Willie Nelson Concert

Matt and I went and saw a Willie Nelson concert last night.   Yeeehaw!
I must say though that it was one of the strangest shows I've ever been to.  Musically it was outstanding.  Really outstanding.  Send you out of this world on a wave of beauty outstanding.  Willie really blew me away, making more diverse sounds out of an acoustic guitar that I'd have though possible.  Segueing from rocking, dirty blues to traditional folk to silly songs about how no one thinks he's funny anymore which made me crack up.  He hit the old favorites like On the Road Again, Crazy, Always on Mind, Good Hearted Woman, Mama's Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys, Georgia On My Mind, as well as Beer for my Horses, Healing Hands of Time, Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die, and Bloody Mary Morning.   He also played several I'd never heard of before which was neat.    He had about ten pre-folded bandannas to wear and kept flinging them off his head into the crowd.  I kid you not the first one he threw into the crowd made the people near me in the balcony lean forward as if there was any chance they'd catch it all the way up there.  Then fans started throwing bandannas and hats up on stage and he'd wear it for a while and then fling in out for some one else.  It was pretty fun to watch.  I imagine that seeing Willie Nelson rockin' your bandanna makes the show even that much sweeter.
He played City of New Orleans, a favorite tune of mine to play on my guitar, and he quite garbled the words.  I suppose some people might hate it when that happens.  I for one almost like it.  It is a million times better than the lip-syncing that happens with many contemporary acts.  I certainly wouldn't enjoy it if it happened every song, but the occasional mental lapse seems special.  When I was singing along I felt like I was helping him get through it.  And it was still lovely even if verse one and two merged....and verse two and three.    Perhaps this is something I developed an appreciation for by listening to so many live Grateful Dead tunes.  It happens to the best of them....Jerry, Phil, Bobby, Willie.
Lyle Lovett and his Big Band (who opened) were also quite excellent and since I'd never really heard them before it was even better than I hoped.  The highlight of his set was a stunning rendition of  I'll Come Knocking.  Though that song was sung by a small group the majority of his set was with the Big Band.  He had a 15 piece band.  Big band indeed.  I tried to take a few photos, but couldn't get anything decent.  Matt finally figured it out, but after Willie had already started.  At the end of Willie's set Lyle and his pianist came out to join Willie in singing I'll Fly Away.  It was a lovely song to end the show on.
As to the strangeness, well, first off it was supposed to be held outdoors at a soccer park.  At the end of last week the venue was suddenly changed to the Alberta Bair Theatre.  So, now the show is indoors.  At the sort of uppity opera/symphony/play type theater.  Hmmmmm....okay.  Outdoor shows have, in my humble opinion, a much more roomy, flexible, cool, and relaxed vibe than indoor shows.  I think the crowd was strange because it was indoors when everyone had been planning on an outdoor show.  Everyone was sitting down!  There was NO dancing!  People in fact "got after you" if you tried to dance at your seat because they couldn't see.  Which in a way I understand.....but not really.  Everyone should have just been dancing!   There was LOTS of shhhhhhhhhhhhushing, too.  Shushing....at a Willie Nelson concert.  I've never hear shushing at any concert before.  Then came the weirdest part:  Lyle Lovett, the "opening act," got a standing ovation and did an encore.  That's right, the opening act did an encore.  Okay, that was a tad weird, but it is Lyle Lovett not just some act no one has ever heard of.  But then Willie DIDN'T do an encore.  People didn't even really give him a standing ovation....unless you count everyone standing up to collect their things and leave a standing ovation.  Which I don't.  As soon as the band stopped playing the last song the house lights and music came on and roadies started tearing down the set.  Immediately.  It was downright bizarre.  I was standing there cheering, stunned.  Was everyone really leaving?  On what planet does the headliner NOT do an encore and the opener does?  I've never seen that before either.  The ABT also played Willie Nelson music during the break between acts and after the show.  Another first at a concert for me.  Usually the house music is of the same genre, but certainly not the very act performing.  I heard some of the songs played as house music that he then played live at the concert.  Very weird set up for a Willie Nelson concert.  Maybe they aren't used to this type of thing down there at the ABT.  Yeesh, that seems like a lot of complaining.   Sorry about that.... it really was an excellent performance by both artists.
So, I have sort of mixed feelings about the experience if you can't tell.  It is too bad because I think a show at Amend Park would have been much, much better for everyone... all around.  I think the crowd would have been more responsive and lively which in turns makes the band get more responsive and lively.  A good crowd makes the band play better.  It also would have been a beautiful night to dance outside. It was so wonderfully good and so disappointing at the same time... I suppose because it wasn't as good as I thought it could have been.  It wasn't the same show I bought tickets for months ago.  On the other hand I should just focus on how musically delightful it was and that I got to see Willie Nelson live!  I certainly don't regret going.  I just hope that Billings made a good enough impression that he'll come back.  I'd definitely go see him again.  And hopefully it will really be outdoors next time. 


