An old poet

Willie Nelson, Meadowbrook US Cellular Pavilion, Gilford, NH, June 15, 2007
By ELLEE DEAN  |  June 19, 2007

MAN OF WORDS: The songwriter played poet onstage.

Sometime after the lights went out, Willie Nelson walked on stage — with his Martin N-20 nylon-string acoustic guitar — singing “Whiskey River.” In front of a Lone-Star-Flag backdrop, the screens on either side of the Meadowbrook US Cellular Pavilion showed the hole, like an open sore, worn in his guitar’s wooden front. The Willie Nelson family followed, with their guitars, harmonicas, and honky-tonky pianos. On the piano, Jody Payne’s long gray hair hung down her back — beneath a rhinestone-studded, black cowboy hat — in cabaret-colored light. (See correction below.) And the crowd, all leather from Laconia Bike Week, started to dance in the smoke-filled lawn under starlight.

Willie played us a medley of “Crazy” and “Pretty Paper”— songs he wrote for Patsy Cline and Roy Orbison. Halfway through the show he wore a hat that read “CASH” ― as in Johnny ― and tossed it into the crowd. The songwriter played poet onstage — one part gospel, one part folk, and one part branded “outlaw country” — turning his own verse on its head: “Mamas don’t let your cowboys grow up to be babies,” he sang. And, with a voice like a broken engine, he hollered self-deprecating lyrics about growing old and growing unfunny — “Did you hear the one about the dirty whore?/ Oh, I forgot… you don’t think I’m funny anymore!” The lines on his face were canyons on the screens. People in American-flag folding chairs and wheelchairs cheered.

With his old songs, old guitar, old bandmates, and old self, Willie commanded the wooded venue. “Paul and I were busted in Reno,” Willie told us before the end of the night. (See correction below.) “But I’d rather not tell you what for.” And Willie finished with “Whiskey River,” just as he had begun.

Correction: Bobbie Nelson, not Jody Payne, was the piano player.

Correction: The city Nelson referenced was Laredo, not Reno.

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