Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard at Hard Rock Live, February 7

Photo by Sayre Berman

There was a break. A beer run. Some shots.

By 8:54 p.m., though, it was time for the second part of the show as Willie returned and the Texas flag unfurled to the floor behind him.

Wearing a big black hat just like his pal Merle, the 79-year-old Red-Headed Stranger waded into "Whiskey River" with a wide smile on his charming, craggy face. Crooning "Still Is Still Moving to Me," he illuminated the mysteries of being at work while being at rest. And doubling back for another boozy anthem, Willie was "singing whiskey for my men, beer for my horses" with the whole damn place on backing vocals.

But he wasn't just dreaming about a good drink. He was thinking about his fallen friends too. And Merle had already done one for Johnny. So Willie suggested, "Let's do one for Waylon"

Photo by Sayre Berman

Following his salute to old Waylon Jennings, that legendary, rascally "good timin' man," Willie remarked about "Funny How Time Just Slips Away" before seamlessly shifting into a sweet melancholy medley of "Crazy," "Nightlife," and "Me and Paul."

Then it was just about time to get rowdy again. So Padre Nelson sent his son Lukas into the spotlight. The kid is a country-blues ripper. And when he isn't touring with pops, he fronts a band called Promise of the Real. He's basically got his father's voice. But he sings like Stevie Ray Vaughan's baby brother. He also handles his guitar with more obvious flash than his dad, who prefers complex, indiosyncratically jazzy riffs. "Oh, boy," a gray-haired lady remarked at the Hard Rock. "That boy is very talented."

The younger Nelson stomped through a take on Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Call Me the Breeze." (Later, he fret-surfed into Stevie Ray's "Texas Flood.") And a smiling Willie, obviously proud of his offspring's gifts, slipped back to center stage for the slyly chosen "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys."

Sure, the kid isn't a cattle rustler. But life as a professional musician just might be even bigger trouble.

Photo by Sayre Berman

Ambling toward the end of his own rambunctious, beery, teary set, Willie felt like lifting a tribute to another of his country kin. The forepappy. The original outlaw. "Let's sing some Hank Williams."

Starting with the strange creole novelty of "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)" and cruising through the sneakily lecherous "Hey Good Lookin'," the Red-Headed Stranger scanned the full breadth of The Drifting Cowboy's songbook in just four selections, finishing with marital-discord anthem "Move It On Over" and an especially touching, masterfully jazzy take of "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain."

For his finale, though, Nelson honored the lord and the blessed herb he made. "Here's a new gospel song," Wiseman Willie said.

"Well just take me out and build a roaring fire," he sang in a voice filled with hope. "And just roll me in the flames for about an hour/And then pull me out and twist me up/And point me towards the sky/And roll me up and smoke me when I die."

It was a fine smoky moment. A spiritual rave-up. Willie hooted and hollered, "I Saw the Light." And so did we.

Photo by Sayre Berman

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: Hank, Johnny, Willie, Waylon, and Hag are the end of the line for true, badass country music. We will never see another gang of outlaws like them on this Earth.

Merle Haggard's Setlist:
-"If I Could Only Fly"
-"Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Star"
-"I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink"
-"The Bottle Let Me Down"
-"Mama Tried"
-"Today I Started Loving You Again"
-"Big City"
-"The Fightin' Side of Me"
-"If We Make It Through December"
-"Folsom Prison Blues" (Johnny Cash cover)
-"Take Me Back to Tulsa" (Bob Wills cover)
-"Okie from Muskogee"
-"Pancho and Lefty" (With Willie Nelson)

Willie Nelson's Setlist:
-"Whiskey River"
-"Still Is Still Moving to Me"
-"Beer for My Horses"
-"Good Hearted Woman"
-"Shoeshine Man"
-"Funny How Time Just Slips Away"
-"Night Life"
-"Me and Paul"
-"Call Me the Breeze" (Lynyrd Skynyrd cover by Lukas Nelson)
-"Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys"
-"Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground"
-"On the Road Again"
-"Always on My Mind"
-"Texas Flood" (Stevie Ray Vaughan cover by Lukas Nelson)
-"Jambalaya (On the Bayou)" (Hank Williams cover)
-"Hey Good Lookin'" (Hank Williams cover)
-"Move It on Over" (Hank Williams cover)
-"Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" (Fred Rose/Roy Acuff/Hank Williams cover)
-"Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die"
-"I Saw the Light"

Location Info


Hard Rock Live

1 Seminole Way, Hollywood, FL

Category: Music

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