Willie Nelson proves that he’s not quite dead yet with spirited set at the Shrine

Despite the rumors that he was either dead or in ill health that circulated earlier this month, Willie Nelson is alive and well.

The 84-year-old country music legend has clearly become used to being the target of Internet buzz of his untimely demise, which seems to flare up every other year or so. He poked fun at the fact that he’s woken up a few times to find out he’s dead and gone via a slew of online headlines in “Still Not Dead,” a track off of his latest record, “God’s Problem Child,” which was released back in April.

Thursday night, during a sold-out performance at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, Nelson quipped that the cut was “about me and Kris.” He gave a wide grin as he pointed to his fellow country star and Highwaymen, Kris Kristofferson, who had just joined Nelson and opener Kacey Musgraves and her band for “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” “Will the Circle Be Broken?,” “I’ll Fly Away” and a cover of Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light.”

“Don’t bury me, I’ve got a show to play,” Nelson sang. “And I woke up still not dead again today.”

Nelson, who celebrated his 84th birthday on April 29 with a live performance on the Palomino Stage at the annual Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio, came out fired up with “Whiskey River.” The spirited L.A. crowd, which featured fans of all ages, roared back the lyrics to Nelson word-by-word and he seemed uplifted by the sentiment.

Just outside of the venue, as fans waited to get inside and grab a beer or raid the merch table, there were elementary school age girls sporting the signature Willie braids and bandana and numerous gentlemen, well into their 70s and 80s, wearing the same exact style. Despite Nelson’s affinity for cannabis culture – which was undoubtedly shared by select members of the audience – it was a family-friendly affair, a show that grandpas brought their grandkids to so that they could experience a piece of music history.

Throughout his set, Nelson gave nods to his fallen comrades, including Waylon Jennings with a cover of “Good Hearted Woman” and Merle Haggard with “It’s All Going to Pot.”  He also did his cover of Ed Bruce’s “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys,” with the crowd taking the lead on the chorus and his sweet take on Brenda Lee’s “Always on My Mind.” Nelson paid tribute to Hank Williams as well with “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” and “Hey Good Lookin’.” He rocked through Billy Joe Shaver’s “I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train” and slowed it down for tender “Georgia on My Mind,” by Hoagy Carmichael.

Of course Nelson has his own arsenal of hits as well. He seemed a bit rushed through his Toby Keith collaboration, “Beer for My Horses,” but paced himself in the solo spotlight for “Angel Flying too Close to the Ground” before hitting the crowd with his boot stompin’ “On the Road Again.” He mashed up “Funny How Time Slips Away” with “Crazy” and “Night Life,” mixing blues, rock ‘n’ roll and his blend of traditional and outlaw country while just remaining impressive on his well-worn acoustic guitar.

With a hearty “Goodbye,” Nelson ended his set with his cover of Tom T. Hall’s “Shoeshine Man.”

Musgraves, a 28-year-old Texas native and obvious Nelson protégé, was a perfect show opener. Though she struggled a bit with her in-ear monitors, Musgraves is now a pro despite her self-deprecating bits of humor.

“This is a classy place,” she said of her first time at the Shrine. “I’m surprised they let us in.”

Musgrave’s music, much like Nelson’s, is filled with clever turns of phrase and biting wit.  She came out with “Stupid” and launched into her single “Biscuits.” She started to win over the crowd with a soaring ballad-style cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and her sweet track, “Late to the Party.”

She told the crowd that she’s currently finishing up her third album and that she has “a lot of happy, good things in my life right now.” She shared a few new songs including “Love Is a Wild Thing,” “Golden Hour” and “Butterflies,” all of which fit well within her set, but didn’t go over quite as well as something more sarcastic like “Family is Family.”

Everyone sang along to “Mama’s Broken Heart,” a song Musgraves wrote that was recorded and made a hit by Miranda Lambert. She cooed through the heartbreaking “It Is What It Is” and her band exited the stage, leaving her alone to play acoustic guitar in the spotlight for her very first single, “Merry Go ‘Round.” She prefaced the song by talking about how much of a dream it was to be out on tour with Nelson, calling her idol “a little glowing, peaceful, weed-smoking Yoda.”

The band returned and Musgraves noted that though we were all about to see an “American frickin’ icon” like Nelson take the stage after her, she had to pay tribute to an artist that she admired for his guitar playing and songwriting skills. The band started playing the late Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy,” which Musgraves absolutely nailed, though she pointed the mic out to the audience to fill in the chorus and they happily obliged. She closed her set with her be-yourself-single, “Follow Your Arrow.”

Willie Nelson & Family

With: Kacey Musgraves

When: Thursday, Aug. 17

Where: Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles

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