Willie Nelson in Beloxi (2/8/07)

By PETE TATTERSALL
ptattersall@sunherald.com 

Willie Nelson, a musician whose talent and longevity continues to astound, laid forth a stellar performance Thursday evening at the Beau Rivage, befitting his status as a legend of American contemporary music.

Willie Nelson, a musician whose talent and longevity continues to astound, laid forth a stellar performance Thursday evening at the Beau Rivage, befitting his status as a legend of American contemporary music.An iconic figure, with his trademark braids and bandana, Nelson, who is two months shy of his 74th birthday, shows little sign of slowing as the years continue to pile up in his wake. Equally at home performing in a rundown honky-tonk or New York City’s “Jazz at Lincoln Center” program (as he did for four sold-out nights along with New Orleans native Wynton Marsalis in mid-January), Nelson, in both his music and persona, always projects a laid-back, heartfelt groove.

Willie Nelson, a musician whose talent and longevity continues to astound, laid forth a stellar performance Thursday evening at the Beau Rivage, befitting his status as a legend of American contemporary music.An iconic figure, with his trademark braids and bandana, Nelson, who is two months shy of his 74th birthday, shows little sign of slowing as the years continue to pile up in his wake. Equally at home performing in a rundown honky-tonk or New York City’s “Jazz at Lincoln Center” program (as he did for four sold-out nights along with New Orleans native Wynton Marsalis in mid-January), Nelson, in both his music and persona, always projects a laid-back, heartfelt groove.On Thursday, he was dressed in jeans, a black T-shirt bearing the word “Texas” on the back, gray running shoes and a black cowboy hat, which, in the spirit of Mardi Gras, Nelson soon jettisoned into the fourth row, where it was promptly snatched up by a lucky concert-goer.

Willie Nelson, a musician whose talent and longevity continues to astound, laid forth a stellar performance Thursday evening at the Beau Rivage, befitting his status as a legend of American contemporary music.An iconic figure, with his trademark braids and bandana, Nelson, who is two months shy of his 74th birthday, shows little sign of slowing as the years continue to pile up in his wake. Equally at home performing in a rundown honky-tonk or New York City’s “Jazz at Lincoln Center” program (as he did for four sold-out nights along with New Orleans native Wynton Marsalis in mid-January), Nelson, in both his music and persona, always projects a laid-back, heartfelt groove.On Thursday, he was dressed in jeans, a black T-shirt bearing the word “Texas” on the back, gray running shoes and a black cowboy hat, which, in the spirit of Mardi Gras, Nelson soon jettisoned into the fourth row, where it was promptly snatched up by a lucky concert-goer.Nelson, whose guitar picking is equally adaptable to both the blues and traditional country tunes (many of which he’s fathered), performed many of his most popular songs, including “Whiskey River,” “Crazy,” “Night Life,” “Mamma Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” “On the Road Again,” “Stardust,” “Always on My Mind,” “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” “Help Me Make It Through The Night,” “If You’ve Got Money (I’ve Got The Time)”, “All of Me,” Merle Haggard’s “Working Man Blues” and Waylon Jennings’ “Good Hearted Woman.” (For good measure, Nelson also weighted in with traditional favorites “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “Amazing Grace.”)

All told, Nelson and his band performed somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 songs throughout the hour-and-forty-five minute show, including three Hank Williams’ numbers (“Jambalaya,” “Hey Good Lookin’ ” and “Move It On Over”).

Nelson’s band, meanwhile, consisted of a snare drum, percussionist, electric bass guitar, harmonica and Nelson’s sister, Bobbie Nelson, on piano.

Several times, in fact, the musical lead was passed seamlessly from the lead guitarist to veteran harmonicist Mickey Raphael, and finally to Nelson himself. (Raphael’s harmonica, it should be noted, fleshes out Nelson’s sound to wonderful effect.)

Alternating between low-key and quickly paced numbers, Nelson hammered out impressive lead guitar work on his trusty, battered acoustic (aka Trigger). Musical highlights included the songs “Me and Paul” (written about Nelson and longtime drummer Paul English), “Pancho and Lefty,” “Georgia On My Mind,” Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” and a fairly new, self-deprecating number titled “I Ain’t Superman.”

Nelson’s long and fruitful career belies the “here today, gone tomorrow” aspect of many of today’s celebrated country performers, which makes it all the more ironic to hear Nelson sing “Crazy,” penned by Nelson but made famous by the late Patsy Cline: “I knew you’d love me for as long as you wanted/Then leave me for someone new/Crazy, for thinking that my love could hold you.”

That’s Nelson – crazy like a fox.

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