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Willie Nelson set to resume tour in September

Sunday, August 18th, 2019
by: Paul Venema

BRIARCLIFF, Texas – Country music legend Willie Nelson will be back on tour in September following the cancellation of several shows in August.

“A lot of shows in a row and I’d been stuck on that bus,” Nelson told KSAT’s Paul Venema. “I couldn’t get off that bus so I felt like I was in jail and I wasn’t feeling good so I said ‘I think I’ll go home.’”

That meant heading to his 700-acre Hill Country ranch near San Antonio.

Asked if he had seen a doctor, Nelson chuckled and said, “Went to one yesterday and he said, ‘Don’t make any long-range plans.”

Seriously, he said, the checkup went well and, except for chronic breathing problems that he’s had for decades, he is in good shape.

Nelson turned 86 in April. Always quick with a smile, he laughs when anyone suggests that he slow down.

“When they turn 86, they can tell me anything they want to,” he said. “But until they get there, they just ought to cool it.”

He said that his long-term plans are simple.

“Keep singin’, keep writin’,” he said. “That’s what keeps me goin’.”

Willie Nelson — a Real Man and his Music (Scene Magazine) (August 10, 1975)

Saturday, August 10th, 2019


Willie Nelson — A Real Man and His Music
Dallas Morning News
Scene Magazine
August 10, 1975
by Bob St. John

“I live one day at a time.
I dream one dream at a time.
Yesterday’s gone; and tomorrow is blind
And I live one day at at time” — Willie Nelson

You could call it a crowd or an audience.  No matter, really, because the man and his fans are not bound by tags and labels and names that categorize them.  The drifters are there, the denim crowd (real and dyed), the dreamers, the rednecks, the intellectuals who do not have stiff rods for backbones, and the suburbanites who have escaped the backyard tempo of flip-top beers and philosophical martinis.

“Willie!” somebody says, and everybody is picking it up. “Hello, Willie!” And the man, Willie Nelson, smiles and shakes hands which reach for him, and chats briefly as he moves across the floor, between tables.  You see, Willie Nelson is touchable and touches.  He is real.  He has run the gauntlet of life’s deepest emotions and survived.  And his fans, in him, have survived.

Now he is on the stage, talking to members of his group, his band.  Blue lights, piercing, find him through the smoke-covered room with its beer smells, perfume — expensive and cheap.  Now he has his guitar, worn like it’s owner, and the people begin shouting, stomping and cheering.

And he begins.  “Well, it’s a Bloody Mary morning, baby left me without warning, sometime in the night.  So I’m flying down to Houston, with forgetting her the nature of my flight.   As we taxi towards the runway, with the smog and haze reminding me of how I feel.   Just a country boy who’s learning that the pitfalls of the city are extremely real.”

A man in jeans, a cowboy hat, gets up and walks toward the stage and Willie leans down and shakes hands.   A young girl runs up and Willie takes her hand, leans over and she kisses him on the cheek.   “All the night life and the parties, temptations decide the order of the day.  Well, it’s a Bloody Mary morning and I’m leaving baby somewhere in L.A…”

It is a loud, fast, foot-stomping song.  But soon he will do something slower, sad, ballad-like.  He will do them all.  This is the Willie Nelson experience.  On this night he went on at 10 and though the show is supposed to last a couple of hours, he sings and picks until almost 2 a.m.  Willie is like that.  He’s the only entertainer I’ve ever met who has been known to wear out audiences.


The people love it.  So does Willie.  Willie Nelson is not like so many top performers who give the impression they’re doing what they do as a favor to you, after you pay your money.   Many seem to be looking for the quickest, most painless exit from the stage as they look blankly at the same faces in another town, another place.  Willie Nelson enjoys himself.

Willie sings in a strong, clear baritone which can become very mellow and, at times, subtle.  He has a person-to-person style, and his voice strikes chords in you if you have been lonely, happy, deserted, sad or under the compulsion of wanderlust.  Some of his songs are fun, happy, some sad and haunting.  Often when I listen to his lyrics and music I find in them a correlation to a truly good novel.  You can read his song for a good story but, looking deeper, you find something more profound, allegorical.  In one recent album, “Phases and Stages,” he takes a poignant look at the breakup of a marriage, one side of the album being form the woman’s viewpoint and the other from the man’s.  Each is his own way goes through the stages of feeling hopeless and depressed, then becomes philosophical and, finally, rebounds.  There are many different type songs, different eats, in the album, but together they paint a complete picture.

