Willie Nelson in Jackson (9/05)

Photo by Jim Stanford, of Willie Nelson at Snow King, Jackson (9/05)

JH News & Guide
September 2005
By Jim Stanford

“We love you, Willie!”

“Willie, will you marry me?”

“Willie, can I braid your hair?”

Fans went to great lengths to express their devotion Monday as country star Willie Nelson returned to Jackson for a sold-out concert at Snow King Mountain.

The declarations of adoration came from all types in the crowd of 5,000: cowboys, hippies, hippies dressed as cowboys, and cowboys in fake braids and bandanas.

The long-awaited outdoor concert was nothing short of a lovefest. And why not?

As Nelson himself sang during his tender ballad “Angel Flyin’ Too Close to the Ground:” “Love’s the greatest healer to be found.”

There was plenty of healing to go around as the red-headed Texas rebel ran through many of his classics in a 90-minute set.

Showing remarkable guitar prowess, Nelson picked with a fury as he touched on nearly every genre of music, from country and blues to reggae, rockabilly and R&B. He mixed many of his biggest hits with cover tunes and several tributes to New Orleans, devastated last week by Hurricane Katrina.

After waiting as many as six hours through four opening bands, the fans on the hillside stomped and danced and shrieked and howled. Some went a step further.

“You should have seen the lingerie getting pulled off around me,” said Forrest McCarthy, 37, of Teton Village, who watched the show from the front row with his wife, Amy, and friends Al and Susan Read.

“One woman’s got her jeans on standing next to me,” McCarthy said, “and the next thing she’s got a thong in her hand. How she did that, I don’t know.”

A 74-year-old woman was hoisted on the shoulders of some younger men in the crowd – a practice normally reserved for teenyboppers – so she could get a better view of Nelson.

A cheer went up as Nelson’s tour bus pulled into the Snow King parking lot at 7:24 p.m., with the Austin, Texas, band Restless Kelly playing “Revolution” as an orange sun, tinted by wildfire smoke, set over Teton Pass.

Nelson, who took the stage shortly after 8, returned the fans’ love by waving and pointing and tossing bandanas.

“It’s been a long time,” he mused early in the show, alluding to his performances at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar and Pink Garter Lounge in the 1970s. “How am I doing?” he asked. “I guess I’m doing alright.”

He spoke little as he rolled through the set. He came out swinging with one of his best-known anthems, “Whiskey River,” followed by a reggae version of “Still Movin’ To Me,” a song he recently re-recorded with Toots and the Maytals.

He wore black jeans, a black T-shirt and black cowboy hat, which he later traded for a bandana and baseball cap. Around his neck was a well-worn, red, white and blue guitar strap. He played the same Martin acoustic guitar – with a hole in the body – that he used in Jackson at the Cowboy Bar in 1977. His two sons and sister Bobbi were part of the seven-piece backing band.

The crowd sang along on favorites such as “On the Road Again” and “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” as well as a rollicking cover of Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come.”

Nelson’s love songs stood out as some of the evening’s best, among them “Always on My Mind” and “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain.”

Jacob Henrie, 28, was so moved that he shouted and railed against whatever woman had caused Nelson such pain.

“Nobody sings heartbreak like Willie Nelson,” Henrie said in between twirls with women, a Jack Daniel’s bandana on his head.

Some in the crowd broke into tears when Nelson sang Steve Goodman’s “City of New Orleans.” There were other nods to the Big Easy in a ragtime cover of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” that had teases of “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In,” as well as a cover of Hank Williams’ ode to big fun on the Bayou, “Jambalaya.” Fans donated more than $10,000 at the American Red Cross table during the day, a figure to be matched by the energy company EnCana Corp.

The last outdoor concert of the summer showed the full potential of the series begun four years ago by Idaho-based promoter Bravo Entertainment.

Some in the crowd griped about the lack of food options. Only Domino’s Pizza was sold, vendors frequently ran out, and fans were barred from bringing their own snacks to what was billed as a “Labor Day picnic.” Nelson also caught fans off guard by finishing with a reprise of “Whiskey River” and no encore.

But nearly everyone – ranch hands and ski bums, toddlers to seniors – went home satisfied.

“Like sunlight over the mountaintop, you know I’ll come again,” Nelson sang.

Thousands of adoring fans in Jackson can only hope.

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