“It was on our bucket list,” Valerie told me. “When we saw he was playing at the Broward Center we just had to go.” Now that’s no ordinary snowbird.
In fact the lady next to me, Kitty, flew all the way from Auburn, Wash. (that’s Washington state) – the Seattle area-to-South Florida is about the farthest distance you can travel in the continental United States.
“When I saw he was coming I kept trying to buy my mom a ticket,” her son Chuck explained. “It was the last one available.” For Kitty another dream became reality.
Kitty and I sat in the third row, and at the Broward Center, which doesn’t have a bad seat in the house, it was as if we were on stage. I have to say, watching Kitty, who is even older than Nelson’s 78 years, smiling from ear to ear and even standing up and dancing (she uses a walker) made the show extra special for me.
As we all know Willie Nelson is a legendary American country music singer-songwriter, as well as an author, poet and actor. Seeing Nelson live brings back the real truth and beauty of what made the backbone of America. At least the good old USA, where manual labor in the fields and working in steel mills brought food to the table.
Nelson is not decorated with tattoos on his body, at least from what I could see. His signature braids, red bandana and simple clothing are as weathered as his guitar. Nelson calls his guitar “Trigger” and there is a worn seeping hole in the guitar’s body near the sound hole from the constant strumming. I couldn’t get the exact date but I think Nelson purchased the guitar around 1970 and has been quoted as saying, “When Trigger goes, I’ll quit.”
Well I hope that isn’t anytime soon. Nelson’s voice was a pure as the midnight rain and his guitar picking can quiet your soul, evoke emotions of sadness or joy or make you want to stomp your feet.
Nelson mixed up the set list with his own original hits like “On the Road Again”, “The City of New Orleans”, “Me and Paul” (in reference to his longtime percussionist Paul English) and “Always on My Mind” as well as playing his version of the songs of some the great musicians who influenced his work. Nelson played Hank Williams’ “Hey Good Looking”, “Move It On Over” and “Jambalaya” (also known as “Me Oh My on the Bayou”).
When Nelson played “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys” the crowd was signing along. In fact the fans sang throughout the night to songs like “Good Hearted Woman” by Waylon Jennings, “Me and Bobby McGee” by Kris Kristofferson as well as Albert Hammond’s “To All the Girls I Loved Before”. The gospel hymn “I’ll Fly Away’ was a huge success. During “Georgia on My Mind”, a classic Ray Charles song, Kitty leaned over and whispered in my ear: “I just want to box him and take him home.”
Closing up the night Nelson explained how his doctor had ordered him to stop performing after having carpal tunnel surgery in 2004 from strumming his guitar. Nelson shared with us that during that time he just wrote more songs. He then moved into the song “Superman” with lyrics about pain pills and blowing up his tour. Funny but cute. To top it off Nelson entertained us with a new song “Roll Me Up and Smoke We When I Die”. Touché.
There were just so many great songs and Nelson never skipped a beat. He would occasionally stop and smile at the crowd his blue eyes looking out at the audience, his “cowboy” weathered look a testimony of the road he has traveled.
To top off the night of incredible music performance, Nelson signed his autograph close to 100 times for fans on anything from T-shirts, bandanas and pictures to concert tickets. The Whelans got a book, a picture and a T-shirt signed making that 3,000-mile journey even better. As for Kitty, I jumped up front and got her ticket signed and had a moment to look Nelson in the eye and say “Thank you”.
Amazing how just an autograph from someone you have idolized for years will become a treasure of a lifetime.