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Willie's Got It Made

Think about it: This man is set for life. He's got so many hits that he never has to write another song. Rehearsals? Bah! That's like saying John Madden has to study before he announces for a game. He's been doing it so long, all he has to do is flip the autopilot switch. And nobody's ever going to say, "Man, Willie's getting old. Maybe it's time he threw in the towel." As far as I know, Willie's always been old. If he wasn't born with reddish white pigtails and more wrinkles than a Sharpe, then I guess I missed something. He never has to fret about fashion. A cowboy hat, jeans (pulled up to the waist), T-shirt, a pair of red, white and blue suspenders and a bandana are all he needs to get by. And apparently he's got a truckload of hats and bandanas, because he was generous enough to throw his hat and two bandanas out to the crowd. Witty banter? Zilch! Plenty of smiles, though, and we got the "thumbs up" more than once. I heard more than one audience member gushing, "He's so fucking cute!" And he was--it was Willie freaking Nelson up there for chrissakes, looking and sounding just like Willie Nelson.

He was cool as hell up there, playing without the slightest bit of affectation. Obviously he doesn't give a rat's ass about shiny new equipment; his Spanish-style Martin (which he affectionately refers to as "Trigger") looks like it was stolen from a reckless homeless dude who pulled the thing out of a dumpster. It's got a hole in it that looks remarkably like the state of Tennessee. The fact that it still sounds good is a miracle unto itself--clearly there is more than a little magic (and plenty of shoe goo) holding that puppy together.

Yep, pretty much all he has to do is show up for a show and he's golden. He played for a good hour and a half or so, all of which he spent pleasing the crowd. He played all the hits, most of them Willie Nelson Medley-style, one song running right into the next like country show tunes.

And now, for the fans who missed the show, a partial set list: "Whiskey River," "Crazy," "Georgia on My Mind," "All of Me,"" "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys," "On the Road Again," "Always on My Mind," "Seven Spanish Angels," "City of New Orleans," "To All the Girls I've Loved Before," "Luckenbach, Texas," "Poncho and Lefty," "Hey, Good Lookin'," "Jambalaya (on the Bayou)," "I'll Fly Away," "Red Headed Stranger" and a whole lot more. He really crammed 'em in, which was great, because who knows if we'll get a chance to see him again?

Most of the audience seemed to appreciate the opportunity to see Willie, standing up out of their seats to give him ovations left and right. Some do-gooders even blew pot smoke up at the stage, which Willie wafted toward his nose. The strange thing was that people were blowing shwag smoke up at him. It smelled like the dirty brown stuff you can find on any street corner in South Central L.A. I've given up the herb myself, but I can still appreciate the smell of some quality ganja. And come on, this is Santa Cruz. Whoever was smoking that dirt weed, please do yourself, those around you and Willie a favor the next time he comes to town: Shop around and get the good stuff, damn it!

Ray Charles Is Coming to Town

The lineup for the 11th annual Santa Cruz Blues Festival is pretty much all wrapped up. Starting off on Saturday, May 24, Ray Charles and his 23-piece band (including the Raylettes) will headline this year's festival. Howard Tate, Lucky Peterson, Rico McFarland and Michael Burks will also perform. On Sunday, May 25, Jimmy Vaughn and the Fabulous Thunderbirds headline, along with Angela Strehli, Mike Schermer, Robben Ford, Chris Cain, Coco Montoya and Tinsley Ellis. For more info, check out www.santacruzbluesfestival.com or call their info hotline at 831.479.9814.

Mike Connor

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From the February 26-March 5, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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