Sunday, April 13, 2014

Willie Nelson, Shovels & Rope @ The Greek 4/12/14

I first saw Willie Nelson 10+ years back at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 3. I wasn't expecting to like him, this favorite of my best friend's mom growing up. Instead,  I stood in the lowering sun amid the gazillion other fans as he walked onstage and greeted the crowd with a sly grin and open arms, and went, 'oh' as my ignorance was elucidated. My husband remembered seeing him play a marathon 3+-hr set from years earlier. "He just kept going...' So when we saw Willie, now 80 years old,  would be playing opening day of Berkeley's Greek Theater we said yeah!
Shovels & Ropes opened the evening on Saturday with a raucous set of their high-energy rock, playing like gleeful children let loose in the instrument room and appreciating every moment of their time on the Greek stage. Cary Ann Hearst has a voice like Dolly Parton's wayward niece, matched nearly word-for-word by her husband Michael Trent's harmony vocal, each playing guitar, drums, harmonica and a synth bass and singing lead as the song dictated. They lit a fire under the crowd and it wasn't even dark yet, and their song 'Birmingham' has been in my head ever since. 'rock of ages....'
I'd never seen the next 'opening' act, Drive By Truckers playing as a 5-piece....and was completely underwhelmed.
 Fortunately, everyone was keeping to the schedule and Willie came on soon enough, starting with what seemed to be one big medley of every great song you forget you know — Crazy and Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain and Always on My Mind. It didn't feel like a country music concert rather than a performance of the revised edition of the Great American Songbook by one of the Great American Songwriters of our time. Jeepers. And like a large engine, Willie just ran smoother and hotter as the set progressed, playing several instrumentals to better display his guitar prowess, singing a few new songs amid his well-burnished hits,  his voice undiminished by time, laughing and tossing bandannas and hats to the crowd and generally making a good case for playing music and doing what you love to stay happy and healthy.

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