What kind of asshole leaves a Willie Nelson concert during the encore? This is the question I was pondering right as the old couple next to me also scooted out, presumably to beat the traffic, which is not noticeably affected by egress from the Old National Center in downtown Indianapolis. It takes all kinds, I guess. Even assholes.
Anyway, I stayed while Nelson finished up playing, thanked us, and then very kindly started signing ballcaps, handerchiefs, boots, and God knows what else offered up by the people standing in the front row, as well as dispensing handshakes and receiving the occasional comment from someone who felt the need to communicate with him. His band continued to play softly in the background and I watched as he crossed the entire front row before I left, feeling happy and satisfied.
There wasn’t a lot of small talk or patter during the show, Nelson simply segued seamlessly from one song to another, inspiring in me a strong desire to look up his age on Wikipedia as soon as I got home, and which is, HOLY SHIT, 79. I was thinking he looked good for 70 — at least from up in the balcony. For almost 80 he looks incredible. And his energy, well, let’s just say I can’t imagine what he would have done with his life without the calming influence of marijuana. Built a half man, half machine monster to subjugate the rest of us probably.
An allusion to this substance was one of the few breaks he took from playing songs to address the audience. “I’ve got a new gospel song I’d like to sing for y’all at this moment,” he said before sailing into a rousing rendition of “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.” On this tune he was accompanied, for no discernible reason, by his daughter Amy, who mouthed the words and danced around with much the same level of skill I would have shown if thrown onto stage with Mr Nelson. My only guess is that she’s an enthusiastic pot smoker herself. During this number I scented the unmistakable aroma of cannabis. Either Nelson has the scent piped in or someone was fulfilling a lifelong dream by very sneakily lighting up in the nonsmoking, rather heavily security-guarded venue.
The tempo of the songs was quick, snappy, and utterly professional. They played a lot of crowd favorites including “Crazy” “Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” “City of New Orleans,” “I’ll Fly Away,” and every other damn good song written by Nelson or any other country singer over the past 60 to 70 years, including one of the songs I was hoping to hear “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” I have no idea how many songs he and his four accompanists turned out, but it was an impressive number and did not pall. I’m one to be done listening well before a performer is done playing, but in this case, I was left wanting more. But his gracious “I have time for one more” after the very enthusiastic standing ovation that ended his concert was met with seeming agreement on the audience’s part. He’s old, he’s a fucking legend, he played like a goddamn champion, we’ll let him get out of here, is what we all were thinking. And then we stayed on to watch him kindly and briskly make the front row ticket holders happy. He’s a hell of a guy. And he puts on a hell of a show. Go see him if you can. Even if he lives forever, you’re not going to.