Willie Nelson and Family in North Charleston (10/16/09)


Willie Nelson & Friends
North Charleston Performing Arts Center
Review by:  Jon Santiago

Some shows are boisterous block parties: one massive squall rising on the strength of the crowd’s collective mojo. At a show like that, you glance around and realize you’re all in this tempest together.

But a glance around the crowd at Friday’s Willie Nelson show revealed a different sort of vibe. It was as if everyone there felt a direct personal connection to the man on stage, who had somehow pulled them into the comfort of his living room and proceeded to sing for them alone.

In a 90-minute walkabout through his vast repertoire, Nelson proved once again that his voice is as much an instrument of poetic feeling as it is the vehicle of melody. Nelson’s unique phrasing is such that he often riffs through a song’s lyrics making it sound like the words he means to say have just come into his head and can’t be held back, no matter if they stumble out over the song’s cadence. In moments like these, it’s his band’s job to hold the rhythm together. Nelson just moves on.

The evening kicked off true to tradition with “Whiskey River,” followed by a medley weaving “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Crazy,” and “Night Life” into a neat little package. By the time Nelson strummed the opening measures of “Me and Paul,” the late-arrivals (most of them clearly expecting to find an opening act on stage) quickly made for their seats and filled the room out to capacity. Willie was just getting warmed up.

He sailed through Lefty Frizzell’s “If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time,” brought the hall to whisper stillness with a gorgeous guitar solo on “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” Throughout the evening, Nelson’s instrumental work on heartfelt numbers like “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” and “Always on My Mind” reminded us what an evocative, soulful guitarist he is. Even Django Reinhardt’s signature “Nuages” sounded freshly imagined on Willie’s battered six string. Billie Nelson on keys and Mickey Raphael on the harmonica rounded out the team effort with tasty breaks on “Down Yonder” and “Milk Cow Blues.”

Perhaps the most striking quality of Nelson’s show is the performer’s generosity toward his audience. Whether he’s pulling the bandanna off his head and tossing it into the audience, flashing a smile directly at someone a dozen rows out, or staying around after the last song of the night to sign autographs right from the stage, Nelson knows how to make plain his gratitude.

For their part, fans like to think of Nelson as a comrade in arms, someone in their corner.

And in one corner mid-way through the show, while Nelson evoked the wistful romance of “Georgia On My Mind,” a young couple swayed in each other’s arms, lost in their dance. Not for the first time that evening, it looked for all the world as though Willie had simply lent his voice and the sound of his guitar just to create this moment.


Leave a Reply