Chicago Theatre Review
On The Road Again
Willie Nelson and Family – Ravinia
On a Friday night at Ravinia, the weather was perfect, the sky was clear and a country icon gave us an unforgettable performance. Willie Nelson wrote his first song at age 7 and joined his first band at the age of 10. After high school he began his singing career at local honky-tonks and became a prolific songwriter in a career that will span over 70 years. In his early days he wrote songs that became country standards including “Hello Walls” by Ferrin Young and the well known “Crazy” which became the signature song for Patsy Cline. In the early 1970’s he turned Outlaw Country, releasing a series of albums that made him one of the most recognized and successful artists in Country Music. He furthered his career by forming the Outlaws with Waylon Jennings and Jessie Coulter. This also formed the lifelong friendship of Waylon and Willie. His next artistic venture was the legendary Highwaymen with Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon.
The current tour of Willie Nelson and family opened with his son Lukas Nelson and his band Promise of the Real. Stepping out of his fathers shadow Lukas Nelson is an intense musician with a voice reminiscent of a young early Willie, but a style all his own. One of his major influences is the great Neil Young. With his brother Micah he played with Mr. Young at the legendary Desert Trip in 2016, which I was lucky enough to have been part of. Some of the memorable moments of the evening were “Just Outside of Austin,” a beautiful ballad about his hometown. “Forget about Georgia,” written about a past girlfriend and the pain of relationships sung with raw emotion. A few of his songs had extended guitar solos showcasing his dominance of the six string. One of them was the final song “Find Yourself,” again showing his sensitive side with the lyrics “Find yourself before I find someone new” which brought the crowd to its feet.
After a short break Willie Nelson, with his trademark longs braids and bandanna hit the stage accompanied by his band including Lukas and his piano playing sister Bobbie. He opened the show with “Whiskey River,” and for the rest of evening we were treated to hit after hit spanning his entire career, by one of the most recognizable voices in music. He played his trademark Martin guitar affectionately known as Trigger: worn out with a big hole in the middle, and an endearing testament to his longevity.
Some of the musical highlights of the night were “Crazy,” “Mama Don’t let your Babies Grow up to be Cowboys,” A duet of “Georgia” with Lukas, “On the Road Again” and the touching “Always on My Mind.” He encouraged the crowd to sing along which they happily obliged. He threw out several bandannas and even a cowboy hat to the fans. It was an evening to forget about the difficulties of life while just enjoying the party atmosphere. On several songs Willie allowed his talented band members to perform solos showcasing their talents.
He eluded to his years of marijuana use with the ever popular “Roll me up and smoke me when I’m gone” a crowd pleaser for sure. He performed some old time gospel songs including the beautiful “Ill Fly Away,” and Hank Williams “I saw the Light.”
In additon to his music Willie Nelson has always been a strong advocate for many causes and a great humanitarian. He was one of the founders of Farm Aid, a supporter of the LGBT community, a proponent of bio diesel with his own company Bio Willie and a lifetime advocate for the legalization of marijuana and on the advisory board of NORML.
He ended the show poking fun at rumors of his death by performing “Still not Dead.” Fortunately for all of us he is very much alive with a timeless voice and a stage presence of his younger self. The word legend is not to be used lightly but truly defines the greatness that is Willie Nelson.
Reviewed by Terry Giardina