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Jeff Moehlis: Willie Nelson Keeps It All in the Family at Chumash Casino Concert

Legendary country music star sings songs both old and new, then delights fans with a signing session

Much loved but showing signs of age, having traveled the world playing the same songs thousands of times, Trigger put on a great show at the Chumash Casino Resort on Thursday night.

“Trigger?” you ask.

That’s the name of Willie Nelson’s beloved Martin N-20 guitar, which has many similarities to Nelson himself, who is also much loved but showing signs of age, and has traveled the world playing the same songs thousands of times. And one hopes that he’ll continue doing just that for a long, long time.

Nelson, Trigger and the band, including his son, Lukas, on guitar, his sister, Bobbie, on piano, longtime drummer Paul English, and Mickey Raphael on harmonica, kicked things off with one of Nelson’s signature songs, the outlaw country classic “Whiskey River.”

Other songs from that era, which I along with many consider to be Nelson’s strongest phase and stage, included “Good Hearted Woman” written by Nelson and Waylon Jennings; “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” which was immortalized by Nelson and Jennings; and “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” and the instrumental “Down Yonder” off his arguably best-ever album, Red Headed Stranger.

Nelson also sang the amusing “Me and Paul.” which chronicles some sticky situations that Nelson and his drummer found themselves in. Sample lyrics: “Almost busted in Laredo / But for reasons that I’d rather not disclose / But if you’re stayin’ in a motel there and leave / Just don’t leave nothin’ in your clothes.”

Going way back into his early songwriting days, Nelson sang “Crazy,” which was an early 1960s hit single for Patsy Cline; “Funny How Time Slips Away;” and “Night Life.” Plus, many of the best-known songs associated with Nelson were on the program: “On The Road Again,” and his covers of the tearjerker “Always On My Mind,” “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before,” “Georgia On My Mind” and “City Of New Orleans.”

There were further covers that got the Nelson treatment, including two by fellow outlaw Kris Kristofferson (“Help Me Make It Through the Night,” “Me and Bobby McGee”) and four by country music pioneer Hank Williams (“Jambalaya (On the Bayou),” “Hey, Good Lookin’,” “Move It On Over” and “I Saw the Light”).

Lukas took the spotlight for “Texas Flood,” which featured some mean blues guitar. Lukas had also played a short opening set capped by a cool cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” which included a guitar solo in which Lukas picked the strings with his teeth.

A special treat was to hear some newer songs in the humorous vein, including Snoop Dogg’s “Superman,” which starts out with the lyrics “Too many pain pills, too much pot,” “You Don’t Think I’m Funny Anymore” and the “brand-new Gospel song” “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”

At the end of the show, while the band continued playing the music to “I Saw the Light,” Nelson shook hands with numerous audience members and signed whatever they handed him. This included obvious items like posters and CD covers (I was lucky enough to have him sign my Red Headed Stranger and Stardust covers), but also cowboy hats, Willie Nelson dolls, shoes, and an iPhone (I wonder what Willie Nelson song is now the ringtone for that).

Throughout the evening, Nelson was in good voice and spirits, and he spiced the songs up nicely with his interesting and unique guitar fills. It seems that there is no slowing Willie — or Trigger — down.

Setlist
Whiskey River
Still is Still Moving to Me
Beer For My Horses
Shoeshine Man
Funny How Time Slips Away
Crazy
Night Life
Down Yonder
Me and Paul
Texas Flood
Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys
Help Me Make It Through the Night
Me and Bobby McGee
Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain
Good Hearted Woman
Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground
On The Road Again
Always On My Mind
instrumental
Superman
You Don’t Think I’m Funny Anymore
Georgia On My Mind
City Of New Orleans
To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before
Georgia on a Fast Train
Healing Hands of Time
Jambalaya (On the Bayou)
Hey, Good Lookin’
Move It On Over
Will the Circle Be Unbroken
I’ll Fly Away
Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die
I Saw the Light

Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.

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