Willie Nelson’s hair isn’t as crimson as it used to be.
The 81-year-old’s flowing locks have grayed and whitened, occasionally seen escaping a subtle cowboy hat and resting on his Texan shoulders. It flanks his weathered face, worn and rough like the exterior of his instrumental companion Trigger, a trusty Martin N-20 nylon-string acoustic guitar that’s hung at the country legend’s chest for more than 40 years.
But appearances can be misleading – especially when referring to a performer whose songwriting, instrumental precision and vocal subtlety have touched musicians and fans alike for six decades. Consider his face’s whitened stubble and you might question how much time he has left. Close your eyes and listen to him sing and deftly navigate the frets on ol’ Trigger and you’ll realize that, gray hair be damned, the Red-Headed Stranger might ride forever.
Such truth was on display on Saturday night at Artpark, where Nelson and his Family – with support from Allison Krauss and Union Station, Jerry Douglas and special guest Kacey Musgraves – churned out an evening’s worth of country serenades and stompers that have only gotten better with age.
On tour in anticipation of his album “Band of Brothers,” his first offering of predominately original songs in almost 20 years, Nelson is not navigating the same musical landscape that once heralded his 1985 Farm Aid appearance. It’s one of iTunes downloads, YouTube clips and inventive publicity appearances, like his Thursday performance on television shopping network QVC. Does sharing time with Lori Greiner and Chaz Dean hair products seem odd for someone whose Country Music Hall of Fame career has steered the crossover success of Ryan Adams and Lucinda Williams? Sure – if he didn’t still have something to sell.
That’s not the case with Nelson, who showed Saturday’s Lewiston crowd he can still deal out new material and known classics.
Casually entering the Artpark stage, Shotgun Willie unleashed a wobbly Trigger for traditional opener “Whiskey River.” Clad in all black, he momentarily struggled to manage the strings – but what can you expect from a Martin that appears to have endured cannon fire? By the time he followed it up with his Toots Hibbert collaboration “Still Is Still Moving To Me” and Waylon Jennings-assisted duo of “Good Hearted Woman” and “Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” Nelson was expertly managing the acoustic once again, effortlessly jumping from one chord to another.
With this control, he was able to deal out two of the night’s favorite moments: a medley including hits “Night Life” and Nelson-penned Patsy Cline classic “Crazy”; and the Buffalo-set “Me and Paul.” On the former, Willie’s transition between the two gave the crowd a sing-along two-for-one. On the latter, the night’s ageless star was at his crowd-pleasing best before bringing Coors Lights to the air on the line, “I guess Buffalo ain’t geared for me and Paul.”
Before Nelson delivered, the night began with stunning pop country it-girl Kacey Musgraves, who arrived on stage in Stetsons to Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walking” before strolling the Lewiston crowd through reflective singles like “Merry Go Round” and the upbeat “Follow Your Arrow.”
Grammy Award-winning Allison Krauss and Union Station followed, with dobro aficionado and frequent band member Jerry Douglas in tow. After joining for sublime early numbers like “The Lucky One” and “Ghost In This House,” they raised the Musgraves pace with Ron Block-led barnyard banjo jams and Jerry Douglas’ hypnotic and spotlit slide guitar solos.
Before the end, Dan Tyminski – Union Station’s guitarist and vocalist who served as the singing voice of George Clooney on “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou” – led Krauss and the band through a rousing edition of the movie’s hit single, “I Am a Man Of Constant Sorrow,” as one of their set’s final songs.
See a photo gallery of Nelson, Krauss and Musgraves on Buffalo.com courtesy of News photographer Harry Scull Jr.