Thanks Margie Lemons, for sharing this photo from the soundboard.
Thanks Margie Lemons, for sharing this photo from the soundboard.
Story and photo by: Kevin Coffey
Not so bad.
The last time I saw Willie Nelson, I was disappointed. I figured that as the octogenarian continued to perform, his skills were slipping and chalked up the poor performance to that.
It must have just been an off night.
On Sunday at SumTur Amphitheater, he was wonderful. Sure, the 83-year-old doesn’t quite sound like he did 20 years ago, but he’s still capable of greatness.
Nelson and his band sprinted through a set of old favorites and tributes for an hour, and the country outlaw had a near capacity crowd on its feet as the sun went down. (In fact, it was an early show, and the whole thing was over before night fell.)
Throughout the show, fans hollered and shouted for songs such as “Whiskey River,” “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” and “Georgia on My Mind.”
As always, Nelson was joined by his family band that includes “little sister” Bobbie Nelson (actually two years Willie’s senior) on keys and “brother” Paul English (not actually Willie’s brother) on drums.
Nelson also had his beaten and battered trusty guitar, Trigger, and he used it to play lead for the whole show.
Nelson’s enigmatic playing style was in full effect. It’s so idiosyncratic that it’s almost punk rock. Nelson’s always been known for his playing, but these days it’s full of weird riffage, excellent little runs, odd phrasing and random strumming. For every on-point guitar solo, we got an improperly fingered chord.
The set was full of Nelson favorited and plenty of covers and tributes.
Strangely, Nelson didn’t play “On the Road Again,” and he also skipped “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” one of his usual standards.
I also hoped that opening act Kris Kristofferson would join his old friend for a song (maybe even “Highwayman), but it didn’t happen.
A legend in his own right, Kristofferson kicked off the evening with a 45-minute set that featured his own old tunes such as “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Sunday Morning Coming Down” as well as several covers.
Kristofferson’s guitar playing was excellent, and he sounded as great and gruff as ever. I only wish he would have played a few more of his own tunes.
But Kristofferson’s set was a little more of a tribute show. He sang Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee,” and he was joined by Haggard’s sons, Noel and Ben. They played guitar throughout the show and took lead vocals on “Workin’ Man Blues” and “Ramblin’ Fever.” Nelson also paid tribute to Haggard with he and Haggard’s “It’s All Going to Pot” as well as Tom T. Hall’s “Shoeshine Man.”
Nelson only spoke to the audience a few short times, and he got lots of laughs when he referred to his tune “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” as “a new gospel song we just wrote.”
When it came time to close the show, Nelson played “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” as a medley with “I’ll Fly Away,” a song that saw the Haggard boys take the stage one time. As Nelson strummed Trigger one last time, fans stood and shouted out the words before cheering the outlaw as he left the stage.
Thanks to Margie Lemons for sharing her photo she got from husband Bobbie tonight, of the view from the soundboard.
Willie Nelson by Kevin Mazur in New York, 2002.
We’re proud to offer Rock Paper Photo prints in celebration of the rock culture woven into every layer of the John Varvatos brand. Own a piece of rock history and see Rock Paper Photo on display at the John Varvatos Bowery and London stores.
Kevin Mazur has photographed music legends including Michael Jackson, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Bob Dylan, and Nirvana. He is also a co-founder of WireImage.
Thanks to Annie Nelson for sharing this photo on her FaceBook page.
Jan/RailRoad Lady, from Texas, took this picture.
photo: Pari Dukovic
by: Chris Heath
Marijuana’s state-by-state march toward full legalization would never have happened without Willie Nelson. He’s 82 now, and he’s spent nearly half his life asAmerica’s most famous stoner. But this fall he’ll be making the leap from aficionado to entrepreneur. What Paul Newman did for tomato sauce, what Francis Coppola did for Cabernet, Willie Nelson is hoping to do for weed
“I’ve bought a lot of pot in my life,” Willie Nelson tells me, “and now I’m selling it back.”
Willie Nelson has this kind of answer—stock, pithy—for all kinds of questions, and he’s been using them for decades. Bring up his brief abortive stint at college studying business administration? Invariably he’ll soon say, “I majored in dominoes.” Mention the massive sum he owed the IRS in the early ’90s—somewhere between $17 million and $32 million—and you’ll get the one about how it isn’t so much “if you say it real fast.”
As time passes, the world offers up new questions, and so sometimes new answers are required. Once he reached the age when people began asking about retirement, Nelson would reply that he doesn’t do anything but play music and golf: “I wouldn’t know what to quit.” And now that one of America’s stoner icons is going into the pot business and planning to launch his own proprietary brand called Willie’s Reserve, this bought-a-lot-of-pot-in-my-life line is already on instant replay and you can confidently expect to hear Nelson use it for the next few years, anytime the subject is raised in his vicinity. In fact when we first meet, on the tour bus where he likes to do interviews and live much of his life, less than ninety seconds pass before he deploys it.
There’s a lot of shade and space behind answers like these. They leave people feeling like they’ve had a funny and intimate encounter with someone who, as Willie Nelson does, knows how to deliver them—with an amiable mischievous half-smile and a wizened wink in his eye, as though the words have just popped into his head. Answers that charm and entertain but also leave his real thoughts unbothered, his real life unruffled.
Willie Nelson has plenty of real thoughts, and he has lived a life as real and unreal as they come for eighty-two years and counting. Those stories are a little harder to shake loose, but he will share some of them, too. And when it comes to Willie Nelson, it’s worth holding out for the good stuff.
Maybe all of us are engaged in a lifelong fight to find our better natures. But some of us, perhaps the luckiest ones, find a reliable shortcut. For Willie Nelson, that shortcut has turned out to be pot. It works for him, and he needed it. His public image is a kind of Zen cowboy, a naturally chilled-out elder—Robin Williams used to have a bit in his act about how even Buddha was jealous of how mellow Willie Nelson was—but of course the truth is more complicated. “I can be a real asshole when I’m straight,” he tells me. “As Annie can probably adhere to.”
Annie is Nelson’s fourth wife—“my current wife,” as he has sometimes described her, though they have now been married for twenty-four years. She sits out of my sight, behind me, but periodically she contributes to the conversation. “He’s not an asshole sober,” she clarifies, coming to her husband’s defense. Briefly, at least. “Only when he’s drinking. Then he’s an asshole.”
Did you think you were an asshole at the time?
“Oh, I’ve always known that possibility, you know,” he says. “I saw a funny cartoon the other day. ‘How do you piss off a redhead?’ ‘Say something.’
And you felt like some anger came with your red hair?
“I could associate with the temper that goes with it.”
So are you still as angry as you used to be, but now that you smoke you’ve just learned how to not show it?
“Probably. I still get pissed off, and take a couple of hits and say, ‘Well, it ain’t that bad.…’ Delete and fast-forward: That’s my new motto.”