For years Willie was a word-of-mouth legend.  Now, more than anybody, he is the catalyst of the current movement in music, a blending fo pop, country, rock, even some blues.  It has been called “progressive country,” though Willie doesn’t care for that particular designation.

“I hate music labels,” willie was saying as we sat on the sofa of his office in the Willie Nelson Music Co. in Austin.  “A label is just one man’s opinion and that doesn’t make it right.  That’s this…this is that  (he laughs).  Labels put a bind on something, corner it and keep it from branching out.”

Willie was dressed as he often is, wearing a T-shirt, jeans, tennis shoes with no socks.  His hair, shoulder length, was bothering him so he pulled off a piece of recording tape and tied it around his head, Indian style.  Everybody is completely loose in the Willie Nelson Music Co., which publishes some of his music, and there seems to be a great deal of confusion, though it all produces success.  I had the impression you might open a filing cabinet and find a potential hit song scribbled on a piece of paper, or maybe you’d find a piece of pizza.  The office and the people who work for and with Willie reflect him.

One of Willie’s daughters, Lana, works in his office.  When we walked in she jumped up and hugged his neck.   Paul English, behind a desk in another room, is Willie’s drummer and longtime friend.  After they greeted each other warmly, Paul began explaining a life insurance policy to Willie, who was putting on a tape of his new album, “The Red Headed Stranger.”  Between phones ringing, conversations going on from all directions, I caught parts of the album.  I heard enough of it to know he was doing something a little different.

University of Texas athletic director-coach Darrell Royal knows more about country-and-western music than anybody I know.  Friends in the field say he’s a self-made expert.  “Willie stays ahead,” says Royal, a close friend of Willie.  “In recent years people are getting into what they’re calling progressive country.  Willie was doing that 10 years ago.  By the time people get into what he’s doing, he’s already gone on to something else.  Willie stays a few years ahead of everybody.”

An extremely tall blond young lady with sharp features, a long, somewhat bent nose, was sitting in a corner of Willie’s office, which I learned is also an undesignated lounge area.  She was staring at the wall.  Near her a short, portly man was staring at the floor.  While Willie talked over the telephone to his lawyer in new York I went toward them, looked at the woman, who was pretty but deadpan, and said, “Hello, how are you?”  She looked right thorough me, then stared at the wall again.

When Willie got off the phone, the man got up and started telling Willie his problems, about his ex-wife and children.  Willie listened sympathetically.  I went into another room and Gene McCoslin, who used to manage KNOK radio station in Dallas and now works for Willie, told me the pair were entertainers.  Willie had brought them from Las Vegas and put them on stage in Houston, using his band behind them.  They had flopped and indicated to the band they felt the crowd might not like them.  “Hell,” said English later, “I wasn’t worried about whether they liked them or not.  I was worried about getting killed by irate fans.”

“I still think they are good,” said Willie.  “The timing just wasn’t right.”  Jody Payne, his guitarist, came in and greeted Willie like a long, lost friend.  Later Willie was talking about his group — English, Payne, bass player Bea Spears, Mickey Raphael on the harmonica and Willie’s sister, Bobbie Nelson, on the piano.  “The thing we have going for us is that we like each other,” said Willie.  “We sincerely like each other.”

Word was out.  Willie was in town, at his office.  The place became Austin terminal.  Willie left the door open.

I watched him.  His face is worn, somewhat craggy and surrounded by brownish-red hair and a beard, salted with white.  Lines around his brown eyes show that he has both cried and laughed a lot.  If possible, his face seems both younger and older than his 42 years.

“I really do believe you have to suffer and feel things deeply to write about them,” he was saying.  “I’ve got a lot to write about because, well, a lot has happened to me.  Some of the best stuff I’ve written came easiest.  Usually, the harder I work on something the less I’m pleased.  There are no really new ideas.  Anything original is something you do different, maybe saying the same thing in a different way.”

