Posted by: Necci – Jun 08, 2012
The Miller Light was flowing, and the 'red-headed stranger' was just taking to the stage of the Snagajob Pavilion, historically known as Innsbrook After Hours. This reviewer had last seen Willie at the same venue in 2009. That performance had been fairly tiresome and lackluster, so expectations were lowered. But in a pleasant surprise, Mr. Nelson was apparently having an on-night, and was really present during each song, rather than blindly going through the motions.
The show's organizers had postponed the gig from about a week prior, when rain came down in droves. The crowd looked up at the clouds every so often as the looming storm had sent sprinkles here and there. People who brought their umbrellas were sent back, because who can see over an umbrella? Anyway, we all sipped our beers with bated breath as the sun set and no rain fell.
Willie opened the show with his show-stopper "Whiskey River." This is the faster, rocking version of the song, rather than the slow and grooving Shotgun Willie version, but perhaps he hasn't performed it that way since the 1980s. The setup was a stripped-down affair, with only a snare drum, but Willie also had packed his secret weapon, his older sister, Bobbie, on the baby grand piano. She ragged on some licks and played one of the instrumental segue songs from Red Headed Stranger. This was, of course, after Willie and his band played the popular "Beer for My Horses," "Time Slips Away," "Night Life," and "Crazy." It was during "Crazy" that Willie seemingly "spoke" to this particular reviewer. Admittedly, Willie was splicing songs left and right, and perhaps went straight into another song unfamiliar to me. But he said this reviewer's name, "Sarah," several times. At that moment, whether it was the Constitution tramp stamp on a nearby male show-goer, the beer, or just the magic of live music, Willie showed this writer how he can connect with his audience.
"Me and Paul" was up next and is always a highlight. Listening to Willie describe his long-ago road antics from the stage felt like listening to one's (coolest effing) grandfather telling some stories of shenanigans that make you proud. Willie next played a bunch of standards that got most of the older crowd standing. "On the Road Again" met some enthusiastic approval, and "You Are Always on My Mind" brought out the lighters (and lighter iphone apps). There is something refreshing in attending shows where the average age of the audience members is 42 and has a crazy middle aged demographic. Shoot, my parents could have gone. But you can tell that you're finally old when you bring a chair for the "concert." After a minute or so, though, taking a chair didn't sound like such a bad idea.
Willie next played a few covers, including Billy Joe Shaver's "Georgia on a Fast Train" and Hank Williams' tunes "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)" and "Move It On Over." The twist-and-shout bass-line melded perfectly with the harmonica on the latter. "Georgia" came next and got everyone feeling all nostalgic. It was at this time that Willie told the audience about taking time off due to carpal tunnel syndrome. He said he took that time to write some new songs. He was, perhaps, thinking of 2008 when he wrote these songs, "I Ain't Superman" and "Too Many Painkillers, Too Much Pot." I imagine that time moves pretty fast for a guy who has lived as much as this man, so four years could conceivably feel like a year to some.
After a few tunes, Willie began to show off his musicianship with some instrumental-heavy songs like "I Never Cared For You." He then went from religion to smoking to religion in terms of song subject matter: "Will the Circle be Unbroken," "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die," and "I Saw the Light." Willie then quickly bowed and the lights went down. Before many people had even made it to the parking lot, Willie's tour bus with police escort exited the show grounds for its next tour destination.
Words by Sarah Moore Lindsey
Images by Jeff Clements, courtesy of The Virginia Museum of Radio Entertainment