There is not an ostentatious bone in this man’s body. He ran onto the Pacific Amphitheatre stage around 8:15pm, grabbed his guitar Trigger, took a quick look around at his band, and shot right into, “Whiskey River.” Taking mere 5 to 10 second pauses in-between, Nelson spat through more than 20 songs, including crowd favorites, “Beer For My Horses,” “Me and Paul,” “Good Hearted Woman,” “Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” and “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”
He commands the stage with an ease produced only by passion and practice. In beat up Levi’s, an old t-shirt, and a red bandana he donned after throwing his straw cowboy hat to a frantic front row fan, 79-year-old Nelson put on a performance untouched by his contemporaries. This was not a “comeback” or “revival” show. No last ditch effort or final curtain call. The guy plays along with his family and fellow band mates like he’s at the peak of his heyday. Giving humble nods to his talented younger sister, Bobbie, whose fast fingers hammer out a ragtime solo from behind her grand piano, and his son Lukas, whose mind-melting rendition of “It’s Floodin’ Down in Texas,” had the sold-out crowd on their feet—after which Nelson jeered, “you can only teach them so much.”
Willie Nelson is rawhide and rose tanned leather. He is sweet tea and bourbon. Teacher and flunky. The man brought me closer to God and the Devil, made me feel young yet old, and pulled on both my American and anarchistic heartstrings. But most of all, listening to his lyrical wisdom on a hot summer night made me feel alive—deeming theTrigger Master fully worthy of the often hackneyed title, “legend.” I deem you.