http://www.chicoer.com By BRUCE SMITH-PETERS OROVILLE — By the time most ordinary people reach their 70s they’re retired, settled down and relaxing in their “golden years.” Or at the very least, ordinary septuagenarians have slowed down. Willie Nelson is not one of those ordinary people.At age 74 he’s keeping a schedule that would exhaust a man half his age: out on the road 250 days a year, riding his famous biodiesel bus around the country with his simple six-piece band of a snare drum played with brushes, hand percussion, bass, harmonica, electric guitar and his sister, Bobbie, playing piano.
And while for many performers these twilight years are spent in retrospect, Nelson continues to produce like nobody else. For each of the past three years he’s released at least three CDs, his latest is a two disc set done with Merle Haggard and Ray Price called “Last of the Breed.”Can he attribute all this to clean living? Well, not if legend and recent headlines are correct.
But there were reports of him riding his bike around the Feather Falls Casino property the day of the show and of his requesting organic food that night.
So, perhaps with Nelson, it’s about balance. But whatever it is, it sure does work.
He was in fine form Saturday night, taking the stage in front of a huge Texas flag backdrop (an image that stirs Texas hearts everywhere — even adopted ones) and wearing black jeans and a black T-shirt with “Texas” clearly emblazoned on the back. Kicking the show off with “Whiskey River” and “Still is Still Moving,” he then greeting the sold-out crowd with a folksy and friendly, “Well hello there!”
The adoring fans erupted in a welcome of their own. Nelson draws the most diverse audiences, further testament to his appeal. This show, however, had a distinct “Geritol-factor” to the crowd and was heavy on the cowboy boots and big belt buckle- wearing fans of his outlaw country era, clapping away to “Good Hearted Woman” and “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys.”
But few who had come to hear a particular favorite left disappointed in the two hour, 38-song hit parade. He put together some mini-medleys of his early work (“Crazy,” immortalized by Patsy Cline, and “Night Life”), songs by Kris Kristofferson (“Help Me Make it Through the Night” and “Me and Bobby McGee”) and Hank Williams’ (“Jambalaya On the Bayou,” “Hey Good Lookin’” and “Move it on Over”), as well as a collection of standards (Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies,” “Georgia on My Mind,” a jazzy version of “All of Me” and “Stardust.”)
The band, old friends who’ve been with him for years and dubbed Willie Nelson and Family, was loose — perhaps even sloppy at the beginning of the show as the drummer didn’t quite seem to have the time right and the guitarist sometimes appeared a bit distracted, perhaps even missing a solo, but they soon found the groove.
Nelson was in fine voice, showing no strain, despite the nightly work out. His playing was effortless and he sounded great, throwing in solos on his trusty, old, beat-up acoustic guitar. But then, to his loving fans, Nelson can do no wrong.
The show closed with two new songs written last year while he was recuperating from carpel tunnel surgery — “Superman,” which started off with the line, “Too much pot and too many pills,” concluding in the chorus “I ain’t Superman,” and the humorous “You Don’t Find Me Funny Anymore.”
Finally, the revivalistic “I Saw the Light” had the audience on its feet singing and clapping along. Nelson, meanwhile, was at the edge of the stage signing autographs, shaking hands and confirming what everyone there already knew: Willie Nelson is extraordinary.