The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Jim Fisher
For The Sentinel 

Willie Nelson packs the house at Maryhill

 

Jim Fisher for The Sentinel

WILLIE AT MARYHILL: Willie Nelson, his trademark battered Martin guitar, and a band with family members in it entertained an appreciative audience at Maryhill Winery Saturday night.

Country music legend Willie Nelson played to a full amphitheater Saturday night at the Maryhill Winery. The sold-out concert was the second-to-last stop on what Nelson is calling the “Old Farts and Jackasses” tour, which began eight months ago in North Carolina and wrapped up Sunday in Boise, Idaho. The Wild Feathers opened the show with an hour-long set of lively country/rock before Nelson and his iconic braids took the stage with his beat-up old Martin guitar, “Trigger,” for almost two hours of non-stop music.

It was a varied and colorful group in attendance at the show. Those attired in high-fashion shared the amphitheater with folks who looked as though they could have arrived in an old Volkswagen bus. One man stood out in particular, clad head-to-toe in an American flag suit. Many in the crowd appeared to be casual fans, embracing Nelson’s persona as much as his music. Long braids were seen everywhere and could even be purchased at concessions, pre-attached to a red bandanna. Some were die-hard fans, such as Goldendale resident Johnny Guthrie, a fifth-cousin of Arlo Guthrie, who had the first hit version of “City of New Orleans,” which Nelson has recorded. Guthrie has a photo of his father, Lee Guthrie, with Willie at a benefit concert they once played together. “For me, this is like a pilgrimage. I had no choice but to come,” said Johnny just before joining his fiancé for a slow dance to “You Were Always on My Mind,” one of Nelson’s best known songs.

Nelson played a balanced mix of his newer tunes and classic songs for the crowd at the Winery. “On the Road Again” had the crowd mostly on its feet, with hundreds taking to the open areas to dance. “Mamma’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” was an enthusiastic sing-along for fans that knew the words. The show, billing itself as “Willie Nelson and Family,” featured Willie’s sister, Paula Nelson, on the grand piano and longtime bandmates Mickey Raphael on harmonica and Paul English, who played a single snare for percussion. Throughout the tour some of Nelson’s sons and daughters have joined him in song as well.

Born in 1933, Nelson got his foot in the musical door working as a DJ at a Texas radio station, singing in honky-tonks on the weekends. He lived in Vancouver, Wash., from 1956 to 1958, where he found his first success as a songwriter. He went to Nashville in 1960 and there penned dozens of hit songs for the country greats of the time, including Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” and many others that have become industry standards. In the late-1960s he found mild popularity as a singer as well, and recorded a few albums that did respectably on the charts. Somewhere along the way he purchased his acoustic guitar, Trigger, which he named after Roy Rogers’ horse. Frustrated by the restraints of Nashville’s desire for a more polished sound and thinking his career had run its course, he retired in 1972.

The boom of the counterculture scene in the ’60s and early ’70s was not limited to San Francisco or rock and roll music. “Outlaw Country” was born of the frustration singers like Nelson and Waylon Jennings had towards the Nashville establishment and what they felt was its “cookie-cutter” sound. They traded in their rhinestone suits for denim and leather and let their hair grow long. They began forcing record companies to let them produce and define their own musical sound, and they began making hits. Outlaw Country took the music country music scene by storm for a good decade or so.

The rebel-cowboy genre seems to have since faded; most of its founders are now dead. Its hardcore fan base is alive and kicking, but as a drastic minority to supporters of new-age country. Many today feel that the Nashville sound is again choking out music that doesn’t fit the current popular corporate mold. Nelson, still rebellious and one of the few survivors of the genre’s heyday, named his current tour in response to a derisive comment made by younger country star Blake Shelton, who stated that “old farts and jackasses” were standing in the way of the evolution of new country music.

Jim Fisher for The Sentinel

NELSON AND GUITAR: Willie Nelson at Maryhill Winery Saturday night.

Over time, Nelson has proved adept at garnering a younger crowd than one might expect of a fan base for a man that first gained fame 60 years ago. He regularly covers contemporary songs, recently releasing versions of tunes by currently popular bands Pearl Jam and Coldplay. He has long been an open proponent of marijuana use, a trait that has led to him holding an iconic status with many subcultures. One of the 4,000 or so people at Saturday night’s concert was a college-aged girl named Jena, from Seattle. When asked what brought her halfway across the state to see an elderly country star, she said “I just wanted have the chance to see him before he’s gone. He is 80 now. Did you know he has a birthday this year?” Indeed he did, in April, in fact. True to Willie’s mantra, the occasional cloud of smoke rose from spots in the amphitheater throughout the show, despite many of the people being nowhere near the designated smoking area.

 

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