Willie Nelson & Family in Springfield, IL (August 12, 2014)

  • Willie Nelson performs Tuesday at Sangamon Auditorium.

    www.sj-r.com

    Country music legend Willie Nelson is 81 years old and probably more active than people half his age.

    Last year, Nelson was scheduled to perform at Sangamon Auditorium, but that show was postponed after Nelson wasn’t feeling well after the most recent Farm Aid fundraising concert. That postponed show was rescheduled for Tuesday at the auditorium at the University of Illinois Springfield (see accompanying information for details).

    That may have been the only thing that slowed down the singer who made “On the Road Again,” “Whiskey River,” “Always On My Mind” and many, many other big hits.

    Since the last time Nelson was scheduled to perform in Springfield:

    He released his first album of mostly new material that he wrote himself since 1996. “Band of Brothers” features nine new Nelson-composed songs.

    He was inducted in the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame as part of its inaugural class – and was inducted by friend and recent Academy Award winner, actor Matthew McConaughey.

    “There would be no Austin City Limits without Willie Nelson,” McConaughey said.

    Nelson was the first Austin City Limits performer in 1974 on what is now the longest-running television music program in the U.S. It airs on PBS.

    Fellow country icons Emmylou Harris and Lyle Lovett joined the “Red Headed Stranger” on stage for a string of hits including “On the Road Again” and “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”

    “It means a lot. It’s Austin City Limits and Austin — the music capital of the world,” Nelson said on his bus before the show.

    Blues rockers Buddy Guy and Kenny Wayne Shepherd ended the night by joining Nelson on stage for a blistering rendition of “Texas Flood.”

    Austin, Texas, had previously celebrated Nelson with a street named after him, and an 8-foot bronze likeness.

    And shortly after the Austin City Limits honor, Nelson received his fifth-degree black belt in the martial art of Gong Kwon Yu Sul.

    Nelson didn’t show off his chops but Grand Master Sam Um assured a packed room that the “Red Headed Stranger” could hold his own against anyone. As is typically the case wherever Nelson goes, other celebrities were close: this time Austin resident Lance Armstrong tiptoed past parents of other students to see his fellow Texan honored.

    “Honestly, I was surprised to be getting this degree,” Nelson said on his bus before the ceremony. “I don’t know what else is out there. I never thought about anything beyond second-degree black belt.”

    The singer gives martial arts a lot of credit for his clean bill of health. Although off stage he’s more famously known for more mellow interests — like smoking pot — Nelson said he stays physical whenever possible. He’s also a runner and avid bike rider.

    “I’m pretty healthy at 81. I think a lot of it has to do with the exercise that you do,” Nelson said. “I think martial arts is one of the best exercises you can do. Mentally, spiritually, physically, everything. I’m sure that’s helped.”

    When Nelson initially showed up to his studio, Um said he worried about the musician’s heart because of his age. Then the instructor got a glimpse of his lifestyle over the next 20 years.“He has more stamina than I do,” Um said.

    Nelson donated many of his platinum records, manuscripts and creative documents to the University of Texas.  UT’s Dolph Briscoe Center for American History on Thursday announced Nelson’s gift.  The Willie Nelson Collection in Austin will be the focus of an upcoming exhibit. UT officials say the collection includes letters and photos from fellow musicians including Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard and Lionel Richie. The items also pay tribute to Nelson’s fans and their gifts and notes to him over the years.

Leave a Reply