Amid a busy run of Outlaw Music Festival tour dates, Willie Nelson made a pitstop at City Parks SummerStage in Central Park on Tuesday for an evening of good tunes and good company in New York City.
Following an opening set by another Texas son, country blues singer Charley Crockett, the band billed as Willie Nelson & Family took the stage flanking their patriarch. As the outlaw country legend worked through numbers from throughout his decorated career for the ensuing hour and a half, he had no trouble showcasing his continued relevance and resonance some six decades on.
Fan-favorites new and old like “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” (Ed Bruce), “On The Road Again”, “I’ll Love You Till the Day I Die” (Rodney Crowell/Chris Stapleton) served as worthy outlets for Nelson’s understated yet magnetic Texas swagger as a stage-size Lone Star State flag glowed down on Willie and the gang from behind. The state-centered sentiments also extended to Georgia, which got a pair of lyrical shout-outs via “Georgia On My Mind” (Hoagy Carmichael) and “I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train” (Billy Joe Shaver).
On various occasions he passed lead vocal duties along to his son, guitarist/vocalist Micah Nelson (a.k.a. Particle Kid), who does an uncanny interpretation of Willie’s singing voice that’s at once personal and reverent. The Particle Kid catalog was well-represented, too, thanks to surprise-highlight renditions of “(Die When I’m High) Halfway to Heaven” and “Everything Is Bullshit”.
The nature of the father-son relationship also made for moving moments, like when Micah introduced and sang 1996’s “I Thought About You, Lord” with his dad at his side. “Many several thousands of years ago, a man named Willie Nelson wrote this song,” Micah said before playing the reflective Spirit track, which Willie wrote as a letter to God but which hits just as hard as a son’s tribute to his larger-than-life father.
While Willie remained situated at his seat throughout much of the performance, he took to his feet for emphasis on various as he worked through a selection of songs from his timeless catalog. He may be getting older (he’ll turn 90 next year) and his vocals may have drifted into speak-singing more often that it does on his 70+ (!!) solo studio albums (again, he’ll turn 90 next year), but his singular charisma and stage presence have never faded.
After welcoming Charley Crockett and his cohorts out to the stage for an “encore” gospel medley of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?” and “I’ll Fly Away”, Nelson closed the show with one of his favorites, Mac Davis‘s “It’s Hard To Be Humble”. The cheeky woe-is-me tune—”Oh lord, it’s so hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way”—clearly brings him joy, perhaps because it rings truer for him than most: To achieve Willie Nelson’s level of success and adoration while maintaining Willie Nelson’s patented “I could totally crack some jokes and smoke a joint with that guy” aura of humility, you’d have to be… well, you’d have to be Willie Nelson.
Check out a selection of photos and videos of Willie Nelson at City Parks SummerStage in Central Park below. For a complete list of upcoming Willie Nelson tour dates, head here.
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Willie Nelson – “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” – 9/20/22
Willie Nelson ft. Micah Nelson – “Everything Is Bullshit” (Particle Kid) – 9/20/22
Willie Nelson – “On The Road Again” – 9/20/22
Willie Nelson – “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” (Ed Bruce) – 9/20/22
[Videos: Richard Wolf]
Setlist: Willie Nelson | City Parks SummerStage in Central Park | New York, NY | 9/20/22
Set One: Whiskey River / Stay a Little Longer, Still is Moving to Me, Bloody Mary Morning, I Never Cared for You, (Die When I’m High) Halfway to Heaven (Particle Kid), Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys (Ed Bruce), Angel Flying Too Close too the Ground, On The Road Again, Always on My Mind (Gwen McCrae), Everything Is Bullshit (Particle Kid), Good Hearted Woman (Waylon Jennings), Georgia On My Mind (Hoagy Carmichael), I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train (Billy Joe Shaver), I’ll Love You Till the Day I Die, Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die, Write Your Own Songs, Truck Drivin’ Man (Terry Fell), I Thought About You, Lord, Will the Circle Be Unbroken?/I’ll Fly Away (Traditional)*, It’s Hard to Be Humble (Mac Davis)
*with Charley Crockett and his band
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