello Walls” and the tremendously excellent “Me and Paul” were shining moments, as well. The timeless “Crazy,” written for and recorded by the late/great Patsy Cline, held the audience captive. His covers of “The City of New Orleans” and the always inspiring “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “I’ll Fly Away” garnered full audience participation.
Willie, playing his lone acoustic guitar, the tried and trusty, worn and weathered “Trigger” (naturally treated more like his friend than his instrument), satisfied the many loyal fans in attendance. Following a time-honored tradition, Willie had great rapport with the fans and was very accessible; he signed autographs for many on the front row; threw out bandannas (worn and new) as souvenirs, and sang “Happy Birthday” to a fan named Cindy. He shook hands with many, accepted gifts from a few, and blew kisses and waves to all. Several lucky soldiers serving our country and on leave were rumored to have been invited on Willie’s notorious bus!
I actually owe some gratitude to Willie Nelson myself. If not for him and his buddy, the late Waylon Jennings, I would never have been turned on to country music that I actually liked and enjoyed. I probably would never have made it a point to be open minded and listen to the vast catalog of country and country rock music and well-worthy artists that I’ve since learned to appreciate.
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