His music rings true with all ages

It’s true that famed country star Willie Nelson’s trademark braids have long since grayed and his guitar is noticeably worse for wear. But as evidenced in the diverse crowd amassed in front of the Bridges stage last week, present for the auditorium’s latest star-studded performance, the Red Headed Stranger remains as poignant today as he has throughout his nearly 40-year music career.  

“His music is immortal,” said longtime Willie fan Sheryl Dunn. “It’s like Elvis and Johnny Cash. They transcend generations.”

Mr. Nelson is one of the famous faces that have graced the Pomona College theater’s stage as of late. In recent months the longtime Claremont theater has upped its game and country-wide notoriety by including performances by national and internationally-known celebrities like country sensation Taylor Swift, comedian/actor Aziz Ansari and party-rockers LMFAO, with a presentation by Emmy-nominated political comedian Bill Maher set for this coming May.

“In the past, Pomona was about bringing world-class leaders, speakers and artists to the colleges and to the surrounding colleges and community,” said Christopher Waugh, associate dean of students and director of student activities, in an interview with the COURIER following the Taylor Swift performance last November. “We’re interested in bringing back the classic Bridges.”

Similar to the enthusiastic crowd that surrounded Ms. Swift’s performance, the inclusion of Mr. Nelson drew an equally strong and spirited turnout. The near full house cheered and crooned along as the Texan native provided back-to-back fan favorites like “Whiskey River” and “On the Road Again” while singing a few of his latest, such as his envelope-pushing “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.” His set was a seamless hour-and-a-half of hits.

It was well worth the drive for concertgoers, since many drove hours to see Shotgun Willie sing and strum. Ms. Dunn herself made the drive from Coto De Caza just for the opportunity to hum along with one of her favorites. And Mr. Nelson didn’t disappoint. While his mindset might have been no nonsense—the audience had barely a second to blink before he was on stage singing “She’s got a name”—and his set was equally to the point, with just his band, a few spotlights and a large Texan flag behind him. his performance was all about his audience. In nearly every song, Mr. Nelson beckoned for the audience to join along in singing and clapping.

“He know how to put on a good show,” Ms. Dunn noted. “He’s fabulous.”

Ms. Dunn, a Texas girl herself, has always had a special place for Mr. Nelson, long before his name became widely known around the country and across generations. As a student at the University of Texas at Austin, she remembers taking trips down to the Armadillo World Headquarters where a young Mr. Nelson, and many other great stars still undiscovered, played.

“He was fabulous, a true country western artist of that time period,” Ms. Dunn recalled.

While Ms. Dunn appreciates the purity in Mr. Nelson’s country roots, for other fans it’s about his ability to push boundaries. Twenty-six-year old Adam Jones of Oceanside was introduced to Mr. Nelson’s tunes by his father, who would take his son to concerts as part of father-son bonding opportunities. At age 16, at a concert in Oakland, Mr. Jones had the opportunity to meet Mr. Nelson. It left an impression on the young music aficionado. Ten years later, Mr. Jones Mr. Nelson’s music remains at the top of his list. He says he is drawn to the diversity of his tracks.

“He’s not just country, he came out with a reggae album not too long ago,” Mr. Jones said. “He keeps himself fresh.”

His ability to reinvent himself is what continues to make Mr. Nelson relevant today, said Melinda Freese of Mission Viejo.

“He’s timeless,” she said.

He’s what keeps her young, Ms. Freese said. She admitted it didn’t feel so long ago she was at her last Willie Nelson Concert and was pulled into the aisle by her date to dance. She vividly recalls Mr. Nelson pointing her out by saying, “That b—- can dance!”

More than 20 years later, though she says she wouldn’t be dancing in the aisles this time around, Ms. Freese and Ms. Dunn are happy to see Mr. Nelson’s music continue to resonate with another generation.

“There are maybe 4 or 5 guys in a lifetime that touch everybody’s heart no matter what generation they’re in,” Ms. Dunn said. “We love Willie.”

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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