Willie Nelson played to a sold-out SKyPAC, and if ever there has been an event there, this was an EVENT! Upon my arrival the SKyPAC lobby was full and buzzing. You could just feel the excitement in the air. After all, people had lined up outside the venue a month before to get the best seats, and the concert sold out in a matter of hours. Not having ever seen Willie live before, I was more than happy to get the chance to see him in Bowling Green. Sure I’ve heard many of his hits on the radio and knew I would like his music. But not knowing what to expect from a 79 year-old Mr. Nelson, I was very curious but deep down expecting something very special. I was not disappointed and the rest of the crowd seemed to love it too.
Part of the “Family” was Willie’s son, Lukas, who opened the show with an acoustic version of his band, Promise of the Real. I took the time to listen to some of his stuff before coming to the show and thought it would be good, but on this night he sounded even better. The singer-songwriter did several of his original tunes, as well as some covers. He usually performs with the electric version of POTR, and I guess he couldn’t resist breaking into that as he put on his electric guitar while his bass player slipped on the electric bass. They rocked out the last couple of songs, and that displayed a little bit more of his blues rock style. It was all good, and people in the audience gave him some whoops and hollers a few times. You can hear his father in his voice, but he has his own thing going on. And he plays those guitars pretty well too (great picking on the acoustic).
After the intermission it was Willie’s turn. It took very little time to figure out what it’s all about. Nelson is a unique talent with an unassuming but undoubtedly huge stage presence. The distinctive voice, a guitar playing style all his own (simple but deep whether picking or strumming), and a genuine likability (charisma on steroids I’d say) draw you in and never let go. A huge catalog of great tunes (both original and cover) doesn’t hurt either. Many were happy to hear “Crazy” and “Georgia On My Mind”, but his lighter, humorous tunes like “Superman”, “You Don’t Think I’m Funny Anymore”, and “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” are where I felt him really connecting with his fans.
It was a great hour and a half set. So everyone got their money’s worth, and it never hurts when the performer is enjoying himself too. He also signed autographs at the edge of the stage for 20 minutes or so. So everyone went home happy. Were there songs he didn’t do that people might have wanted to hear? Undoubtedly (“Always on My Mind”, “All the Girls” to mention a few). But with a catalog so large it’s impossible to play them all.
Willie’s band is quite accomplished too. Lukas stood out on guitar (once again both acoustic and electric), and was featured belting out the vocals on “Texas Flood”. Willie’s sister Bobbie Lee was featured a few times on piano. And I can’t say enough about Willie’s harmonica player, Mickey Raphael. It seemed like he could make that thing sound like anything he wanted it to. That was some of the best harp playing I’ve heard in quite some time. Combine all this with SKyPAC’s excellent sound system and acoustics and it was pure magic.
For more info on SKyPAC shows go to www.theskypac.com. It will not be hard to find info on Willie –just Google him. You’ll get more info than you can handle.
Willie Nelson and Lukas Nelson performed at SKyPAC on 1/19/2013.