Legendary Willie Nelson kicks off another summer tour in Missoul - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Legendary Willie Nelson kicks off another summer tour in Missoula

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Music legend performed in Missoula Wednesday might (Dennis Bragg photo) Music legend performed in Missoula Wednesday might (Dennis Bragg photo)

He's probably been on more stages than any performer alive.

But when Willie Nelson emerged before the crowd of thousands of Montanans in Missoula night, ripping into his signature opener "Whiskey River", he was still playing with the enthusiasm of someone in the early years of his career.

The veteran, who turned 82 years old this spring, shows no sign of slowing down, kicking off his summer tour at Ogren Park/Allegiance Field riding a new wave of interest and popularity.

Nelson has a new best-selling book chronicling a lifetime of performing, but also telling of the struggles to breakthrough and provide for his family, selling encyclopedias and vacuum cleaners before success came his way. And in a remarkable accomplishment, his new album with fellow legend Merle Haggard, "Django and Jimmie", has topped the country music charts this week.

But even without the newfound publicity, the Missoula audience would have been thrilled.

Starting out in a black hat, Nelson ripped into a series of hits known from his "outlaw country" days. He quickly changed out to his signature bandannas, tossing them into the crowd and then replacing them, as he encouraged the audience to sing along to favorites like "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies (Grow up to be Cowboys)", "On the Road Again" and "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain", the breakout 1974 hit that finally helped establish him as a mainstream star after years of writing hits for other artists. He also gave his sister Bobbie a chance to shine on several piano numbers.

Nelson wasn't the only highlight of the night however.

Allison Krauss and Union Station opened the evening with a stellar set of their bluegrass and "traditional country" songs, showing why they've become one of the best groups in North America serving up "roots" music. Krauss' smooth voice and top-notch fiddle work anchored the tremendous musicianship of the group, blending traditional bluegrass, gospel, folk and even new takes on pop lyrics done in a fresh style.

The entire stadium erupted in cheers and dancing as Union Station's vocalist Dan Tyminski launched into the opening lyrics of "Man of Constant Sorrow", the classic song he vocalized for "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" film, which has become a staple for Union Station shows.

Weather for the concert was absolutely perfect, with a light breeze cooling off concert goers from the early evening temperatures that started in the mid-80s. Traffic flow around the stadium was much smoother than when the venue hosted its first outdoor concerts five years ago, added by better parking and new streets and trails that access the site.

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