Short years ago Willie Nelson wasn’t as big an entertainer and didn’t seem to get much credit as a writer.  Continually, I find people surprised to learn that Willie wrote this or that old standby.  His song “Funny How Time Slips Away” was recorded by 80 artists, including Bing Crosby.  He has written other classics in the industry such as “Hello Walls,” “Crazy,” “One Day at a Time,” “Night Life,” “The Party’s Over,” “My Own Peculiar way” and “I’ll Walk Alone.”  “Bloody Mary Morning” is one of his recent songs which seems most likely to become a standard.

His songs have been recorded by the likes of Joan Baez, Frank Sinatra, perry Como, Aretha Franklin, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Lawrence Welk, Stevie Wonder, Ray Price, Harry James, Patsy Cline, Al Green and Eydie Gorme.  The music is adaptable to many styles, many versions, but the definitive recordings of Willie’s song are done by Willie, who understands them best.


“I like all kinds of people, all kinds of crowds,” he continued when I go thim away from all the people.  “I like to see them all laid back and listening to our music.  I do try to be touchable.  A lot of guys hire bodyguards.  This was especially true during the era of the big stars.  But it’s bull.  Nobody needs them. People who come to see and hear you aren’t going to hurt you.  They’re your friends.”

“You know, I don’t think there’s much difference in people.  They’re the same, though maybe in different wrappings.”


I told him something he already knew, that his cult, his followers, come from all groups.  “I think some of the young people listen and enjoy our kind of music and so do dads and mammas,” he added.  “I hope maybe we can help them find out their parents aren’t so bad and help the parents find out all the kids aren’t Charels Mansons.  (He paused, looked out the back door of his office, which was open.)  Kids are a heckuva lot smarter than we were.  I think they were just born with more sense.”

His wife, Connie, phoned and he talked softly to her.  Willie has three kids — Lana, Billy and Susie — by a previous marriage.  He and Connie, a pretty blond, have been marrried for some five years and have two small children,  Paula and Amy.  “One time we were playing at a place called Cut and Shoot, Texas,” said Willie.  “Connie was a fan.  She and a girl friend came to see us play.  She sat at the band table and I saw her and said, ‘I want her.’  One of the guys went over and got her.  She’s a beautiful woman.”

“Willie and Connie had just gotten back from Hawaii.  “We were just sitting around the house,” explained Willie, “and she asked when we might go to Hawaii.  I said, ‘How about tomorrow?’  We went for a week to get into the sun.  We got burned the first day and it rained the next four.  Rain didn’t matter.  We were too sunburned to get out anyway.  No, I don’t like to plan things.  Most plans don’t work out.  I just like to get up and do things.”

The Nelsons did live on a 44-acre ranch outside Austin.  But, even for Willie, the curious got to be too much.  When they found out where he lived they continually came out — friends, strangers, everybody.  “Some,” he said, “would come by and stay for two days.  So we made another snap decision, to sell the house and move into the city.”

We drove to his new house, on a quiet, residential street lined with trees.  Odd, I though, how you can live in the country and be surrounded and yet find more privacy in the city, crowded with people.  I told him it was a nice house.  “I think I might just stay a couple of days,” I added, and he laughed.

It goes against his grain for Willie to be the superstar that he is becoming.  He had tremendous reviews after playing at the Trouboudour in Los Angeles.  On learning Willie was in town, Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney attended his performance there.  After hearing Willie in New York, critic Loraine Alterman wrote in the New York Times he did “country music that can move even those of us who think we despise it.”

“I don’t want to be a superstar because I don’t like the way they have to live,” said Willie.  “I wouldn’t want to be like, say, an Elvis Presley.  Besides, I’m basically lazy.  I just need enough money to get by, to exist.  I don’t like tours.  You have to be gone too long.  Now we have it down to where we work five, six days a month.  And we like it around here — Austin, Dallas, Houston, places close.  No, I don’t worry about exposure.  Hell, I’m overexposed now.

“People who work all the time, they get to where you dread the next day coming, dread being there.  When I entertain I enjoy it.  I enjoy people and don’t want to work so much that I get caught up in it and forget that.  I also want to live a life, be myself, not somebody else.  I like freedom.”

