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Seeing Willie Nelson on His Farewell Tour... On September 11th

Ellen Levitt

Posted on September 12, 2019 13:19

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I went to the Outlaw Festival, which is best known as Willie Nelson's farewell tour, on 9/11/2019. I had misgivings about going on this date.

As a lifelong New Yorker, I remember clearly where I was on September 11th, 2001. My harshest memory was driving in my car, with my nearly year-old daughter in the back seat, and stopping for a red light at the intersection of Vanderbilt and Atlantic Avenues in Brooklyn. I watched in disbelief at the flames and smoke from over in lower Manhattan. A few people walked in the street and gawked at the fire. 

Each year is a mournful reminder of what happened on that day and in the days following. I knew a woman who perished in the World Trade Center attack, a classmate from junior high and high school. The last time we saw each other had been at our synagogue.

I mention this because until this year, I have not wanted to partake of joyous activities on this date. However, this year Willie Nelson and the Outlaw tour were making a stop locally on September 11, and knowing that this is the 86-year-old performer's farewell tour, I did want to attend the concert. 

There were four groups performing at the Festival: Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real, Alison Krauss, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, and Willie Nelson and Family (including his sister Bobbie and his son Lukas). I'm not sure I would have made the effort to see another show on the evening of 9/11, except for one given by someone of Nelson's stature.

I had one previous opportunity to see Nelson in concert, in August 2015, but I didn't buy a ticket in time and the show was sold out. I drove past Prospect Park and heard him in the distance, from the Park's Bandshell, and I listened to a simulcast show on WFUV, 90.7FM. It was not enough for me.

The Outlaw festival with Willie was a highly enjoyable show. Lukas's band was very good and he sings in a high-pitched voice quite reminiscent of his father. Alison Krauss is a singer and fiddler I've long admired, and I deeply enjoyed her bluegrass, country and old-time songs. Nathaniel Rateliff sang with great depth, at times in a smooth tone, at other times in with a heartfelt, soulful shout. 

These bands mixed together country music genres with rock 'n roll, folk music and types of soul music. In addition, each band had several instruments and featured multi-part singing. 

Willie Nelson was the reason we all came together. It's unbelievable that this 86-year-old man stood on stage, singing in his unaffected, conversational voice, and playing sharp guitar licks. I got choked up over the rendition of "On The Road Again," which was the first Willie song that I really liked as a kid. (Back then I didn't like his more sentimental songs.) "Whiskey River" and "Always On My Mind" were also amazing. 

How do legendary performers go out in style? Look to Willie.

Can celebrate American music, life, and culture on 9/11? Yes: with respect.

Ellen Levitt

Posted on September 12, 2019 13:19

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