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Review: Willie Nelson’s concert at Billy Bob’s really was a Family show

Posted 1:04pm on Saturday, Jan. 07, 2012

Willie Nelson at 78 is no longer red-headed and certainly no stranger around Fort Worth, especially when he’s here for his customary first-of-the-year date at Billy Bob’s Texas. It’s a tradition, a Family reunion of band and backers that has a lengthy tradition of uncommon camaraderie.

Willie brought plenty of actual kin with him to Billy Bob’s on Friday night to help ring in the New Year, including of course sister Bobbie on piano, and most notably son Lukas on guitar and vocals. (If you haven’t been keeping a scorecard lately on Willie’s progeny, hot guitarist Lukas has had success with his own blues-leaning band Promise of the Real.)

Amy Nelson, daughter and half of the duo Folk Uke, was also on hand and sang background vocals on a couple of songs.

Lukas, now 23, started showing off his guitar-playing chops onstage with his dad as a young teen a few years ago, but now after fronting his own band he has developed into a fine singer as well. His voice has the arid-canyon resonance of Willie’s, and a little bit of Dylan-esque mystery.

When Lukas sang a solo, a song he wrote called Fathers and Mothers, it was a tear-in-your-eye moment.

It was equally emotional for longtime fans who realized that original Family band guitarist Dan “Bee” Spears was missing from the lineup. Spears died in early December.

Willie himself, however, seemed more upbeat than usual, delivering volleys of fan favorites that turned into spirited singalongs: Good-Hearted Woman, Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground, On The Road Again, Always On My Mind, and Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.

The set also included Move it On Over, Healing Hands of Time, City of New Orleans, Till I Gain Control Again, and Georgia On My Mind.

Most of the standards, like Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain, got slight tweaks that made them fresher. The “someday when we meet up yonder” ballad was delivered in a less sentimental tone and with stronger guitar arrangements.

When carpal tunnel surgery detoured Willie and Family off the road briefly a couple of years ago, he took the time to write some songs, including Superman, a funny coming-of-old-age song laced with the ravages of “too many pain pills, and too much pot.”

A left-of-center gospel medley included the familiar country spirituals I Saw the Light and Will the Circle Be Unbroken and I’ll Fly Away, but also Willie’s own tongue-in-cheek anthem, Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.

You can get away with stuff like that when you’re among family.

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