So, I have a confession to make. I was born in raised in Austin, Texas, and never once saw outlaw country legend Willie Nelson perform. Not at his annual Fourth of July Picnic, not at any of the myriad honky tonks around town, not even on Austin City Limits. When a musician is as omnipresent as Willie is in Austin, it can be easy to look the other way.
But after last night’s packed outdoor concert at the Idaho Botanical Gardens, I have to say, I finally get it. At 77, Willie still puts on one heck of a show. He seemed right at home, framed by the settling dusk and the rising foothills, with his weathered, hole-ridden guitar held around his neck by a tattered red, white and blue strap.
Even though he’s been performing for well over 50 years, Willie sang each song so genuinely that you could feel the ache and resignation in every last lyric. Standing near the front of the stage, I was touched to see Willie’s interactions with fans—he made eye-contact, pointed and smiled at the folks who knew the lyrics and even tossed his iconic red bandana to a woman near the stage (see video below).
The set list was peppered with favorites like “Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” “Crazy,” “Georgia,” "You Were Always on My Mind" and “On the Road Again.” And Willie even threw in some covers, like Hank Williams' “Hey, Good Lookin’” and Waylon Jennings' "Good Hearted Woman."
Though last night’s show did help fan the flames of my Texas pride, I feel a twinge of regret for waiting so long to hop on the Willie Nelson fan train. Here’s hoping Nelson goes on the road again sometime soon and makes his way back to Boise.