Willie Nelson’s autobiography, It’s a Long Story, which he wrote with David Ritz, was published in 2016. It was then – and still is – a long story.
Nelson, with help from his family, performed at the Celeste Center for the Ohio State Fair on Saturday night just three months and changed hands after his 89th birthday. Last night he said his last recording of “A Beautiful Time” was his 89th album.
It’s a really long story. One is filled with so many hit songs as a recording artist and especially as a songwriter that even loyal longtime fans might leave saying, “Oh, I forgot about that,” when reviewing his accomplishments—which, incidentally, includes appearing in 30 films.
He did as unforgettable a comprehensive look at that history as he could have hoped last night during a dazzling ensemble with an abstract band that included himself and his son Micah (known professionally as Particle Kid) on acoustic guitars, Mickey Raphael on harmonicas, Billy English on one-stop drumsticks, and double bassist Kevin Smith.
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It all started with “Whisky River”, a song written by Johnny Bush but related to Willie forever based on his recording of her on “Shotgun Willie”. The 1973 album was a great achievement for Nelson, tired of the senseless Nashville establishment sound, and led the therapy along with Waylon Jennings: “Outlaw Country.” It has been a revitalization of country music for decades.
But that’s another story, although Willie followed it up last night with “Still Moving To Me” (from 1993) and “Bloody Mary Morning” from his hit song cycle and a follow-up to “Shotgun” and “Stages and Stages.” “
Willie Nelson’s hour-long performance is intimate and generous
As he sorted through many decades of composing classic country songs, it became clear that the show was a play. But it couldn’t have looked more like a showbiz. His voice was warm, harmonious, and faithful to that soulful voice we know as Willie Nelson. Where there might have been physical restrictions, it made it seem as if there weren’t any restrictions. Rather than rushing readings trying to touch as many bases as possible – that could have taken a few hours – his tour felt like it came from a guy sharing a bunch of stories over a drink. The honesty, friendliness, and generosity of his presentation outweighed any such concerns.
He did not dwell on the past, nor its acclaimed history as one of the country’s greatest symbols. Every Willie movie has been shown here, including his well-known activism on cannabis and cannabis smoking. Micah said his father once told him, “If I die high, I’ll be halfway to heaven,” adding that it sounds like a great song title. So he coined it “I die when I’m high (halfway to heaven).” Last night was not only a humorous tribute to his father’s lifestyle but also a good bond between generations. Willie’s “Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die” continued this theme.
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After Willy admitted that they’ve been watching a lot of TV lately, the pair performed a hilarious tune called “Everything (expletive)”, which spoke well of the patriarch’s still-rebellious spirit.
Tradition, though—as Wylie and other country greats have written—was never far away. “Move It On Over” by Hank Williams and Terry Fells was the timeless “Truck Drivin’ Man” in the pocket. The set included the timeless movie “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” as well as a couple of arrangements traceable to the bluegrass tradition.
If it’s a long story, it was summed up briefly and sweetly by Willie Nelson last night, clocking in just one very satisfying hour.
Noah Guthrie and Good Trouble opened with a nodding collection for both the Allman Brothers (“Whipping Post” cover and blues tunes inspired by them and the likes of Chris Stapleton) and contemporary country. Guthrie’s serviceable voice and strong originals mostly carried the ball, but his support team was impressive. A member of the cast of the TV show “Glee,” Guthrie has a solid future in country music with two albums under his belt.