Although country icon Willie Nelson’s guitar and face were worn from many years on the road, he proved his talent and tunes stand the test of time.
Eighty-four-year-old Nelson played with special guest Kacey Musgraves at Northern Quest in Airway Heights on Tuesday night.
Country queen Musgraves’s 45-minute performance and youthful spirit were integral elements of the show. Her easygoing and fun personality shone like the glitter on her microphone stand.
Obviously, most of the fans came for Nelson – except for one who repeatedly shouted, “Kacey,” during her set – but Musgraves’s smooth-as-butter voice and skillful guitar playing kept them engaged as they waited. She executed vocal runs with ease.
It was clear that the singer-songwriter connected with her songs’ stories about her hometown, love and loss. She also played unique covers that surpassed the original tracks’ quality, including “Mama’s Broken Heart” by Miranda Lambert and a feminine, Southern spin on “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley. I have heard many musicians cover Barkley’s song but none have impressed me quite like Musgraves.
Before Musgraves exited the stage, she paid tribute to country legend Glen Campbell, who died Tuesday, with a performance of his hit “Rhinestone Cowboy.” A complete gamut of human emotion was on display: nostalgia, sorrow and celebration.
A deafening roar filled the outdoor space when Nelson appeared donning his signature long, gray braids. I immediately realized that not many musicians – young or old – can play a guitar as skillfully as the legend. Musgraves said that he “might be bigger than Jesus” in her home state of Texas, and the way his fingers flew across the frets and strings suggested divine inspiration. Nelson’s “little” sister Bobbie – who’s actually two years older – also showcased her dazzling piano skills, which equaled her brother’s knack for playing the guitar.
Every time Nelson transitioned to a new song, a hush fell over the crowd. After more than 50 years of making music, his nasally baritone continues to mesmerize an audience.
When Nelson sang the 1981 track “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” you could hear a pin drop apart from the occasional cheer. The spectators were basking in the nostalgia while listening to the song. Soon after, he sang “On the Road Again” and his grin echoed the song’s sentiments: Nelson was clearly happy to be performing.
Despite his age, Nelson could sing in his higher register and the audience gladly filled in when he could not. The most memorable performance of the night was “Always on My Mind,” which elicited a standing ovation from a large chunk of the audience. His expertly executed guitar riffs and haunting vocals proved worthy of praise and quite a few tears that sneaked down my cheeks.
Throughout the night, Nelson paid tribute to late country stars, including Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard and Hank Williams. He played his and Jennings’s song “Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” Haggard’s “It’s All Going to Pot” and Williams’s “Hey, Good Lookin’.”
But a tribute to his duet partner and friend Campbell was noticeably absent. Perhaps the wound was too fresh. Regardless, I think Campbell would have been proud of another legend’s continued efforts to spread joy through music.
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