Many North Texans were downright upset in November when they couldn't snag tickets to one of Willie Nelson's back-to-back concerts at Granada Theater in Dallas — and rightfully so.
At 83 years old, the country legend is still kicking, inviting fans who span generations to listen to his tunes firsthand, alongside other songs from peers in his league. And to see Nelson in such an intimate space was, no doubt, a treat.
The Granada Theater was an iconic venue fit for an iconic musician, complemented with the kind of pinch-me moments that come with being able to witness pieces of history performed by their maker.
Those who've followed Nelson in recent years have likely seen the show before — the born-and-bred Texan keeps a seemingly incessant tour schedule and rarely goes off script. But even for veteran attendees, his buffet of classics and covers satisfied.
On Tuesday, Jan. 3, his set began by drowning sorrows with the traditional "Whiskey River" opener and concluded ceremoniously with the hymn "I'll Fly Away." Supported by a band of six, including his sons Lukas and Micah Nelson on guitar and percussion, sister Bobbie on ivories, and Mickey Raphael on harmonica, Nelson wove career staples like "Still is Still Moving to Me," "On the Road Again," and "Angel Flying too Close to the Ground" with newer tunes such as "It's All Going to Pot," the stoner anthem featuring the late Merle Haggard.
True to form, Nelson paid tribute to his many inspirations and collaborators, including Billy Joe Shaver with "Georgia on a Fast Train," and Waylon Jennings with "Good Hearted Woman" and "Mama Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys."
The live versions of these songs weren't carbon copies of the recordings. Nelson relied heavily on audience participation to complete the most popular choruses. More often than not, his approach felt like spoken-word poetry coupled with a melody, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. A medley of "Funny How Time Slips Away," "Crazy," and "Night Life," for example, took on the life of a folk tale with the less sing-song vibe.
Another high note: At one point, Willie left the stage to Lukas and Mickey, who performed an enrapturing take on Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Texas Flood."
Acoustic trio Runaway June warmed up the Granada crowd with a half-hour of pop-friendly country tunes. If the Nashville-based band's catchy cadences weren't enough to grab the audience, its charm was. One of the member's is a descendant of John Wayne — the John Wayne — and Runaway Jane performed an original song, called "Wild West," in his honor. (Further recommended listening: the group's first hit single, "Lipstick.")
But when the Runaway June's three leading ladies, Naomi Cooke, Jennifer Wayne and Hannah Mulholland, slowed down during closer "Blue Roses," their sweet-as-honey harmonies were nearly drowned out by the crowd.
The biggest complaint of the evening came not from the performances, but from the amount of chatter among fans, which made the songs difficult to hear.
Willie Nelson has live performance down to a science. He focuses on songs from a beloved, if narrow, slice of his repertoire, and picks his famous guitar, Trigger, to his own time and tune. Willie is a crowd-pleaser; that's what he does best. But his love-sick blues are hardly meant to compete with a chorus of casual conversation.
A little more than an hour after plucking the first notes of "Whiskey River," he was doing the same on "I'll Fly Away." Before you knew it, the party was over, and just like that, your chance to share the room with one of country music's best and brightest slipped away. That opportunity was certainly not one to take for granted.
A second show of Willie Nelson with Runaway June happens Jan. 4 at 8 p.m. at the Granada Theater, 3524 Greenville Ave., Dallas. Sold out. granadatheater.com.