Editor's note: This story was originally published on April 23, 2017. We are bringing it back in honor of Willie Nelson's two concerts scheduled at Billy Bob's Texas on Nov. 16 and 17.
I saw Willie Nelson perform in New Braunfels on Saturday night, and it was beautiful, and it was sad.
His first song was "Whiskey River," but his guitar seemed to be out of tune. Everyone knew it except Willie. When he finished, he gently put it down and walked off stage. Willie's band continued to play without him.
He was gone for five minutes, then 10.
The harmonica player just kept playing. Same with the drummer. Nobody was singing. A tour bus was parked near the stage.
Was this it? Quietly, we all wondered the same thing: Had we just seen Willie Nelson play his last song?
A few more minutes went by. Then Willie, who turns 84 at the end of the month, walked back on stage to a loud roar, and in succession played all the hits: "On the Road Again," "Always on My Mind," "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys."
His guitar was still out of tune.
The crowd didn't care. We were just happy to see Willie, even though it wasn't the Willie that most fans had seen many times before, or the Willie they'll remember.
It reminded me of the time I saw an 86-year-old Chuck Berry play a basement concert in St. Louis. He dropped his guitar pick and forgot lyrics. But Berry could do no wrong.
Willie played "Whiskey River" twice. Same thing with "Good Hearted Woman." He talked through many of his songs. It didn't seem like there was a set list, just Willie playing and his band trying to keep up.
At one point, all of his songs were covers of his friends who have died.
Before each he'd say, "This one's for Hank," or "How about one for Merle," or "Let's sing some Waylon."
Willie's last few songs were about death. Some lyrics were about seeing his friends again. One song, which was particularly entertaining, was "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die."
When I go out I've been here long enough
So sing and tell more jokes and dance and stuff
Just keep the music playing that'll be as good as goodbye
Roll me up and smoke me when I die.
Willie finished the show without an encore.
Instead, he walked the length of the stage, pausing before the crowd, making eye contact with as many fans as he could.
And he waved goodbye.