Willie Nelson arrives Sunday for an outdoor show at one of the rare places in the Inland Northwest he hasn’t played – the Northern Quest Resort and Casino.
Over nearly four decades as one of the nation’s top tour-bus cowboys, Nelson, 78, has played The Gorge, Riverfront Park, the Festival at Sandpoint, the old Spokane Coliseum (three times), Albi Stadium, Playfair Race Course and even the Northeast Washington Fairgrounds in Colville.
It was back in 1977 that a (relatively) fresh-faced Willie played his first show at the Coliseum.
This paper’s reviewer described him as a “middle-aged country hippie … sporting long hair under a cowboy hat, dressed in dark blue denims.”
She wrote that people “cheered, applauded and danced in the aisles” as Nelson “transcended the gap between rock and country.”
That was only the first of a long string of adoring reviews of his local shows. Here are just a few excerpts:
1980, Spokane Coliseum: “Nelson puts on a masterpiece … a voice of exceptional quality and emotion … a staggering two-hour set.”
1981, Spokane Coliseum: “Nelson began his set with a rousing version of ‘Whiskey River,’ sung to the unfurling of a gigantic Lone Star flag behind the band. When he brought things to a close two hours later, it was ‘Whiskey River’ again, as Old Glory dropped to full length at the back of the stage, obscuring the Texas state flag.”
1983, Albi Stadium: “(In the crowd of 16,000) there were drinkers, dancers and singers-along. There were brawlers and sunbathers, dope-smokers and football players. … Blue-shirted security guards rushed to quell a series of disturbances. … It was a typical Willie Nelson performance, ragged and uneven at times, alternately melancholy and jubilant, brilliantly paced and, in the end, galvanizing. … Bikers and grandmothers, doctors and bartenders stood together and roared their adulation.”
1993, Northeast Washington Fairgrounds: “Another incredible moon, another unforgettable concert. … The legendary master must have sung just about every song he ever recorded. … There wasn’t a bad song in the bunch.”
1994, Festival at Sandpoint (The Ranch venue): “Last night he played with the passion and enthusiasm of a man half his age. With a set that highlighted his timeless classics, Nelson held the audience in the palm of his hand for nearly two hours.”
1995, Playfair Race Course: “No one can sing like Willie. Few, with exception of Johnny Cash and a couple of others, have distinctive vocals that can stand on their own. … A number of times, people threw their hats on stage. Instead of kicking them aside like most performers, he wore every single one.”
2003, Riverfront Park: “It felt as if he were singing for each individual in the audience. Whether it was the borderline-unruly party animals in the beer garden, or the tamer fans seated in the front of the Lilac Bowl, everyone was thoroughly engaged.”
How can Willie Nelson possibly add to this local legacy? Another adoring crowd will find out when he takes the stage Sunday night.