Last Night: Willie Nelson at Arena Theater

It's been a long, loud, and smoke-filled road for Willie Nelson. And although the end of that road just might be around the next bend, Shotgun Willie can still pack 'em in and shake 'em up. The man is a legend, possessing a musical genius that elevates him into the pantheon of country music alongside Waylon and Johnny, oozing enough personality to save even the crappiest of Hollywood remakes.

Last night, the Arena Theater was treated to a show that could easily have been dubbed "Willie Nelson's Country Mixtape" or even "Willie Nelson's Honky-Tonk Karaoke Hour". Either way, it was a definitely a "hoot", as they say.

The crowd greeted Willie with a rousing welcome as he strolled between the aisles and onto the stage, warming up the old standby "Whiskey River", just as he has thousands of times before. But even though the Red Headed Stanger looks more like the Silver Haired Grandpa these days -- equipped with aged, surgically repaired hands -- the notes lifted off from Trigger as if it both were fresh off the cotton farm.

With the help of Little Sister Bobbie on piano and the English brothers on drums, Willie touched on favorites such as "Crazy," "If You've Got The Money (I've Got The Time)," and "Me and Paul" early, before slowing it down for an inspired version of "Georgia On My Mind."

As expected, he summoned up tributes to Waylon Jennings and Hank Williams, with "Good Hearted Woman" and "Jambalaya," respectively. But Aftermath's heart strings were particularly touched when Willie sang the Billy Joe Shaver tune "You Asked Me To." Something about letting the "world call me a fool," and doing "anything you ask me to" reminded us just how fast country music can turn from boot scoot to tear jerker.

We heard a story on NPR Music last week which asserted that songwriters first create a character, then write about their adventures. Not true for Willie. He IS the character that he sings about. These are his adventures.

The rest of the show included this set list:

Mama Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys On The Road Again You Are Always On My Mind Hey Good Lookin' City Of New Orleans Will The Circle Be Unbroken/I'll Fly Away Roll Me Up & Smoke Me (When I Die) I Saw The Light

Personal Bias: As Rocks Off Sr. so eloquently put it: "It's. Willie. Nelson!"

Overheard in The Crowd: He has to come out eventually! (One fan to another, while waiting for Willie outside of his tour bus).

The Crowd: Exactly like the crowd at the Method Man show I shot Friday night, only the opposite.

Random Notebook Dump: The award for "person everyone hates even though he's just doing his job" goes to: the security dude in charge of keeping the isles and area close to the stage clear of fans with camera phones. You need a raise, homie! You got a workout tonight!

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