Willie Nelson Wows Fans in Santa Rosa (Feb. 2, 2014) (SOLD OUT)

by:  Dan Taylor

After six decades on the road, at 81, Willie Nelson has learned how to work with his loyal and vast audience, and his fans know how to play their part.

All Nelson had to do is shout “Mama!” when he returned Monday night for his 10th sold-out show at Santa Rosa’s Wells Fargo Center for the Arts since 1989.

And the capacity crowd of 1,600 sang back, “Don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys.”

When Nelson sang, “She’s a good-hearted woman” and paused, the fans sang “in love with a good-timin’ man.”

Pacing the show perfectly, he eased through his hit song list without stopping — for a little less than an hour and a half — singing and sometimes half-speaking the familiar lyrics with feeling and meaning.

“I love his music and his funny, funky voice, and he’s even older than we are. I love that,” said Pat Senner, 70, of Sonoma who came to the show with her husband, David, 71, both of them silver-haired and dressed in black.

Enok Lohne, 61, of Dos Rios, near Willits, wore a white cowboy hat and his wife Linda, 62, wore Willie Nelson-style braids.

“Willie just pulls at your heartstrings, wraps you around his finger and makes you want to ride off into the desert with him on his horse, or his bus,” Linda Lohne said.

All Nelson had to do to get his first standing ovation of the evening was amble out onto the stage at the start of the show in his black cowboy hat, T-shirt and jeans.

Nelson opened with “Whiskey River,” and moved easily through one favorite after another: “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” “On the Road Again,” “Always on My Mind,” “Crazy,” “Georgia on My Mind” and more.

He worked sweet guitar solos into every song, with a particularly bluesy break on “My Life.”

Nelson’s sister Bobbie on piano and Mickey Raphael on harmonica slipped some saucy sounds into the band’s take on Tom T. Hall’s “Shoeshine Man.”

The audience ranged in age from kids to grandparents and sported a wide variety of hats — black felt fedoras, baseball caps, and cowboy hats made of straw, felt and leather.

The crowd stamped, clapped, cheered and bought Willie Nelson posters and CDs in the lobby, then went home happy.

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com.

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