canada africa partner reservation Review | At 91 years old, Willie Nelson still has a show to play

Review | At 91 years old, Willie Nelson still has a show to play


Just a few days shy of his 91st birthday, Willie Nelson was in fine form at the Santa Barbara Bowl on April 24, where he showed why he has been one of America’s most important musical icons for nearly a century. From the moment he dramatically put his red, white and blue guitar strap around his neck and a giant American flag descended in the background, Willie had us all smiling and standing at attention, at least metaphorically, throughout his entire seated performance.

Backed by his old touring and recording band The Family, the setlist of familiar favorites included a mix of covers – ‘Whiskey River’ (apparently his traditional opening number), ‘Stay a Little Longer’, ‘Always on my Mind’, ‘Good Hearted Woman”, “Go On”, “Me and Bobby McGee”, “It’s Hard to Be Humble” and “Write Your Own Songs” – and Willie’s own compositions – “Still is Still Moving to Me”, “Bloody Mary Morning, ‘ ‘I never cared about you’, ‘Mama, don’t let your babies be cowboys’, ‘Angel flies too close to the ground’, ‘On the road again’, ‘Help me get through the night’, ‘Georgia On My Mind’ and ‘Fast Train to Georgia’.

Willie Nelson, his band The Family and some of his real family sing at the Santa Barbara Bowl on April 24, 2024 | Photo: Leslie Dinaberg

Before the ears of the enthusiastic singing-along audience, the youthful vigor he once played with was more than offset by his unfiltered tenacity, pure talent and heartfelt singing. And it’s hard not to be charmed by a 90-year-old singing “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me” – especially when you know that Willie, a famous reefer fan who founded the cannabis company Willie’s Reserve in 2015, really means it!

Before the show, I don’t think I realized how impressive his song catalog is. Although this was my first time seeing Willie Nelson live, memories of hearing his music at backyard gatherings and camping trips came flooding back. I’ve been listening to songs like “On the Road Again” and “Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Be Cowboys” — not to mention the Willie-penned classic “Crazy,” made famous by Patsy Cline — for what feels like my whole life. to live .
When he brought his family (including an adorable granddaughter) on stage for the last few songs, including “Will the Circle Be Unbroken / I’ll Fly Away,” it was a fitting end to his solid but somewhat short set. (I believe he played the contracted 75 minute show to the minute.)

But as writer Turk Pipkin aptly said of Nelson, “He united the hippies and the rednecks” – and he united the Santa Barbarians, too. It felt like we were all family that night at the Bowl, just singing together around the campfire to our favorite Willie Nelson tunes.