Once Willie was playing in this place and a big fight started.  People and chairs were crashing everywhere but Willie just kept on playing.  Willie’s cool.  “I tell you how cool he is,” said English.  “We used to travel around in this old bus.  One day we were moving on down this freeway and Willie and some of the guys were playing card in the back.  Suddenly, the universal joint fell out and cut the brake lining.  The driver yelled back he couldn’t stop the bus.  Everybody was in apanic.   ‘What we going to do, Willie’ somebody asked.  Willie never looked up.  ‘Deal,’ he said.”

At Willie’s office that day, a number of things were going on at once, but the big plans were for his annual Fourth of July picnic.  This generally referred to as the “Woodstock” of country music.   It’s an all-day singing and picking session in which some of the top names in the industry visit their friend Willie Nelson.  Two years ago in Dripping Springs they stopped counting the people at 50,000.  Last year in College Station it drew near 100,000, and this year estimates of the number who attended ran as high as 95,000.

For his latest picnic Willie had rented a 500-acre site 30 miles northwest of Austin near the hamlet of Liberty Hill.  He hopes to keep the picnic there.   It ahs plenty of parking room, trees for shade and it’s bisected by the San Gabriel River.  Willie drove a group of us out to the site and, as we were heading toward the soft, rollling hills, Willie was saiyng, “I like all kinds of music.  Just all kinds.  I also play a little golf, and I guess my other pastime is thinking.  I think a lot.”

I remembered a story Royal told about once when they were playing golf in Brownville.  Willie was in the trees and couldn’t get a cart near where his ball had stopped.  He yelled at Royal, on the fairway, to toss him a two-iron.  Royal slung the club.  Willie lost sight of it as it came down through the trees.  It hit him right on the head.  “Willie, you okay”? yelled Royal.  Willie’s voice came out from the trees.  “I don’t know yet.  I might be dead.”

Our drive through the countryside was pleasant.  Bluebonnets carpeted both sides of the raod and we passed through a small town which seemed, as do many small towns in texas, to have stopped in a time long passed.  Willie was raised in such a town, Abbott, which is just off Interstate 35 some 30 miles north of Waco.  I had visited there earlier.

Farm road 1242 cuts under the main highway and runs through what is downtown Abbott, a small, bunched group of buildings, many boarded up and closed.  Chruches seem to be on every corner.  They are far from boarded up.  “See that spot over there,” said Jimmy Bruce, a parttime clerk in the post office.  “Willie used to live in a hosue right over there.  I was a neighbor.  Yeah, he was a pretty good kid.  He comes back here sometimes and plays benefits.

“When he was here the Hill County sheriff came out and gave them a little trouble.  They were afraid he might attract the wrong kind of crowd.  Some folks around here talk about Willie, but I liked him.  Yes sir, I did.”

Willie was raised by his grandparents after his parents divorced.  The old folks were very religious, the firs and brimstone kind.  His grandfatehr, a blacksmith, died when Willie was six, leavin ghim in the care of his grandmoter, a music teacher.  “Times were hard during the Depression, but we grew our own food and had a cow for milk,” Willie once told me.

Back then, summer nights were still, lazy, with outdoor smells and sounds of crickets and sometimes frogs.  Willie would rest on his bed near a window and listen to revivals and church services at the tabernacle nearby.  “I also did a lot of listening on the radio,” he said.  “I’d catch the Grand Ol’ Opry and the rhythm and blues program from New Orleans.  My granddad had taught me a few chords on the guitar before he died.  So I bought me a $6 guitar and a chord book.  I taught myself to play by putting my fingers on those black dots in the book.  My sister Bobbie was the real musician.  My grandmother gave her piano lessons and I can remember them practicing beside a kerosene lamp.

“The first time I performed in public I was about five.  My grandmother dressed me up in a sailor suit and took me to one of those all-day picnics.  You know, singing and eating and praying, and praying some more.  So I got up to recite this poem.  My nose started bleeding.  There I was reading the poem and holding one side of my nose with my hand.  I think everyone was glad when I sat down.  I know I was.”

