Willie Nelson with Alison Krause in Ashwaubenon, WI (8/1/2019)

photo: Sarah Kloepping

by: Kendra Meinert

Willie Nelson walked out at the Resch Center on Thursday night without so much as a whiff of an introduction, lifted his cowboy hat to a crowd that roared in approval, strapped on his trusty guitar, Trigger, and got to work.

“Whiskey River, take my mind …” rang out from a stage adorned with nothing but a giant flag of Texas and a modest band setup that looked more roadside honky tonk than arena.

At 86, that’s how the country music legend rolls. That’s how he’s always rolled. 

No matter how many times you’ve experienced it, that moment when the “Red Headed Stranger” takes the stage feels like history. There’s only one Willie. There will never be another. An American original in braids, boots and a red, white and blue guitar strap, playing a beat-up guitar with a hole worn it.

The buddies he dedicated songs to — Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings among them — are gone, but Nelson is forever on the road again. So as long as that still happens, somehow it feels like all is right with the world.

He played for an hour for his co-headlining visit with Alison Krauss, giving a crowd that looked to be about 6,000 strong the biggest of the big hits. His delivery is more storyteller than singer these days, letting the crowd help him out on such favorites as “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” and “On the Road Again,” but the voice, even when it drifts in and out, is always distinctively Nelson.

He can still put some outlaw giddy-up in “Good Hearted Woman” and make an audience gasp with the first words of “Always on My Mind.” His guitar picking on “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground was as pretty as it comes.

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