February 15, 2004
Classic Center - Athens, GA


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Every couple of years or so, Willie Nelson wanders back through town. He’s kind of like a clock with drifting hands. You never know exactly when he’ll be here and the timing’s not always accurate...but you know he’ll be back. The last time through, Willie did an anomaly of a show. He started with the regular old template and then went off to do rarely performed songs dating back almost 50 years. This time didn’t contain as many surprises, but it was still a good time. Some performers are a gourmet meal. Willie’s comfort food.

Opening with “Whiskey River” and sticking with his tried and true song list, there were almost no detours tonight. The concert was also a bit shorter than the last few that I’ve seen. On the positive side, I’ve never seen him as appreciative or appear to be having as good of a time as he was this night. It’s always something special to see and hear the reaction of the crowd when Nelson and his “Family” kick into double time during “Good Hearted Woman” or when he slides up the familiar neck of his guitar Trigger for the bluesy parts of “Night Life.” As always, Willie paid tribute to his friends Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings with “Me & Bobby McGee” and “Luckenbach, Texas. Plus, he sunk his teeth into the material of Hank Williams, The Carters and a handful of his heroes.

Obviously, the main attraction here was the man and the music that he himself made famous. He throws off “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” like it’s simply breathing. “Still Is Still Moving To Me” is still…well…moving to me. What can I say? The highlight of the night came when he did his most recent smash duet “Beer For My Horses” and reclaimed it from the Nashville gloss of the recording he did with Toby Keith. I don’t know about you but I think it’s a lame song and a terrible recording. Tonight, with Willie’s spin – it was gloriously ragged and familiar. The strangest moment occurred right at the end of that number when he started the next song… which was also “Beer For My Horses.” Yep. Apparently either Willie’s mind is starting to feel the effects of all those years of herbal enhancement or he’s following his own desires so strongly that he just wanted to do it again and did. Either way, only someone like Willie could pull that song off…twice! He’s also one of the few that can pull humor out of the corniness of “Kiss This Booty Goodbye.” If he releases this new song as a single, it could easily be his next hit.

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Late in the show, he turned the Sunday night performance into a gospel sing a long. “I’ll Fly Away,” “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” and “I Saw The Light” were downright jubilant but, to my ears, “The Great Divide” was more of a personal religious experience. After a reprise of “Whiskey River” to bookend the proceedings, Nelson then literally reached out to his fans. Signing everything from cowboy hats to the people themselves. He smiled, took swigs from their drinks and generally, proved to everyone there that he was their own best friend, not just the cartoon country legend he’s become. Of course, by doing this, he only cemented his legend even more. At one point, during his take on Rodney Crowell’s “’Til I Gain Control Again,” Willie renewed his promise to his fans. “Just like the sun over the mountaintop, I will always come again.” We’ll hold him to it. Here’s to next time.

Chris McKay / concertshots.com

Willie Nelson set list (Athens, GA 2-15-04)

1. Whiskey River
2. Stay A Little Longer
3. Good Hearted Woman
4. Funny How Time Slips Away / Crazy / Night Life
5. Down Yonder
6. Working Man Blues
7. Help Me Make It Through The Night
8. Me And Bobby McGee
9. Me And Paul
10. If You've Got The Money, I've Got The Time
11. Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain
12. Blue Skies
13. Georgia On My Mind
14. All Of Me
15. Mammas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys
16. Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground
17. On The Road Again
18. Always On My Mind
19. Seven Spanish Angels
20. City Of New Orleans
21. To All The Girls I've Loved Before
22. Luckenbach, Texas
23. Whiskey River (reprise)
24. Still Is Still Moving To Me
25. Pancho And Lefty
26. Beer For My Horses
27. Beer For My Horses (that's not a typo!)
28. Kiss This Booty Goodbye
29. Jambalaya
30. Hey Good Looking
31. Move It On Over
32. "Instrumental"
33. The Great Divide
34. Will The Circle Be Unbroken?
35. I'll Fly Away
36. 'Til I Gain Control Again
37. Rollin' In My Sweet Baby's Arms
38. I Saw The Light


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