After all these years, decades really, of listening to country singer Willie Nelson consistently deliver a signature country sound, I was thrilled to have an opportunity to capture him live. The completely sold out Mystic Showroom at the Mystic Lake Casino played host as the evenings venue to see Willie in all his glory.
Nobody delivers a lyric quite the same way as Willie — the way he makes it to the end of the line at his own pace — and he’s written many a good one, going back 50 years. With this legend being 82 years young, Willie still seems to be near the height of his powers, with a national treasure of a voice, a voice that has aged like a fine whiskey.
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His set list Saturday evening was just like the jukebox from a classic roadhouse in some special, tucked away honky-tonk. Backed by his four-piece band, he offered all the poetry, simplicity and authenticity one would expect from such a legend. When he first arrived on stage, in black T-shirt, jeans and black cowboy hat, doing the traditional opening of “Whiskey River,” his Trigger (his ancient guitar with the hole in it) spilled out the traditional Willie sound. As the songs rolled on — “Still is Still Moving to Me,” “Beer for My Horses,” “Good Hearted Woman” — Trigger settled in more and more. Willie is an offbeat, atypical virtuoso, and there are few guitarists who are more direct and expressive with the notes they choose. It was all classic — “Crazy.” “Nightlife (Ain’t No Good Life),” “Help Me Make it Through the Night,” one stunning song after and another. “Me and Paul,” about his misadventures with his drummer, was rollicking and hilarious. “Always on My Mind” was slow, gorgeous and bittersweet. His lovely take on “Georgia” was perfect in every way possible.
Willie wrapped up his 75 minute set with the well-known anthem Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die. With roars from the crowd and 10 minutes of clapping, Willie stayed on stage shaking hands and signing autographs after his set. There are many country concerts flowing through the Minneapolis Area and throughout Minnesota, however, there aren’t many things more real, more American, and more good for the soul than a Willie Nelson concert.