Willie Nelson didn’t have time for idle concert chit chat during his Saturday night appearance at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. With over 20 songs of life, death and love to sing, it was no wonder the 83-year-old, once red-headed now beautifully grey-headed stranger, never stopped for some mindless banter with the sold-out crowd of 75,008. But who needs the requisite reminder of how many times he’s stood on that rodeo stage (10) or his status as a Texas legend and national treasure (that pretty much goes without saying). He’s Willie Nelson live in Houston and still delivering so much life to the music he makes.
In prime Willie-ness, jeans, red bandana wrapped around his forehead and braids down to his beloved Trigger, Nelson took the stage and jumped right into his classic “Whiskey River.” Whiskey became something of a minor theme of the evening, with a set that also included “Beer for My Horses.” But then drinking, loving, losing and just living life as best as possible are the subjects of so many of his own great songs as well as some of the other classics he sang during the evening.
With only a few pauses to thank the crowd, Nelson and his band kept the musical stories flowing from one song to the next almost as if he was reading us chapters in the book of his and all of our lives. His voice might have grown rough but wise with eight decades of living and singing, but he can still add his unique interpretation in each song to gift us a rich, true story.
From his own 1980 hit “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” about the complexities of love found and then lost when set free, to the Cajun-fun concentrate in Hank Williams’s "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)," Nelson showed us all how to spin a good musical yarn.
The classics kept coming with little introduction except the odd tributary nod to the song’s writer or co-writer. He took us “On the Road Again,” confessed we were “Always on My Mind” and, with some laced irony for the venue, warned all the mothers in the rodeo crowd: "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.”
Humor and, perhaps not so incidentally, death were also themes of the evening but with Nelson those subjects are never too far apart. Yes, he included a lovely rendition of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” that transformed into “I’ll Fly Away” but he balanced those gospel odes with “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” and, towards the end of the set, one of his newest songs “Still Not Dead Again Today.”
Whether this was Nelson's last Houston rodeo or just his latest, with more appearances awaiting us in the coming years, no one in NRG Stadium will likely forget this concert even when they, too, reach 83 years young.
Still Is Still Moving to Me
Beer for My Horses
Good Hearted Woman
Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys
Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground
On the Road Again
Always on My Mind
Georgia on My Mind
It's All Going to Pot
Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die
Jambalaya (On the Bayou)
Hey Good Lookin'
Move It On Over
Will the Circle Be Unbroken
I'll Fly Away
I Saw the Light
Still Not Dead Again Today