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Story and photos by Jennifer BronenkantWillie Nelson, 79, has been very busy lately, even by his own road warrior standards. With the release of his latest album Hero's, he seems to be every where. On top of his usual schedule of several live shows a week he has been making videos, hitting the late night tv circuit and was the CMT Awards Show highlight when he performed "Roll Me Up" along friends Toby Keith, Jamey Johnson, Zac Brown and Darius Rucker.
Nelson and Family made their second visit in as many months to Chicagoland when he played Thursday night to fans at the historic Genesse Theater. His Family band includes his sister Bobby Nelson on the piano along with longtime members Paul English and his brother Billy English sharing drum duties, Mickey Raphael on harmonica and newest member Kevin Smith on bass who joined the band after long time bassist Bee Spears died unexpectedly in December.
After opening with his customary "Whiskey River/Still Is Still Moving/Beer For My Horses" medley he moved on to a night of old favorites. Nelson performed many numbers from his prolific catalog mixed with classic songs from Kris Kristofferson ("Help Me Make It Through The Night" and "Me and Bobby McGee"), Billy Joe Shaver ("You Asked Me To"), Hank Williams ("Jambalaya," "Hey, "Good Looking" and "Move It On Over") and Steve Goodman ("City Of New Orleans"). He took the audience on a journey through the years with "Crazy" and "Funny How Time Slips Away" from the sixties all the way to the present. Nelson also showcased his guitar prowess with instrumentals "Bandera" and "Matador."
Nelson was joined on the stage by his daughter Amy Nelson for a gospel finale including "Let The Circle Be Unbroken," "I'll Fly Away" and "I Saw The Light." He also included with the gospel set his latest hit "Roll Me Up." This tribute to marijuana which he recorded with Snoop Dog, is the only song from Heros he performed this night.
Fan friendly Nelson finished the night by spending time signing autographs for all in the crowd who gathered at the front of the stage carrying a huge assortment of items to have signed including old records and posters, show tickets, dolls, cowboy hats and guitars. A Willie show is an event that brings in all types - young and old, professionals and bikers, cowboys and hippies - together for a night of music so familiar and comfortable that both the music and the man are like an old friend. It seems everyone is a Willie fan.
Nelson has long championed the best of up and coming artists, often those that fly under the Nashville industry radar. One of the ways he does that is by having them open his shows. Sonia Leigh, the opening act for this show, certainly falls in the "best of" category even though she is not necessarily new on the scene. This Georgia native is a real deal artist. Her soulful roots based Americana combined with her sassy salt of the earth personality make for a music experience that reaches right to ones heart as only honest art can. Leigh's set included several songs from her first label released album 1979 December on Zac Brown's Southern Ground label and will be opening for Zac Brown Band at Summerfest on July 5th. This is one artist to check out, you'll be glad you did.
|Waukegan Set List:|
Still Is Still Moving
Beer For My Horses
Funny How Time Slips Away
Me And Paul
Help Me Make It Through The Night
Me and Bobby McGee
Good Hearted Woman
Mamma's Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys
Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground
On The Road Again
Always On My Mind
Jambalaya (On The Bayou)
Hey, Good Looking
Move It On Over
Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain
City Of New Orleans
To All The Girls I've Loved Before
You Don't Think I'm Funny Anymore
You Asked Me To
Let The Circle Be Unbroken
I'll Fly Away
Roll Me Up
I Saw The Light
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