  1. i saw him at the Shrine a few years ago - amaaaazing show. "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground" and "Seven Spanish Angels" are my faves, but all of his hits are so good - and some of his non-hits too. he just does something for my soul. oh and "Blue Eyes Cryin' in the Rain."

    Think about how poor Willie must have felt in the stuffy snooty ABT. Yikes. Poor guy. I saw Kathy Mattea there in college and it was awesome, but I agree, so weird to not be able to bounce around. :)

  2. i wonder how poor willie felt in the stuffy ol' ABT. yikes. i saw him a couple years ago at the shrine and it was amazing. i'm pretty sure i got a little bit of a contact high, but amazing nonetheless! :)

    "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground" is my fave - along with "Seven Spanish Angels," and there's just something he does with "Blue Eyes Cryin' in the Rain" - sigh. warms my soul.

  3. I lived in Austin years ago (college) and Willie would show up around town and sing a song with whomever was performing. It was so cool because someone would hand him a beer and everyone would clap then just listen to him sing.

  4. We LOVE Lyle Lovett!!!!!!!!! Have a CD or two we play while on the road. We had the same experience as far as verse being run together and forgetting with Loretta Lynn a few years back but we understood as she is no Spring chicken and aging sucks in the memory department.

  5. Great concert review, wish we could have made this one. I like Willie but Lyle is special--there are days that nothing but a couple of listens to "If I had a Boat" will fix.

  6. Remember, he is pushing 80 years old. I am 65 and would prefer this venue over the outdoors. He was discharged from the AF because of back problems. I imagine many of his fans, like me, have back problems or issues that make outdoors and the mobility involved difficult. It is wonderful that young people still want to dance at his concerts, but do understand that is not what is required for old hippies or old country fans to enjoy concerts. I was watching a televised event on tv at an indoor venue, music from the 60s. I WAS SO SHOCKED when the camera was on the audience. Why on earth were all these old, fat, balding, grey-haired folks rocking and singing to all the songs of my youth. Where were all the young people who originally loved this music. Oh, Linda, go look in the mirror. Ah yes...there was a young fan turned old, grey, and fat...lol.

  7. As I said I wasn't too familiar with Lyle before the show, but boy oh boy did he make a great impression! I am certainly a fan now. (I am listening to If I Had a Boat right now because I am not familiar with that one yet) I've been bouncing back and forth between the two artists on the online radio. Amazing. I went and checked out CDs of both from the library. I'll say it again, amazing.

    Oh Linda, I understand what you are saying, but it doesn't change my verdict about the show. The change in venue wasn't announced until right before the show so a majority of ticket holders had bought tickets for an outdoors show, expecting all that goes along with it including a lack of seating. If you want a seat, bring a chair. I've seen that done countless times at festivals and outdoor concerts. I've even done it myself!

    Also, I see Bob Weir (65) and Phil Lesh (71 yr old transplant survivor) play several times a year and have seen plenty of "old" folks dancing their socks off with the young. I saw Bob Dylan (70) last year and the "old" fans were mostly dancing. Actually, unlike at the ABT, there was place for BOTH sitting and dancing. So, I stand by my assessment. The ABT was not the best choice of venue for such a show.

    If you ask me, I think it has nothing to do with his age or heath (he was moving and grooving on stage) and everything to do with money (go figure). I think the promoter suddenly realized that it was going to be a nightmare to keep (non-ticket holding) people out at Amend Park which has no fences. (Uh, duh!) Willie's other show in Montana was still held outdoors. As a ticket holder I say: Not my problem and they should be experienced enough in the business to know better. Its not like this is the first show they've ever promoted in Billings. Moving to the ABT also forced them to retract their offer that kids under 14 were free with a ticket holder. I don't have kids, but that seems pretty darn bogus to me. Especially with such short notice.

    Also, for the record, I've been to and greatly enjoyed many sit down shows...where it was expected that everyone sit quietly and just watch and listen...maybe tap your toe a little. I just never would have expected that from a Willie Nelson show in a million years.

    Perhaps Phil, Bobby, and Bob have spoiled me though when it comes to "old" folks rockin' it both on stage and off.

    Regardless the show is now past to history and I enjoyed every moment of the music. That is a blessing in its own right.

    If I Had a Boat IS really good. Thanks Rover.

  8. I attended a Willie concert on a date in Mobile, Alabama, back when I was about your age! Wasn't a big country fan, but gotta love Willie Nelson. Every time Hubby and I start on an extended road trip, I hook up the Ipod to the car and blast "On The Road Again" as we leave the driveway!

  9. I've enjoyed reading your experience of the concert and I agree - how bizarre for a concert! But sounds like the music was good, even if some of the audience was not.

  10. Dmarie - I too wouldn't consider myself a big country fan, but some of this truly old-time country music is more than worthwhile. Modern country sounds like pop music to me. Give me the old folksy stuff! That sounds like a sweet road trip tradition. Set you off right. I like it a lot.

    Tania - Thanks! Great music can make even the strangest crowd manageable.


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