Willie Nelson ‘On the Road Again’ after Wilkes-Barre visit

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First Posted: 9/15/2014

Willie Nelson’s concert at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts on Sept. 11 was not much different than the last six times he visited.

And that was just fine with the more than 1,800 in attendance at the sold-out show.

The legendary singer-songwriter, now 81, brought his Family – his 83-year-old sister Bobbie on piano, Mickey Raphael on harmonica, Billy and Paul English alternating between drums and percussion, Kevin Smith on bass and his 25-year-old son Lukas on electric guitar – to the theater in Wilkes-Barre for the seventh time since August 1988. As always, he also brought his trusty Martin N-20 classical guitar named after Roy Rogers’ horse “Trigger” and a bushel of some of the finest songs ever written.

A large flag of the state of Texas unfurled behind the band as the Family made its way through traditional opener “Whiskey River.” The opening tune sounded a bit ragged as technicians worked on making Bobbie’s piano audible in the mix and Lukas fiddled with his amplifier, but it all started sounding better by second number “Still Is Still Moving To Me.”

There was no mention of 9/11 throughout the show, but perhaps his 2003 chart-topping duet with Toby Keith “Beer for My Horses” was included for a reason: “We’ll raise up our glasses against evil forces singing whiskey for my men, beer for my horses.”

Nelson then did “Good Hearted Woman” in memory of Waylon Jennings (the outlaw duo took that song to the top of the charts in 1975) and made his way through a medley of his biggest compositions of the 1960s: “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Crazy” and “Night Life,” garnering cheers when he furiously strummed his guitar on the latter.

Other Nelson standards featured at the Kirby concert included: “Me & Paul,” his comedic look at his early days and his travel troubles with drummer Paul English (“Almost busted in Laredo/But for reasons that I’d rather not disclose/But if you’re stayin’ in a motel there and leave/Just don’t leave nothin’ in your clothes”), “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” (another chart-topping duet with Jennings), “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” and his anthem “On The Road Again.”

Nelson also did fine renditions of some of his biggest hits that he didn’t write, including 1976’s “If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time,” 1978’s “Georgia On My Mind” and 1982’s “Always On My Mind.”

But he really scored when he dug a little deeper into his catalog, like with “I Never Cared For You,” one of his failed singles from 1964 that he revived in 1998 on his acclaimed album “Teatro,” and with the title track from his most recent album “Band of Brothers.”

Willie, the proud papa, turned over the spotlight to Lukas, who sang and played a scorching version of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Texas Flood” then joined his father for a sublime duet on Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe.”

Nelson worked his way towards the finish with a tribute to Hank Williams Sr., running through “Jambalaya,” “Hey Good Lookin’” and “Move It On Over.”

During a run of gospel tunes including “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” and “I’ll Fly Away,” Nelson also managed to sneak in his own “Roll Me Up,” which he calls, “A new gospel tune we just wrote.” The stage was bathed in green light as he sang lines such as, “I didn’t come here, and I ain’t leavin’/So don’t sit around and cry/Just roll me up and smoke me when I die.”

Nelson wrapped up the evening with Williams’ “I Saw The Light,” then shook hands and signed autographs at the front of the stage for more than five minutes as the band played on.

Lukas Nelson opened the show with his band Promise of the Real, singing blues-based tunes and playing some mean guitar, sometimes with his teeth. Highlights included his takes on Paul Simon’s “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” and his dad’s “Bloody Mary Morning.”