Willie Nelson is probably the biggest name to come to our town yet. The Willie Nelson and Family Band came to town last Friday, the 11th of January 2008. We live in Fort Pierce Florida, a humble town of 40,000 people. In the process of renovating our 100 year old down town section, the Sunrise Theatre built in 1923 became the centerpiece of the renovation. We are members of the Sunrise Theatre and we support it by going to shows there as often as we can. It has great acoustics and is very cozy, seating less than 2000 people.
We arrived about 45 minutes early to the largest crowd ever at The Sunrise Theatre. It was a whose who of ranchers, citrus growers, lawmen, including a former sheriff and many distinguished long time residents and business people.
To be honest the first Willie Nelson song I ever heard was “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys”. That could have been thirty five years ago. I didn’t even know who he was back then. One thing I did know was I loved that song and became a Willie Nelson fan instantly. I can’t say with any degree of truth that I was his biggest fan. I have several of his albums, and maybe I had seen him in concert twenty odd years ago here in town with Waylon Jennings and Hank Williams Jr. As ever, for me Jimi Hendrix was God. No one came close. Until lately my range of music appreciation had been narrow.
Once seated we were given flyers announcing that tonight was the beginning of a Willie Nelson Tour and that this concert was being recorded for an album. The most important message on the flyer was that we could buy a copy of the concert after the show. It was sold in a device that was formed like a bracelet and had a USB plug for a computer. That bit of technology is one of the best ideas anybody ever had.
We were in the balcony, and remembering a set of binoculars was great . I love to watch the guitar players hands up close. Willie may be known for his great voice, and many very popular songs, but I don’t think he is given enough credit for being able to play the hell out of his guitar. It is a highly worn Martin N-20WLN he calls “Trigger”. It is available through C.F.Martin Guitars as a special order custom shop model.
Willie’s sister Bobbie (Nelson) has been playing the piano with the band along with most of the original members for 30 some years. Bobbie’s piano is just a piano, which is very refreshing in a world of synthesizer keyboards. She is a very excellent player, and did some jumpin’ ragtime solos. The concert started with Whiskey River and it was immediately clear that his is a tight band. In addition to sister Bobbie’s piano, there was a bass guitar player and a second guitar player trading rhythms and leads with Willie. The band didn’t have a big time drummer setup, just a snare drum player and some bongos.
Most of the concerts I attend are generally to hear and evaluate the guitar player. Johnny Winter (we saw him last month), Robert Cray, Eric Johnson, Joe Satriani, Edgar Winter, David Allen Coe, Bob Dylan, Peter Framton, B.B. King, Robin Trower (next week), Jimi Hendrix RIP (#1 my hero), SRV RIP (#2) to name a few, and many more I can’t recall right now. Let it go on record that Willie plays mostly all Lead Guitar throughout the whole concert. Add this to my statement: Willie plays the guitar at the highest level possible. He plays a beautiful combination of country notes , blues notes and his own musical style that is literally music to your ears. Don’t underestimate his guitar virtuosity. He plays some powerful soul touching notes.
It is hard to believe Willie Nelson is 74 years old. It is good to see that although he is clearly and old man, he seems unencumbered by any age related suffering. He stands tall and erect. There is no stoop to him, and his eyes sparkled and he was smiling and having great fun throughout the concert. (miracle of binoculars). He even has a set of arms on him! It is a boost to this older guitar player to see his hands flying like they did on that guitar neck.
When the music started I felt like I was in the presence of a higher power. The respect and the love from the audience reminded me of a bunch of teenagers going crazy over the Beetles or Steve Vai. Except we were mostly older people, clapping, waving hands, screaming and going nuts like a bunch of kids again.
The band played for almost two hours straight. It seemed like every song was my favorite Willie Nelson song. We heard Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys, On The Road Again, Blue Eyes Cryin’ In The Rain, and Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground to name just a few. His is one tight well oiled band. Every song was performed beautifully and came through his sound system perfectly. His distinctive and beautiful voice shows no signs of deterioration. Throughout the show he kept changing hats and bandanas which he regularly removed from his head and threw out to the crowd. He introduced each band member and let them have a few minutes in the spot light.
To be realistic, there is no way I can do justice to a Willie Nelson concert in print. You have to be there to experience what I’m talking about. Don’t miss him if he even comes close to your town. To tell the truth, I think he had as much fun as we did. The whole band seemed to really enjoy entertaining us as much as we enjoyed them.
Once the concert ended, Willie spent about 10 to 15 minutes on stage signing guitars, programs, albums, shirts, pictures and a bunch of personal memorabilia for people. A nice vibe to end a great concert experience. I hope he returns. I’ll go every time.
As we exited into the lobby, there was a fully stocked Willie Nelson store setup with all things and albums Willie. We bought an older CD and a copy of the concert. The USB device that the concert was recorded on allowed us to put them in our computers, Itunes or any music program for listening pleasure or disc burning, they mentioned it was fine if we burned it to CD. What a cool way to end a concert to get your own live recording ahead of the market. More artists should consider this hi tech idea. He might be a country boy, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t with it.
My friends and I were speechless for a while after the concert. There was not much to say after a performance from a real life legend. What wasn’t left on the stage was in each of our souls.
Support your favorite artists, see them in concert and buy their albums. Don’t let our legends and influences die.
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