The word ‘Legend’ is one that gets thrown around a lot, and usually it’s attributed to someone undeserving of the moniker. There are, however, a few legends among us. Willie Nelson is one, and I was lucky enough to be in the crowd at a sold out National Theatre to see him deliver the trademark country/blues/jazz amalgamation he’s known for. Having never seen him in concert before, my friend Eddie and I did not know what to expect, except that hearing ‘On The Road Again’ was a given; everything else was up in the air and would be a happy surprise for the both of us.
After an opening set by his son Lucas and his band ‘Promise of the Real’, Willie stepped onstage and kicked things off with ‘Whiskey River.’ Willie has always had a way of singing in his own way, forsaking the given time signature, instead offering an almost jazz vocal and guitar style. He’ll seem to rush through a line of a verse or slow down and deliver a halting chorus, demanding his band follow, keep up and predict where the changes are.
Seeing this live could be disappointing for some because nothing Willie plays live sounds anything like his recorded versions. I knew this much going in, and I was looking forward to the different interpretations of material I had heard before. Some patrons though audibly voiced their displeasure when the performed version of ‘Crazy’ [which Willie wrote and Patsy Cline made a worldwide smash] was so different that a group sing along with the audience was out of the question. I just sat back and marveled, watching a master at work.
Watching and listening, it struck me that Willie Nelson is very similar to the jazz great Django Reinhardt. [Think about that for a second!] That realization made my jaw drop and made me appreciate even more how original and different Willie is and has always been.
He played for about eighty minutes, non-stop, playfully waving to the crowd, periodically removing his cowboy hat in order to wear his signature red bandanna. With so many songs in his catalog, it would take weeks to play them all, but he played some all time faves, some newer material, and even some covers in honor of those now gone [Waylon, Hank Williams, Sr.] and one who carries on in Willie’s tradition of doing things his own way [Toby Keith].
There is now far more gray than red in the hair of ‘The Red-Headed Stranger’ but that’s fitting. He may not be red-headed anymore, but he’s also no longer a ‘stranger’ to anyone. Call him a legend, call him an outlaw. After seeing one show, you’ll be hard pressed not to call Willie Nelson ‘family.’
No matter the ticket price, that’s priceless.
Set List [Approximate, based on past show set lists online at the site setlists.fm and my memory]:
Still Is Still Moving to Me
Beer for My Horses
Funny How Time Slips Away
Me and Paul
Good Hearted Woman
Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys
Hey Good Lookin’
Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground
On the Road Again
Always On My Mind
I Ain’t Superman
Bloody Mary Morning
I Saw the Light
Gotta Get Drunk