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BOLIVIA—The crowd roared when Willie Nelson hit the stage at Odell Williamson Auditorium last Friday night to perform his first-ever Brunswick County gig.
Fans rushed toward the front of the auditorium to shoot photos on cameras and cell phones as Nelson strolled onstage for the Dec. 7 performance and immediately broke into “Whiskey River,” his first song of the night.
For the next hour and a half, Nelson, clad in black with a red bandanna under his hat, sang and strummed nonstop on Trigger, his legendary guitar bearing signatures and a hole worn over the years by Nelson’s constant playing.
“Good Hearted Woman,” “Funny How Time Slips Away,” and “Crazy” were among other classics Nelson zipped through before introducing his piano-playing sister, Bobbie, as well as his sons, Micah, on drums, and Lukas, playing guitar.
The concert opened with performances by Nelson’s daughter, Paula, and Lukas and his band, Promise of the Real.
There were more than a few Nelson look-alikes in the audience, including Jim Aucreman of Conway, S.C., who wore his own bandanna over a long ponytail, vest and claw and Indian necklaces as he sat in the balcony with his wife, Kathryn.
“We’ve been excited for over a month,” Kathryn said about the concert. Tickets went on sale in mid October and quickly sold out—the biggest concert and sell-out in history at OWA, according to auditorium manager Mike Sapp.
Walt Johnson of Wampee, S.C., another Willie Nelson look-alike, attended the concert with his daughter, Jennifer Phillips, and son, Nick.
Johnson, waiting for the doors to open in the lobby of Odell Williamson Auditorium prior to Nelson’s concert, said he was told years ago he resembles Nelson. This was Johnson’s first opportunity to see Nelson live.
“I’ve been listening to Willie all my life,” he said. His daughter drove up to the auditorium to buy tickets shortly after they went on sale in October.
Nelson continued belting out his hits, including “Me and Paul”—a reference to drummer Paul English in the 1970s.
“It’s been rough and rocky travelin’
But I’m finally standin’ upright on the ground
After takin’ several readings
I’m surprised to find my mind’s still fairly sound.”
Nelson sang “Shoeshine Man” by Tom T. Hall, his own classic “Pretty Paper,” then a festive rendition of “Jingle Bells,” alerting the responsive crowd to shout “hey!” at the appropriate times.
His sister Bobbie was featured with her keyboard skills at the grand piano.
After singing Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya (On the Bayou),” Nelson tossed out his bandanna to a lucky someone in the audience.
There were plenty more Nelson classics—“Angels Flying Too Close To the Ground,” “On the Road Again” (with the audience clapping along and singing on the chorus), a couple of solos on Trigger, “You Were Always On My Mind,” “Georgia On My Mind,” and gospel consisting of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” “I’ll Fly Away,” and “I Saw the Light.”
Nelson sang his classic, “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” accompanied by harmonica player Mickey Raphael and a stageful of smoke.
He also treated the audience to a rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” which he said will be on a new album scheduled for release in January.
Was it OK, he asked the audience, to sing new and old songs? The crowd responded with a resounding “yes.”
By the concert’s end at 10:30 p.m., Nelson had rounded everything off with performances of “City of New Orleans,” “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” and a concluding gospel tune, “Uncloudy Day.”
Auditorium manager Mike Sapp said Nelson’s tour stop in Brunswick County was smooth from start to finish.
“Everyone that was associated with Willie Nelson was very professional and just as easy to get along with as they could be,” he said.
Nelson, he said, arrived at the auditorium just before his 9 p.m. debut, briefly shaking hands with VIPs before continuing onstage. When the concert ended, he was whisked away to his waiting bus.
The legendary 79-year-old singer had fulfilled his Brunswick County gig. Just as quickly as he arrived here, just like Elvis,Willie Nelson had left the building.
Laura Lewis is a staff writer at the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.