Willie Nelson, Thursday, Nov. 4; Thomas Wolfe Auditorium.
Willie for President?
Believe it or not, a stellar, post-election performance from the unwavering, lovable outlaw made a staunch case for the merits of a Willie Nelson White House.
In our increasingly divided modern America, nobody’s better suited than Willie to transcend the gargantuan chasms splitting public opinion on a slew of hot-button issues. If you want a candidate who can snag boatloads of ballots from red and blue states alike, look no further than this braided icon and his battered guitar.
Folkies and longhairs love Willie ’cause he’s a longhair, too. Country folk and cowboys can’t resist his proud Texas-American thing — not to mention his undying support for American farmers via Farm Aid. And plentiful whiskey ditties from the man’s awe-inspiring catalogue cast him favorably among registered drunks of all stripes — including politicians, cowboys and hippies alike.
To further swoon a polarized electorate, Willie works a sensitive streak as beautifully brazen as any of his hell-raising fare. Anyone who’s ever cried about lost love, lost dreams and everything lost in between will find solace in ballads like “Heartaches of a Fool” and “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” (the latter served as a stirring, even spiritual highlight from his recent show).
Willie hangs with everyone from Keith Richards to Toby Keith, Norah Jones to Jimmy Carter. The substantial bloc concerned with “moral fiber” in their voting diet need only consume his latest collaboration with sister Bobbie — a fine record of gospel classics the siblings grew up singing at church. Yes, church. Beyond that, there’s nothing the man’s ever done that the American public hasn’t forgiven in its most recent leaders, including “not inhaling” and suspect grammar skills, respectively.
Besides, Americans love the proverbial comeback kid — as witnessed by Willie’s martyrdom and eventual redemption on the altar of the IRS some years ago.
And when it comes to the issues, he’s nothing short of a prophet. Consider the startlingly uncanny “Time of the Preacher,” from Willie’s early album Red Headed Stranger. That classic song predicts: “It was the time of the preacher/ In the year of ’01 … now the lesson is over/ And the killing’s begun.”
So, at last, a relevant point to all this politicking: An interesting screw-up came at the start of Willie’s AARP-is-for-quitters set, which found the 71-years-young Nelson ripping some of the most inspiring guitar work I’ve ever seen. Breaking with one of his most revered concert traditions (in always opening shows with “Whiskey River”), Willie began instead with the patriotic “Living in the Promised Land,” an apt tune about bridging bitter divides.
In typical Willie fashion, and on the song’s first notes, an enormous American flag dramatically fell from the heavens to serve as backdrop for Willie and his six-piece Family Band. Everything was peachy — except that one corner snagged, and Old Glory never quite unrolled all the way, thus appearing rather wounded in her incompleteness.
The very next song, Willie got back on track with the standard “Whiskey River,” and a noticeably bigger Texas flag (also a Willie standard) fell right on cue, with no hang-ups whatsoever in the unveiling. With that whole “Texas wins” thing bumming out local liberals from the Subaru dealership to Earth Fare that week, the incident served — at the very least — as an amusingly fitting malfunction.
Willie might make a good president. But either way, the world’s a better place because he’s still out there on the road again — just like always — armed with some of the finest tunes ever, making music with his everlasting friends.
In the end, Willie Nelson embodies the spirit of eagles more than any politician I’ve ever come across. With or without Texas, he’s one fine fellow American we’re all quite blessed to have on our side.
Score: On the U.S.-presidents scale, Willie Nelson scores a George Washington: an equally profound, longhaired patriot who grew his fair share of hemp.