Lately, I've been listening to a lot of country music. Serendipitiously, Willie Nelson was playing at the Fillmore last night, I had a client who expressed interest, and off we went. Bottom line: if you get a chance to see this guy play, go.
He's a national treasure. He's played with and written music for almost anyone in country music who matters -- when he plays Patsy Cline's 1961 hit "Crazy" it's a little sobering to realize that he wrote it. He has an absolutely unique vocal style -- half talking, half singing -- and his phrasing is incredibly effective, and unlike anyone else's, either.
It's a simple show. He has a pianist, a drummer (who plays a snare drum, and that's it -- no cymbals, no nothing), a bass player, a second gutarist, a harmonica player and a percussionist. The band plays in front of an enormous Texas flag, and there isn't a lot of byplay. He walks on, the audience goes nuts, and he just starts to play.
The man has been playing hundreds of shows a year for forty years. And when I say "playing", I mean it. He plays a famous, beat-up guitar, that's so worn that there's a big hole ground into the soundboard from constant picking. But he can really, really play -- complicated solos, and no mistakes.
And towards the end, he launches into Steve Goodman's classic City of New Orleans -- remember, the song you sang at camp, and in school?
Dealin' card games with the old men in the club car.
Penny a point ain't no one keepin' score.
Pass the paper bag that holds the bottle
Feel the wheels rumblin' 'neath the floor.
And the sons of pullman porters
And the sons of engineers
Ride their father's magic carpets made of steel.
Mothers with their babes asleep,
Are rockin' to the gentle beat
And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel.
When someone like Willie Nelson sings those words, they're not just entertainment. They're as real as real can be. See him if you can.