Willie Nelson, East Lansing, MI (9/24/09)


Mike Hughes

When Willie Nelson ambles onto the Wharton Center stage Thursday, there are things we can kind of expect. Chances are, he’ll:

• Sing “Whiskey River” early and often. “It’s just sort of a habit,” he said in 2002. “It gets people in a happy mood and I might do it a couple of times a night.”

• Play an ancient guitar. “I have tried other guitars, but the sound that I get from this particularguitar is unbeatable.”

And arrive in an RV named “Honeysuckle Rose.” I’m currently riding on Honeysuckle Rose No. 4,” he wrote in 2006.

Nelson, 76, keeps a lot of things the same. That has included the same bus driver for more than a million miles, the same piano player (his sister, Bobbie, 78) almost forever.

He’s a creature of habit, yet keeps changing. He’s “both yin and yang, heads and tails, Indian and cowboy, a hero to city slickers and to country bumpkins,” wrote his friend Turk Pipkin.

The big changes came after he retreated to Texas. “Nelson came home, grew his hair, fired up a joint, and (merged) two improbable and seemingly irreconcilable figures – the redneck cowboy and the long-haired rocker,” John T. Davis wrote.

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