As the OC Fair kicks off it's annual summer season in Costa Mesa, who would be a better musical act to formally spark things up than Willie Nelson? It's hard to believe, but the 79-year-old has been performing live for over 50 years. Pretty crazy, right?
The country singer, part-time political activist and THC troubadour spent nearly two hours on-stage dazzling fans with songs from across his heralded catalog. Nelson, who looks at least a decade younger, sings with the same vigor that made him such a beloved figure to legions of fans. Clad in all black, the man is still sharp-witted and affable, but what stands out about his live performance is that somehow, someway, fans can relate to his tales of love won and lost, outlaws, and of course, potheads.
Naturally the hits like “On The Road Again,” “Always On My Mind,” and “Georgia On My Mind” elicited huge cheers that got the butts out of the seats dancing and singing along to the catchy lyrics. He also sprinkled in some familiar covers like Hank Williams' “Jambalaya (On the Bayou),” released in 1952, which showed the vast depth of the man's musical knowledge.
Having released his latest album, Heroes, last month, Nelson's efforts to remain relevant haven't gone unnoticed. His cover of Pearl Jam's “Just Breathe” earned him plenty of accolades and introduced him to yet another generation of fans. A duet with his son Lukas, who handled guitar duties, made him a fixture on the late night TV circuit, which is difficult to fathom that a man at his age can still be going strong like he is.
When set closer “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” was played, the nearly sold-out theater rose in unison to sing along to Nelson's ode to marijuana. After shaking hands and signing autographs with fans in the front row, the singer exited right to a thunderous applause.
Despite having multiple physical ailments, numerous arrests and assortment of women, Willie Nelson has not only survived to become an American legend, but can live to tell that tale. And even at age 79, last night's show tells us he's still got a lot more to give.
Critical Bias: The only thing that could have made this better is if Snoop Dogg came out for the last number.
The Crowd: Oldest one I've seen in a while.
Random Notebook Dump: I know the Angels won the World Series in 2002, but c'mon, random fan in the crowd– there's no need to still be rocking that Scott Spiezio jersey. He wasn't that good.
Daniel Kohn is a writer based in Southern California. With bylines in an assortment of outlets, Kohn primarily specializes in music with other interests ranging from sports to food. As a transplant, Kohn loves the beautiful weather and is glad he no longer has to deal with brutal winters. If you see him, say hi and of course, he’s always willing to down a beer or two…if you’re paying.