It was a beautiful night for a semi-outdoor concert. The picturesque Artpark was filled to the brim, everyone hotly anticipating the legendary Willie Hugh Nelson; The Red Headed Stranger. A man who’s stamp on American music is undisputable.
Supporting Nelson was the multi Grammy winner, Allison Krauss and Union Station. With soaring melodies, striking harmonies, and rich instrumentation, the artists immediately had the entire audience captivated. Every song was greeted with cheers and applause. The show reached a high point when the group played their infectious song “I Am a Man Of Constant Sorrow,” from the Coen brothers’ film, “O Brother, Where Art Though?” The set finished with a series of stripped down favorites such as “When You Say Nothing At All,” “Down to the River to Pray,” and “Your Long Journey.”
Finally, Willie Nelson walked upon stage; he was instantly met with energetic applause and palpable anticipation. Wearing his typical garb of black, Nelson retrieved his faithful guitar, Trigger. The beaten and battered nylon stringed guitar has been Nelson’s companion for 45 years. After placing the iconic red, white, and blue guitar strap around his neck, the performance began with “Whisky River.”
Performance might not be the right word. The word performance seems to include notions of putting on an act, not necessarily deceit, but a persona beyond one’s self. This was not a performance; this was a group of friends getting together for a reunion. Though the crowd was composed of individuals who’ve never met Willie, there was the comfortable atmosphere of familiarity. Willie lives the music he plays. It’s an extension of him and everyone can sense it. Similarly, individuals in the crowd grew up with Willie playing in their home. No doubt his vinyls, cassettes, CDs and (maybe even) MP3s have been a staple of their respective music collections. For many in attendance, there was never a “Before Willie Nelson”
The show continued long into the night with one classic after another. “Crazy,” “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” “Always on my Mind…” Eventually, the evening came to a close with the upbeat favorites “Will the Circle Be Unbroken / I'll Fly Away / I Saw the Light .” Nelson stayed for a considerable amount of time, signing autographs and interacting with fans.
Who knows how long Willie Nelson will continue to tour. At 81 he shows no signs of slowing down and on June 17th of this year Nelson will release his first album of new and original songs in almost 20 years. Let’s hope his legend continues for years to come.