Willie Nelson and Family, Austin Rodeo – 12 March 2016
Even in Austin, Texas, where every type of live music can be found on a daily basis, one man is the figurehead. In the centre of a bustling downtown area there are large murals of Willie Nelson, a life size bust and a Boulevard named after him while in the airport there is his memorabilia available at numerous outlets while on screen in souvenir stores video footage show him receiving plaudits from Presidents. Now aged 82, a homecoming performance in the Texan capital is an event.
A couple of days before the music leg of the 2016 SXSW festival begins Willie Nelson and Family provide the live music on the opening night of the Austin Rodeo, an event that coincides with “South-by” in timing but has little else in common.
Ticket holders of the opening Saturday’s main rodeo section get to see Willie Nelson and Family come on and play the dirt tracked arena on a revolving stage that was preceded by two hours of rodeo action which primarily involved cowboys baiting and trying to control, often forcefully, farmed animals including cows, bulls and sheep that can presumably have been geed up with bees swarming near their bonnet before entrance.
The vibe of Willie Nelson and Family is a contrast; a man who was a stalwart of Austin’s hippie scene brings a different atmosphere to the audience members which as well as Nelson fans includes a handful wearing NRA polo shirts or the distinct combination of large crucifix, angry face look.
But, as the Rodeo posters proclaim, it is a festival where weird meets western, although most of the weird stems from the western itself. In another tent earlier in the afternoon, one show centred around two Peruvian monkeys, dressed in miniature cowboy gear, riding border collies and herding goats into a pen to an array of jingles over the PA including the theme to 2001:Space Odyssey and Chris Isaac. It got more bizarre when at the end the host encouraged the audience to let the Lord into their lives to a soundtrack of Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror.
Nelson, although he ends his Saturday night singing he saw the light, with the song best known for its interpretation by Johnny Cash and June Carter, brings a calmness to the event. he smiles, waves, nods and winks to a crowd who are encouraged to join in sing-a-longs from his own original songs, such as Crazy, made famous by Patsy Cline, and some of the songs from his recent covers album, with Always on My Mind being the highlight.
With his loyal battered and bruised guitar, progressing from black cowboy hat to red bandana on his head, and singing On The Road Again with his family, he provides an instant familiarity in a strange surrounding. In the Lone Star state of Texas, he remains a shining star.
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