You may think of Willie Nelson as an ancient pothead hippie with a nasal voice and a worn-out guitar. You wouldn’t be entirely wrong, but that description is vastly inadequate caricature.
Thanks to my son and daughter-in-law who gifted us with tickets, we saw Willie in concert at a nearby historic performing arts venue. True to tradition, the giant Texas flag unfurled behind him as he opened with Whiskey River, the first of what must have must have been at least 40-50 songs. There was a surprising amount of energy in the concert as the audience lights came up at several times encouraging us to join in on well known numbers and the audience was a little rowdy, which I always prefer.
Yet, the most amazing thing was the way he wailed on that old guitar. For those of you who don’t know, his favorite guitar, named Trigger, is a classical, nylon-stringed instrument, never intended to be played the way he plays it. The amp was cranked way up, like I have I never heard him play and he was constantly all over that guitar with his spastic combination of chord progressions, picking, and up-strums. He truly has invented a style of playing that is all his own.
Willie is a prolific songwriter with Crazy, sung by Patsy Cline as perhaps his best known creation. In the 1970’s, he moved to Austin to become a part of the hippie/outlaw/progressive country music scene and found his niche. He has always found ways to stay relevant, having done collaborations with scores of other artists and venturing out into various styles of music, including standards, country-swing, blues… you name it.
He said we that hole in Trigger, which he says is due to too much Whiskey River, causes the guitar to be unplayable, he will retire. I must say, he didn’t seem like a musician at the end of his career when I heard him Sunday night. He was full of life, still trying new artistic avenues, and totally in love with music.
Whatever else Willie is, he totally in love with “making music with his friends” and amazingly authentic.
This post was originally published March 23,2010.