Willie Nelson’s voice wasn’t pitch perfect. His guitar playing, at times, sounded like an acoustical train wreck. He didn’t sing the melody to many of his hits. But as his new song says, “He isn’t Superman.”
He’s Willie Nelson. He’s 80 years old. He’s a living legend.
And no one at Germain Arena on Tuesday night had misgivings. The hooting, hollering crowd came to pay tribute to the country music hall of famer.
They also — maybe inadvertently because Nelson was to supposed to play Estero in January — came to celebrate his birthday, even though there’s a bit of a controversy about which day he was actually born.
“Are you ready to celebrate Willie’s 80th birthday,” said opening act Jamey Johnson, who receive a loud assertive cheer from the 2,500 attending. “He actually ruined it because he said he was born just before midnight.
So doesn’t anyone want to leave?”
The crowd answered with a boisterous, “No!”
They gave Nelson a standing “O” the moment he appeared on stage. They remained standing and cheering for more than two minutes.
Then Nelson gave them all he’s still got.
As a giant Texas flag dropped behind him, Nelson started the show with his hit “Whiskey River.”
Then there was a moment that no one could have imagined back in 1933. Almost every fan in the audience pulled out a smartphone and started recording a keepsake video.
They all wanted a personalized memory of Nelson.
For 90 minutes, Nelson gave them want they wanted. He stood front and center with his best friend, Trigger, a beaten-and-battered, autographed-filled Martin guitar, around his neck.
Nelson and Trigger sounded a little rough at first, as if they were having a lovers’ quarrel. With his second song of the set “Still is Still Moving to Me,” Nelson was off beat with his pickin’.
His distinct baritone voice sounded so shaky during “Beer for the Horses,” it was hard to even recognize the chart-topping hit he sang with Toby Keith.
As if he was looking for some inspiration from the crowd, many of whom were wearing Texas flag shirts, bandannas on their heads and had their hair in pigtails, he broke into the Kris Kristofferson classic “Help Me Make It Through the Night.”
From then on, Nelson never stopped. He made it through the night with barely a break. And as the night wore on he was like a fine wine: He got better.
Nelson paid tribute to other legends, singing Waylon Jennings’ “Good-Hearted Woman” and Hank Williams “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” and “Hey, Good Lookin.” During the Jennings classic, a haze of distinctive-smelling smoke appropriately floated above Nelson’s head.
Johnson also paid tribute to Nelson, calling him a “the best little brother,” and singing the Jennings’ hit “Walkin’.” Johnson was the perfect fit for a Nelson concert. He’s classic country complete with a steel-guitar and organ in his ensemble. He’s a throwback who appreciates his roots.
His latest album is a homage to songwriter Hank Cochran, and Johnson did him justice by singing an effortless and beautiful rendition of “I Fall to Pieces.” Johnson’s deep southern voice is distinctive and unique. And when he sang the beginning of his No. 1 song “In Color” a cappella it created goose bumps. No wonder the arena filled up before the opening act.
Nelson finally hit his vocal stride playing songs he made famous, “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” “You Were Always on My Mind,” and “On The Road Again.”
Most of the crowd marveled that Nelson is still on the road at his age.
To remind them about believing, Nelson sent them to church with an amen-filled “I Saw the Light,” and “I’ll Fly Away.”
Nelson even joked about his own mortality, singing his most recent hit, “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”
But to show he’s still celebrating life, Nelson gave the fans what they wanted. He performed “Happy Birthday,” belting out “Happy Birthday to Me.”
Only he could get away with singing to himself.
He’s Willie Nelson. He’s a living legend.