Saturday, November 23, 2013 , Updated 8:38 p.m., November 23, 2013
Concert review: Willie Nelson takes WinStar World Casino to church
Send up a prayer; three of his band members were in a bus accident early Saturday morning.
Even at 80 years old, the Red-headed Stranger can twist strings and share tales of whiskey-soaked heartbreak like he was in his prime. Country legend Willie Nelson, a grandaddy of outlaw country, performed at WinStar World Casino on Friday night, selling out weeks before the pre-Thanksgiving date.
Born and raised in the Lone Star State, Nelson’s Southern gospel roots shone through, making the kindred room feel like a spirited church service where beer-toasting and occasional curse words didn’t get a second glance.
“Always On My Mind” and “On The Road Again” peppered his 120-minute set while his band, called Family, played back-up. Some of those backing members were injured in a bus accident in East Texas hours after the show ended at WinStar in Thackerville, Oklahoma. The tour has been suspended until December, according to Nelson's Facebook page. Nelson was not on the bus.
Although age has treated the braided hippie kindly, his rolling chords Friday night ain’t what they used to be. But a study of his nimble fingers as they danced across the strings were reason enough to rejoice that audiences got to see this show, especially with the sudden cancellation of upcoming dates.
The 1962 single “Funny How Time Slips Away” surrendered to Nelson’s smoky, bluesy words — the kind that trickle out of a backroom bar in New Orleans, filled with time-worn yearning. His trusty yet battered acoustic guitar, a 1969 Martin N-20 lovingly named Trigger, is basically another part of Nelson’s body: It didn’t leave his side. The 1969 Martin N-20 classical is cracked and weathered, but it worked just fine during covers of Hank Williams’ “Move It On Over” and “Hey Good Lookin’.”
At WinStar, the Family consisted of Nelson’s pianist and sister, Sister Bobbie, percussionist Paul English and bassist Kevin Smith. The Family picked up wherever Nelson left off, whether that meant painting a track with prancing keys or adding a sassy beat. Straight from the dusty pews, Nelson’s rendition of “Walkin’,” a track he released with Texas native Norah Jones, was soaked in shaky notes and his signature drawl.
The rough-around-the-edges singer continued an unorthodox revival with the classic hymn, “I’ll Fly Away,” accompanied by daughters Paula and Amy Nelson, followed by their haunting cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen The Rain.” The slow and sweet rendition was like a calming lullaby, reflecting what country music used to be in the days of Nelson’s friends Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton.
With the recent news of the Family's injuries, we just can't wait for the band to get on the road again.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.