Willie Nelson Wows at War Memorial, in Nashville (Jan 7, 2017)

photo:  Andrew Nelles

by: Juli Thanki

Only Willie Nelson could announce “This is a gospel song for y’all,” then start singing “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”

For most of his 83 years, the fiercely independent Nelson has done things his way, and there’s certainly no reason to stop now.

For 75 minutes on Saturday night, the legendary country singer, who has penned some of the most enduring songs in American music history, delivered one classic after another in rapid succession onstage at the War Memorial Auditorium: “Angel Flying to Close to the Ground” followed by “On the Road Again” and “Crazy” followed by “Night Life.”

The Red Headed Stranger wasn’t much for onstage banter. When he did talk, it was short and straightforward. Introducing drummer Paul English, Nelson explained, “I wrote a song about me and Paul. I called it ‘Me and Paul.’ “

Throughout the set, Nelson  and his band the Family (which included sister Bobbie Nelson and longtime harmonica player Mickey Raphael) saluted his friends, the late Waylon Jennings (“Good Hearted Woman”) and Merle Haggard (“It’s All Going to Pot”), as well as his heroes. He expertly covered Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages,” and delivered a toe-tapping Hank Williams medley that included “Move It on Over,” “Hey, Good Lookin’” and “Jambalaya.”

His creased and crinkled hands can still coax remarkable solos from his trusty guitar Trigger. The audience, which seemed to range in age from 18 to 80, cheered every guitar solo, hooted when he flung away his black cowboy hat and traded it for his trademark red bandanna, and sang along to every word of his set. Nelson will turn 84 this year, and even though he’s slowed down a bit over the years, few performers can captivate a crowd like he does.


See more great photos at the Tennessean web site here.

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