Summer Fest 2012
Only a few artists can successfully play the outlaw and the hero, appeal to listeners without regard to generation or social status, plus elicit a heartfelt sing-along from a crowd of thousands.
Texas singer-songwriter Willie Nelson is one.
It has been a decade since I last saw Willie live — that time, with my parents and a few friends at his annual Fourth of July Picnic, where I learned, definitively, the scent of marijuana and the meaning of heartbreak.
Willie's hands appeared as weathered as his guitar, a signed and beaten beauty with a signficant history.
I counted fewer sexagenarians but certainly as many tokers on the hillside at Eleanor Tinsley Park on Sunday, where Willie drew throngs of eager listeners to Stage 1 of Free Press Summer Fest, despite the already-stifling summer heat and a start time dangerously close to 4:20 p.m.
Now 79, Willie looks and sounds a bit rougher for the wear, but is undoubtedly going strong. With a bandana wrapped around his thick, plaited hair, his classical guitar, Trigger, hanging from a macramé strap around his neck, he started off his long set with "Whiskey River."
At times accompanied by a soulful harmonica, a simple drum or a tinkling piano (played by his sister, Bobbie Nelson), the focus undoubtedly rested on Willie's signature strumming and nasally voice, telling stories of life and love through song. His hands appeared as weathered as his guitar, a signed and beaten beauty with a signficant history.
The band went on to perform decades-old hits, like "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys," "Georgia On My Mind" and "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain," and the crowd went wild for "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die" and "I Gotta Get Drunk."
After a set list of nearly 30 songs, Willie left the stage with a demure bow to the roaring crowd.
An appropriate farewell for a living Texas legend.