San Francisco, CA
April 16, 2007
Willie Nelson: An American Original
What can be said about Willie Nelson that hasn’t already been said? While he is a true cultural icon, he is also a true survivor. He turns 74 years old in a couple weeks but still sells out 5 nights at the Fillmore in San Francisco and still puts on an awesome show. Willie has come to symbolize an earnest freedom that once characterized what was most alluring about America. Big skies, vast open plains, the never-ending highway that led to infinite promise and possibility. Oh, yeah, and old-fashioned, good-time, incorrigible rebellion. Willie celebrates rebellion as long as it is in pursuit of a good time. He may regret it the next day, but he will embrace it tonight. And he certainly embraced a good time Monday night at the Fillmore, refusing to leave the stage even after announcing that this was the last song, well, OK, one more. Well, one more.
Willie doesn’t play by the rules. And what’s not to love about that? Getting high on the roof of the White House with the Secret Service, not paying taxes to the Man, married four times, getting cited last year for marijuana possession (at 73 years old). He writes and performs music, has written books, acted in movies. He’s performed with almost every major music star of the past 50 years that you can name. He’s lived a Big Life. And what’s most wonderful about Willie Nelson is that he has done it all while still maintaining a generous, mellow, humble persona. As a result, he engenders great genuine affection from his fans who are deeply devoted.
Willie doesn’t play by the rules in his music either. There is nothing hip about country music. The time signature is always the same, there is little variance in key, the subject matter is all the same. But if there is a hip country music performer, it is Willie Nelson. While he has perfected his own unrelenting rough-edged, honky-tonk signature sound that sometimes can overshadow well-crafted songs, it is very unique and very American. The music sounds jagged and unfinished at times and in the center is Willie’s voice. His voice is warm and nostalgic, world-weary but still sympathetic and full of life. Although he played just under 2 hours, he still covered all his greatest hits and many covers as well. See, selected list below.
There is also a wistful nostalgia about many of Willie Nelson’s songs. Many are about beaten-down characters who can’t help themselves despite the fact that they know better. Jack Kerouac wrote “Beat doesn't mean tired, or bushed, so much as it means beato, the Italian for beatific: to be in a state of beatitude, like Saint Francis, trying to love all life, trying to be utterly sincere with everyone, practicing endurance, kindness, cultivating joy of heart.” If there is a country artist that could be described as Beat, it would be Willie Nelson. His last album is called Last of the Breed, another apt description of an irreplaceable American artist.
A Few Songs from Monday Night: Whiskey River, Crazy, Me and Bobby McGee, Pancho and Lefty, Blue Skies, I’ll Fly Away, I Saw the Light, Good Hearted Woman, Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys, Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain, Always on My Mind, City of New Orleans, On The Road Again, If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time, so many more.