It Doesn’t Get Any Better Than Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson. From WikiMedia Commons.
Willie Nelson. From WikiMedia Commons.

As the old joke goes, Willie Nelson brought both kinds of music to the Target Center: country and western.  

There’s nothing to say about Willie Nelson that hasn’t been said. He’s one of the last handful of surviving legendary country singers. His catalog of hits and country standards is practically endless, and his overlooked albums since the 80s mostly stand up with them.  

He still releases an album of worthwhile material every year. His latest, Ride Me Back Home, came out in June. It’s a tender, gorgeous collection of mostly new songs.  

Legendary singer and fiddle player Alison Krauss opened the night with her signature blend of folk, pop, and bluegrass. Opener “River in the Rain” (the Roger Miller tune) was especially beautiful, and “Forget About It” and Glen Campbell’s “Gentle on my Mind” were also highlights. Her voice was as big and bold as ever, especially on a breathtaking cover of Willie’s “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” and “Down to the River to Pray.” 

The Red Headed Stranger

Willie’s set focused on the classics. And man, are there classics. Quintessential country stomp “Whiskey River” opened the show, as it always does. Then the hits kept coming: Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys,” “On the Road Again,” “Always on my Mind,” and on and on and on.  

A few new songs made the cut, though, including Snoop Dogg collaboration “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” and a couple tracks from Ride Me Back Home.   

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Old friends

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Heroes and Friends 

A Willie Nelson show is a crash course in the history of country music, and not just because he plays his own tunes. The set included covers of Hank Williams (“Jambalaya,” “Hey Good Looking,” and “Move it on Over”) and tributes to Waylon Jennings (“Good Hearted Woman”) and Merle Haggard (“It’s All Going to Pot”). 

He might be 86, but Willie shows only minimal signs of aging. His voice is a little (more) ragged, but his erratic, jazzy guitar playing hasn’t lost any of its power. It was very loud in the sound system, and for good reason.

For the Good Times

Perhaps most importantly, a Willie Nelson concert brings joy. The crowd sang along to practically every song, and the closing medley of old spirituals “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”/”I’ll Fly Away” is the closest you’ll get to church without actually being there. And that’s a compliment.

More than a country music icon, Willie Nelson is a true American original. His singular voice and guitar playing, along with his vast catalog of classic songs, make him one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. His concerts, even at 86, are required viewing. 

Written by Erik Ritland

Erik Ritland is a songwriter, musician, journalist, and podcaster based in Nashville, Tennessee. He’s released over a dozen albums since 2002, most recently Old Dog Almost Gone (2021), the first-ever multimedia album, and his latest collection of all original material, A Scientific Search (2020). During his 15+ years as a music journalist, Erik has written hundreds of articles for Music in Minnesota, Something Else Reviews, his own blog Rambling On, and more. In addition to continuing his music career, Erik currently runs The Cosmic American, a music journalism website, and is the editor of Music in Minnesota.


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