Willie Nelson & Family at the Houston Rodeo (Saturday, March 18, 2017)

photo:  Steve Gonzales

by: Joey Guerra

Willie Nelson, at this point in his storied career, only has to show up to earn a hero’s welcome.

The legendary performer met with mountainous cheers when he walked onstage and strapped on his guitar Saturday at Rodeo Houston. The crowd was ready to listen and love.

This was Nelson’s first Rodeo Houston appearance since 2004. He drew a crowd of 75,008, just 25 people shy of Luke Bryan’s Thursday night show. ┬áNelson first played the rodeo in 1985, logging nine total appearances, including two with super-group The Highwaymen.

There were (completely unfounded) rumors that he’d cancel the Rodeo Houston appearance. Nelson canceled shows in January and February due to illness.

It made “Still Not Dead Again Today,” a darkly humorous ode to internet death rumors, even funnier.

He looked and sounded healthy on the revolving stage. He sported his trademark braids, red bandana and a black T-shirt that read Paia, a small town in Maui, where he’s lived for years.

There were too many classics to count: “Angel Flying too Close to the Ground,” “On the Road Again,” Always on My Mind,” “Georgia on My Mind.”

And there were even more that he couldn’t get to in just an hour-long set.

“Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” was a laugh-out-loud highlight. (“Take me out and twist me up/And point me toward the sky.”)

Minutes later, he took the crowd to cowboy church with “Will the Circle be Unbroken,” “I’ll Fly Away” and “I Saw the Light.”

“I hear y’all,” he said amid the nonstop cheers. Thank you very much.”

Nelson got through a few seconds of “Me and Paul” before stopping the song and closing with a spirited “Shoeshine Man.” (Hey, he’s earned the right to change his mind.)

He lingered before stepping into the black SUV that whisked him out of the stadium. The crowd was still roaring as the lights came on.


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