Willie and Bobbie would entertain at school.  When he was 12 he joined his first band, a Bohemian polkia band, which was formed by his brother-in-law, Bud Fletcher.  Willie played the guitar and sange, Bobbie was on the piano, the high school football coach played the trombone and Willie’s father, a musician who’d come back into town during is travels, the fiddle.  “Bobbie was the only one who was any good,” said Willie.  “We never played the same place twice.  We usually played on a percentage and I remember one night we cleared 81 cents each.”

But Willie had begun to jog down lyrics on scraps of paper, and he also was entertaining at a nearby beer drinking establishment, the Night Owl, managed by a big, robust woman named Margie Lundy.  The original Night Owl burned a few years ago.  The new place, on the same site, is smaller.  Margie has been handling it all ehrself, since her husband died a few years ago.  “Yessiree, I kept it going, though it’s not easy,” she was saying.

Traffic in the Willie Nelson Music Co. was winding down.  The blonde entertainer was gone.  As I left I kept thinking:  Willie is there, among people, touchable.  He is somebody, yet has control because inside he is not trying to play a part, to be anybody but himself.  He is one of us.  And Willie is… well, Willie is Willie.

Willie Nelson update — resuming tour in September

Thursday, August 8th, 2019
By Ree Hines and Yi-Jin Yu

Willie Nelson is going back on the road after he initially canceled his summer concert tour.

On Monday night, the 86-year-old “On the Road Again” singer took to Twitter and explained to his fans that he needed to take a break from life on the road due to a respiratory issue.

“To my fans, I’m sorry to cancel my tour, but I have a breathing
problem that I need to have my doctor check out,” he wrote.

But on Tuesday afternoon, Nelson’s Facebook page was updated again. This time, the message to fans read,

“Update: Willie is resting and feeling better.”

Immediately following the good news was an even more exciting update,

“The tour will resume on September 6 in Gilford, NH. Thanks to all
the fans for the continued support!”

The beloved country music legend has been performing with opening act Alison Krauss since the June release of his 69th studio album, “Ride Me Back Home.” He still had 30 shows ahead of him when he made the cancellation announcement just hours after wrapping up a performance in Toledo, Ohio.

Monday, August 5th, 2019

photo: Emily Hamey

Willie Nelson & Family

Sunday, August 4th, 2019

A warm welcome for @WillieNelson in backstage catering, courtesy of local artisan Josh Johnson!

Target Center@TargetCenterMN

Thursday, July 25th, 2019

Willie Nelson & Family at Yogi Berra Stadium (June 24, 2005)

Wednesday, July 24th, 2019
Willie Nelson @ Yogi Berra Stadium
Willie Nelson @ Yogi Berra Stadium
Willie Nelson @ Yogi Berra Stadium
Willie Nelson @ Yogi Berra Stadium
Willie Nelson @ Yogi Berra Stadium
Willie Nelson @ Yogi Berra Stadium
Willie Nelson @ Yogi Berra Stadium
Willie Nelson @ Yogi Berra Stadium

Willie Nelson’s Outlaw Music Festival — New Show Added (September 8, 2019)

Wednesday, July 10th, 2019
Pre-sale tickets now available for September 8 Outlaw Music Festival at Darien Lake Amphitheater.

Willie Nelson & Family, Bonnie Raitt, Phil Lesh & Friends, Alison Krauss, & More To Be Announced

Use offer code OUTLAWSEPT
Pre-sale ends Thursday at 10 PM.  

Red Headed Stranger, with Willie Nelson

Saturday, July 6th, 2019
Thanks, Janis Tillerson for photos from dinner at Luck, Texas, before the showing of “The Red Headed Stranger”

Thursday, July 4th, 2019

Thursday, July 4th, 2019

by: Kerry Lanagford

Willie Nelson: National Treasure

Saturday, June 29th, 2019
photo: Rich Furay

Willie Nelson Is Still on the Road and He’s Cool With That: ‘Just Think Positive, and You’ll Feel Better’
by: Malcolm Jones

At 86, the weathered patriarch of American music has no retirement plans and no desire to do anything but to keep on writing and singing for anyone who’ll listen.

If you go to interview Willie Nelson, you better have a lot of questions ready. Because at 86, he’s heard pretty much any question you can think of, he’s not too interested in wasting time on speculation, and by nature he’s a fairly laconic guy.

