How many times has Willie Nelson sung “On the Road Again” in the four decades since its release?
one thousand? Two thousand? Five?
Whatever the answer, the 89-year-old American music legend still performs his signature song in a way that may surprise you — and will surprise anyone who plays it with him, as they did Saturday night in Pasadena was.
Dressed in black jeans and a black T-shirt, his hair in two long pigtails under a black cowboy hat, Nelson shuffled onto the stage halfway through Kacey Musgrave’s headlining performance at Palomino, a new music festival the pair are hosting together with Jason Isbell, Orville Peck, Zach Bryan, Old Crow Medicine Show and about a dozen other country acts left of center on the green grounds surrounding the Rose Bowl.
Nelson had previously finished his own set without doing “On the Road Again,” so it was pretty clear what he wanted to play with Musgraves, who introduced her Texan as her “other grandpa” after noting that her “actual grandpa.” “The audience was there.
But for all the warnings Musgraves and her band had, they spent the next couple of deeply delightful minutes keeping up with Nelson’s wild and idiosyncratic phrasing as he sang about making music with his friends and plucked out a vinegar solo on the famously battered acoustics He calls the guitar Trigger.
As the song ended, Nelson pulled up his jeans, hugged Musgraves, and lifted Trigger with a friendly smile, as if to say to everyone on stage, “Nice try, y’all.”
Presented by Goldenvoice, which also hosts Coachella and its country cousin Stagecoach, Palomino was a much smaller, cozier affair than those annual mega-festivals in the desert — actually cozier than the promoter probably hoped, given that tickets were still available Saturday . (Goldenvoice has reportedly canceled two other festivals due to low ticket sales, raising concerns about a slowdown in the booming concert industry in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.)
Barring a pitiful lack of booze, unimaginable at Stagecoach, Palomino – which drew perhaps 15,000 fans – made the most of its shaggy, low-key vibe. Isbell and Bryan played robust, uncomplicated roots rock; Peck, who has never been seen without a fringed Lone Ranger-style face mask, chose some of his usual stagecraft to punctuate the wistful tunes he’s inherited from his love for Roy Orbison.
For Musgraves, Saturday’s performance followed a sizzling arena tour following last year’s “Star-Crossed,” which not only documented their recent divorce but also marked their confident turn to well-produced pop after years of flirting with it.
“We’re going to have fun even though I made a depressing album,” she told the crowd as she opened her set at the Palomino, and while the songs were reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac and the Bee Gees, they felt a lot looser than they did a few months ago in the Crypto.com Arena; Musgraves seemed less distressed about her relationship with the country music establishment, which breathed some air into tracks like “Justified” and “Breadwinner,” the latter of which got a sprawling disco outro.
After getting Nelson on stage, Musgraves sang Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” — a bit “Kaceyoke,” as she put it — and it was easy to sense the inspiration she found not only in Parton’s flair for show business, but also found in her airy self-determination.
Of course, Nelson is also a role model in this respect: Here he presented the tender and philosophical “I’ll Love You Till the Day I Die” as an excerpt from “my 95th album, which was released on my 89th birthday. ”
Backed by the solid road band he calls family – including his sons Lukas and Micah, though minus his sister and longtime pianist Bobbie, who died in March aged 91 – Nelson casually went through his extensive catalog of songs he’d written and songs he wrote himself popularized as one of America’s greatest cultural synths: “Always on My Mind”, “Whiskey River”, “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground”, “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”. (He even did a Pearl Jam song, “Just Breathe.”)
As on “On the Road Again,” Nelson’s vocals were a marvel of musical instinct, with unexpected blue tones and small jumps in tempo that thoroughly blurred the lines between country, jazz and soul music; his guitar playing was even more exciting as he rattled Trigger’s neck up and down, using the instrument for both percussion and harmony.
Lukas sang lead for a sizzling rendition of “Texas Flood,” while Micah took over for “If I Die When I’m High I’ll Be Halfway to Heaven,” a title he said his father picked up while playing dominoes had invented . His point was that the best thing about Nelson’s genius might be his insignificant quality; the proof was the casual beauty of the song.
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/music/story/2022-07-10/willie-nelson-palomino-festival-kacey-musgraves Willie Nelson, 89, is a musical marvel at Palomino Festival