Any conversation about Willie Nelson invariably should include the phrase "national treasure." The man is a god, an activist and musical legend, a living font of songs and eclectic thought. He's universally adored and an anachronism in the world of bubblegum country. He has had his finger in so many different pies that his PR types employ the word "indefinableness."
The flacks are onto something: Nelson has done country albums, jazz, soundtracks, gospel records, a beloved collection of standards and pretty much everything in between, all of it spleen-destroyingly awesome. Not to wax breathless, but the music -- which is so good -- is only one facet of Nelson's career, falling alongside his tireless championing of the small farmer through Farm Aid, his crusade for tsunami relief and his acting. I issued a mighty cheer when I found out Willie was to play Uncle Jesse in The Dukes of Hazzard. You should have, too.
The Red Headed Stranger currently is touring on a heap of new recordings, including the tsunami relief CD/DVD mentioned above, which was recorded during a concert in Austin, Texas. Also on the list is another live recording, Willie Nelson and Friends: Outlaws and Angels, which features appearances by Merle Haggard, Bob Dylan and Carole King.
And, just to illustrate how much Nelson gets around, he's made another all-star group, called The Geezinslaws, whose membership includes Kelly Willis and Kinky Friedman, the latter of whom is mounting a wacky, is-he-for-real? campaign for Texas governor, profiled recently in The New Yorker.
Considering his saturation of famous fans, and his 72 years, it's unusual that Nelson bothers to tour at all. But the Red Rocks show is part of about a dozen leading up to his appearance alongside Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews at the 20th anniversary Farm Aid show in Tinley Park, Ill.
More releases will follow, certainly. Thank goodness for national treasures.
-- Aaron Retka
Willie Nelson with Yonder Mountain String Band
Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison
Saturday, Sept. 3, 7 p.m.
Tickets: $45; call 520-9090 or visit redrocksonline.com.