Last weekend, Laura and I took a red-eye to Austin on a mission to see George Strait and Willie Nelson — two living legends — perform together in their home state. It was a trip we'd been planning for over six months, and it should go without saying that the gig did not disappoint. I'm not sure a show like this will ever happen again, but you won't want to miss it if it does.
You don't need a live review of Willie Nelson or George Strait. Those two men have been entertaining crowds of thousands for longer than most of my readers and I have been alive. They're two of the greatest ever to do it, and I'm grateful I got to see it happen live.
Rather than tell you what you already know, I thought I'd share the nine random thoughts from the show that I couldn't shake. Enjoy.
Wow, Willie Nelson is 89 years old.
It's right there in the title, but it's true. You cannot watch an octogenarian musician take the stage in front of thousands without considering the uniqueness of the situation. Only one of my grandparents lived to 89, and at no point during that year did my grandfather have the strength, confidence, or clarity to stand on any stage, let alone one surrounded by strangers screaming at him.
When you see Willie do it, however, it's normal. A golf cart brings him inches away from the stage, and he only has to walk a dozen or so steps before sitting down for the duration of the performance, but it's a sight to behold nonetheless. Imagine seeing Willie Nelson offstage. That would be weird. Seeing him take time off from the road would be surreal. Willie is a living legend in large part because of his devotion to the road, and one cannot help wondering how much his inability to remain in one place has aided in his longevity.
Willie's new material is GREAT.
"I'll Love You Till The Day I Die" is the opening track from Willie's latest album, A Beautiful Time. It's the only cut from the new album to make an appearance at the gig, but it fit in perfectly amongst the covers and classics that comprised Nelson's set. The Chris Stapleton and Rodney Cowell penned song speaks to the regrets of someone too afraid to speak up during a brief encounter with a person they'll never forget. It's the kind of aged storytelling you expect from someone with Nelson's pedigree, and his delivery did not disappoint.
The older you get, the more your fans accept covers.
More than half of Willie's eighteen-song setlist was covers, yet each track felt written by or for Nelson. Whether it was the almost too obvious rendition of Ed Bruce's iconic "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys" or the slow burn goodness of "Georgia On My Mind," Nelson played them his with earnest reverence. These are not only songs that speak to him, but they have defined countless moments in a life filled with unforgettable events. That gives the material a value greater than any listener can know, but that's ok. At least we get to hear them.
- Whiskey River (Johnny Bush cover)
- Still Is Still Moving to Me
- Bloody Mary Morning
- Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys (Ed Bruce cover)
- Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground
- On the Road Again
- You Were Always on My Mind (Gwen McCrae cover)
- Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die
- I Never Cared for You
- Georgia (On My Mind) (Hoagy Carmichael and His Orchestra cover)
- I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train (Billy Joe Shaver cover)
- I’ll Love You Till the Day I Die
- Good Hearted Woman (Waylon Jennings cover)
- Funny How Time Slips Away / Crazy / Night Life
- Hey Good Lookin' (Hank Williams cover)
- Move It on Over (Hank Williams cover)
- I'll Fly Away (The Humbard Family cover)
- It's Hard to Be Humble (Mac Davis cover)
Play "It's Hard To Be Humble" at my funeral
"It's Hard To Be Humble" kicks a lot of ass. Originally made famous by Mac Davis back in 1980 and covered by Nelson on 2019's Ride Me Back Home, the tongue-in-cheek offering argues that people don't appreciate how much the perfect few amongst us work to remain humble, Nelson included. The crowd shouted with glee as Willie revealed each lyric, and Nelson's smile grew wider as each wave of joyous noise made its way through the room. Get a load of these bars:
Oh Lord, it's hard to be humble
When you're perfect in every way
I can't wait to look in the mirror
'Cause I get better lookin' each day
To know me is to love me
I must be a hell of a man
Oh Lord, it's hard to be humble
But I'm doin' the best that I can!
It may not be his most famous cover, but it may be among the most important. Life's too short to take yourself too seriously. Have fun, take risks, and do what you love. Let someone else worry about whether or not you make a beautiful corpse.
George Strait is 69 and aging like fine wine.
I'm not saying that George Strait is a sex symbol, but based on the reactions I saw at the Moody Center on April 29, it's safe to say he's still igniting a fire inside fans worldwide. Standing 5'10" with broad shoulders and a smile that could blind you, Strait took the stage in an outfit made possible by multiple sponsors hoping to sell consumers on the fading belief in the American Dream. Strait is a stereotypical man's man without the toxic masculinity such titles often carry. He's assertive yet gentle and sings of loving the things that matter most with reckless abandon. If that doesn't make you weak in the knees, there's a good chance you don't qualify for discount coffee at thousands of retailers nationwide as a participating member of AARP. Go and brag about it.
"Amarillo By Morning" is a perfect song.
That is a scientific fact. No matter how you approach it, "Amarillo By Morning" is a timeless classic. The storytelling is clear and concise, the music is engaging, and the 2:53 runtime works perfectly with constantly-distracted consumers in the modern age. Radio programmers would probably tell George to cut it down to 2:45 for good measure, but he would tell them to kick rocks and ride off into the sunset. At least, that's what my George Strait would do. I'm not your boss. You can make yours do whatever you want.
"Codigo" is simultaneously the catchiest and worst advertisement marketed as songwriting in music history.
Promoting your liquor brand to fans between sets and across social media is one thing, but that isn't enough for George Strait. With his 2018 single "Codigo," Strait made his music an active participant in the marketing funnel and sales of Codigo tequila. Nearly every line of this song, which you best believe is performed smack dab in the center of Strait's set, encourages you to buy and consume the brand that will help line his pockets.
I'm talkin' 'bout Codigo
I take it with me everywhere I go
Best tequila, baby, don't you know
A little sip and you're ready to roll
They make it down in Mexico
A little state called Jalisco
Where the beautiful agaves grow
I'm talkin' 'bout Codigo
Any way you like it
Any way you wanna try it
I'll try it too
I don't care if it's a habit
As long as you have it
And I have it with you
It's a blatant moment of self-service that would be full-on cringeworthy if not for the undeniable catchiness of the hook.
If you ever get the chance, make sure you "Sing One With Willie."
Going into this trip, I always knew there was a chance Strait would finally perform the closing song from his 2019 album, Honky Tonk Time Machine. Titled "Sing One With Willie," the track exists solely to provide Strait with a long-overdue opportunity to sing alongside one of his heroes. When Willie's golf cart reappeared roughly halfway through Strait's set, I knew my dream was coming true. I will not soon forget the sight of those two legends sharing the stage is one I will not soon forget, and I imagine neither will Strait.
Nobody loves Texas quite like Texas.
Nothing compares to seeing an artist play in their home state. That is true in virtually every scenario, but it's particularly true when the artists in question are living legends. Both Nelson and Strait are Texas icons seated alongside God and the 1993, 1994, and 1996 Dallas Cowboys as infallible beings capable of no wrong. Texans love these two men more than they love certain family members, and we felt every ounce of that love while watching them perform from the 200s level at the Moody Center. That night was about more than a good time; it was a chance for Texans to celebrate the people who've inspired millions to visit, move, and embody the spirit of Texas.