So a lot of your interview could go something like this.

Do you have favorite places to play—particular concert halls, beer joints?

“Well, I’m from Texas, so I still like playing there. Close to home. So I can get back on the bus after a show and go home. But as far as audiences are concerned, they’re all good.”

Do you ever worry that mainstream, one-size-fits-all mass culture is going to sand the edges off regional music cultures?

“I never worry about it.”

Do you become more or less philosophical as you get older?

“Oh, I think that requires too much thought.”

As that last answer suggests, Willie hasn’t lost a thing in his upper story, especially in the humor department. He laughs easily, mocks himself, and gently mocks his guest (he was raised right). He’s also courteous and hospitable—you are, after all, a guest on his bus. So if you ask a bullshit question, he’s not going to get ornery. The bat just stays on his shoulder while he waits for a pitch he can hit.

Sitting in his tour bus’s little dinette, with a couple of cups of black coffee and a pack of cards between the two of you, you study that famous face framed by that pair of equally famous braids: a folded and refolded roadmap whose every line and ridge bespeak a long lifetime of experience and adventure—he’s earned every wrinkle. But what really gets your attention are his eyes: dark, chocolate brown pools as bright as a dime and deep as a well. They are the eyes of a man on whom nothing much has been lost, and the eyes of a child on Christmas morning.

They’re also a poker player’s eyes. They’re not steely but they’re steady, and they don’t give anything away. And that makes the man a little intimidating. I mean, come on, it’s Willie Nelson sitting there, the fellow who wrote “Crazy” and “Nightlife” and “On the Road Again” and cut almost 70 solo studio albums, worked in movies, wrote a couple of autobiographies, helped start Farm Aid and the Outlaw movement in country music. And smoked weed on the roof of the White House—and now has his own weed company. He’s surely one of the most recognizable people on the planet. He’s also one of the few celebrities who’s not smaller than life when you meet them in person. In Willie’s case, quite the opposite.

The only thing that makes the staring match bearable is the twinkle in Willie’s eyes: He may look like Yosemite Sam, but you know inside he’s all Bugs Bunny.

As for how he’s holding up, the answer is: pretty damn well. Still lives his life very much in the present tense. Still has all his marbles (and always had more than most). Still puts out a couple of albums annually. Still tours for a third or more of the year. Cruising through his ninth decade, he’s not going gently into anyone’s good night.

The only thing that makes the staring match bearable is the twinkle in Willie’s eyes: He may look like Yosemite Sam, but you know inside he’s all Bugs Bunny.

So, yeah, that’s Willie Nelson, sitting right there, not three feet away. Hell.

It’s Father’s Day and his sons Lukas and Micah, along for this 15-city tour, will play in his band tonight at a show in Hartford, Connecticut. For the occasion, Willie has busted out a BEST. DAD. EVER. T-shirt. This Outlaw Music Festival, a changing line-up of roots and Americana bands, tonight includes Phil Lesh and Friends, Alison Krauss, the Revivalists, Particle Kid, and Lukas Nelson’s band, Promise of the Real. Willie is the closer.

It’s been ages since that “package show in Buffalo, with us and Kitty Wells and Charley Pride,” and he wasn’t the closer then, but it must seem like yesterday to Willie. Or just one long day. All his life, since he was a teenager, he’s been a rambling troubadour, singing and playing his way from one town to the next. For a man who’s never led a tame life or had much use for the ordinary ways of making do, his existence is at the same time unchanging. Call it the Outlaw Music Festival if you must, but this is just Willie’s latest package show. The details don’t interest him at all (managers and promoters “just tell me, go there, and I do”), just so long as he gets to go out on stage and sing and play his heart out for an hour every night. 

Does he often get to perform with his sons? “Not enough, naturally,” he says, “but every time it’s always good. When your kids are good kids and talented, you’re always glad when they come up and sing with you. And they’re all good, so I can’t complain about a one of ‘em. They all have talent.”

