Willie Nelson & Family in Anaheim (Jan 6, 2015)

photo: Joshua Sudock


No living country music performer has thrilled audiences at such creative heights for as long as Willie Nelson.

Now 81, the legendary Texan and his five-member troupe performed a fast-paced and never-less-than-thrilling 75-minute concert at City National Grove of Anaheim on Tuesday night. The night saw Nelson perform two dozen selections with a mix of well-known hits, inspiring lesser known gems and instrumentals, making for an especiallymoving and balanced show.

Nelson’s distinctive vocals and unique phrasing, as well as his virtuoso work on his weathered acoustic guitar, were strong from his opening salvo, “Whiskey River.” But the show only got better. Soon Nelson and company were off to the races with the up-tempo country rocker “Beer for My Horses” and affecting “Good Hearted Woman” (a song co-written by Nelson and the late Waylon Jennings).

“Good Hearted Woman” was the first of several songs that really showed off the nuanced power of the group, with Nelson’s vocals and intricate guitar blending with the piano playing of his sister Bobbie Lee Nelson and harmonica great Michael Siegfried “Mickey” Raphael.

The concert included all kinds of highlights, including a fantastic tribute to Hank Williams – a medley of “Jambalaya (On the Bayou),” “Hey Good Lookin’” and “Move It On Over.” His intricate and extended solo on “Funny How Time Slips Away” and easy ability to move into the blues for medley of “Crazy” and “Night Life” displayed his freewheeling spirit of bringing different styles of music into his outlaw sonic brew.

Perhaps the most stirring moment of the night followed a fun and spirited take on his hit “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” when he suddenly and effortlessly segued into a beautiful “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground.” His beautiful touch on the guitar and heartrending singing quieted the crowd and the stirring feeling was tangible. With the mood set, Nelson and his band then lifted spirits again with the upbeat “On The Road Again.”

Nelson spoke little throughout the night, but was obviously having a wonderful time and often acknowledged the enthusiastic crowd with smiles and several times flung one of his headbands into the waiting crowd. After finishing up the concert with a moving version of “I Saw The Light,” he spent six minutes at the front of the stage signing album covers, posters, slips of paper and even a cowboy boot for excited fans.

Leave a Reply