He says he neither actively encouraged nor discouraged his children from getting into music, which is not to say he didn’t put his thumb on the scale just a mite. “I just left a lot of instruments laying around. Drums, piano, guitars, whatever, and if they wanted to pick them up they could. And as the years passed, I’d see one getting on the drums, and I saw ‘em moving around, playing different things, and the next thing you know they’re playing everything. Luke can play piano, guitar, so can Micah. And my daughter Amy, her and Cathy Guthrie have Folk Uke. They’re touring still and doing great.”

Willie Nelson, “Ride Me Back Home”

Wednesday, June 26th, 2019
by Stephen M. Deusner

Old age suits the country singer well. On his latest album—featuring three newly penned tunes—Willie sings with a kind of chagrinned humor, as if nobody is more surprised by his longevity than he is.

Perhaps the only thing more impressive than the fact that Willie Nelson is still at it—it being writing, recording, touring, and toking—is the fact that he’s still good at it. These 86 years seem to have sharpened his focus and his sense of humor, so there’s not that feeling he’s going through the motions when he plays “On the Road Again” for the millionth time. Nearly six decades after he wrote “Crazy,” he has largely avoided the pitfalls that have snared so many older country and rock artists, instead emerging as a grandfatherly influence for yet another generation of country misfits like Sturgill Simpson and Margo Price (both of whom played Willie’s Outlaw Music Festival last year). To be active, relevant, and beloved as an octogenarian in the business—that’s the dream of any artist.

In recent years, Willie has even managed to enter something of a renaissance phase of his career, with a string of albums that include his first new songwriting credits in decades. Apart from his largely overlooked collection of Sinatra covers (which I’ll argue surpasses Dylan’s handful in terms of interpretation, insight, and just plain ol’ enjoyment), he has made his own thoughts on mortality, technology, and creativity the focal points of his recent work. Old age is his new favorite subject, or the subject he knows most intimately, or maybe just the subject that lends itself to the best punchlines. He sings with a kind of chagrinned humor, as if nobody is more surprised by his longevity than he is.

That’s a welcome trend that continues on Ride Me Back Home, which features three newly penned tunes. That doesn’t seem like very many, but they frame this album with warmth, empathy, and humor. “Come On Time” finds him challenging the very notion of time to a fight, as though he might spar his way to another couple years on earth. “I say come on, Time/I’ve beat you before,” he sings over a chugging rhythm section. “Come on, Time, what have you got for me this time?” His desperation barely veiled by his humor, he knows he’s bested before the fight even begins, and all he can do is try to make something out of it: “I’ll take your words of wisdom and I’ll try to make them rhyme.”

Buying the farm, at least for Willie, is inextricably linked with making music. “One More Song to Write” sounds so breezy that its insights might initially sound modest, but this gracefully melodic tune might hold the key to his long career. “I’ve got one more song to write, I’ve got one more bridge to burn,” he sings. “I’ll know when it’s right, I’ve got one more song to write.” For all his prolificity—is there even an authoritative album count anymore?—he’s always chasing that next tune, that next rhyme, that next show. He’s always thinking about the future.

It doesn’t really matter to Willie who came up with that next tune or that next rhyme. At his best, he can rewrite a song just by singing it, and he can suss out new depths just by adapting it to his own jazzy meter. The slight delay in his delivery on Guy Clark’s “Immigrant Eyes” subtly reinforces the song’s dusty two-step rhythm as well as its very timely sentiments about family, immigration, and empathy. Likewise, he capers over the lyrics of Mac Davis’s “It’s Hard to Be Humble,” having a blast singing the word “egotistical” and chuckling with his sons Lukas and Micah over the notion of him wearing “skintight blue jeans.”

Ride Me Back Home is Willie’s thirteenth album with producer/co-writer Buddy Cannon, the Pancho to his Lefty, and it casually evokes the old Texas dancehalls where Willie cut his teeth long before he embodied the outlaw country ethos. There’s a roominess to the music, a jovial looseness in its rhythmic complexity, and something like celebration in its exploration of these grave subjects. Nothing on here sounds rehearsed or calculated. Instead, it sounds like Willie has been living with these songs for so long that he can play them as easily as inhaling and exhaling.

Sunday, June 23rd, 2019

Willie Nelson on Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon (June 18, 2019)

Wednesday, June 19th, 2019