Willie Nelson in a Sublime Performance at Ruth Eckerd Hall

A report from our Florida Correspondent.

Willie Nelson is probably the most elder American master musician still treading the boards. Although his buddy Bob Dylan has already used “The Never Ending Tour” that would also seem to apply to Willie.

The Red Headed Stranger brought his show to the recently renovated Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, and Willie fans young and old were given another standout performance. He started primarily as a songwriter, but soon evolved into an accomplished performer. With well over 10,000 hours on stage, Willie is an expert at delivering a solid set.

His five piece band respond easily to any nuance or variation Willie adds to his well-honed set. Starting as almost always with Johnny Bush’s “Whiskey River,” the band found their groove early. Given all the songs he wrote, it is intriguing that Willie tends to rely on covers for the bulk of his setlist. Songs that have become tightly associated with him but written by others (“Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys,” “You Were Always on my Mind,” “Georgia (On My Mind”)) are balanced with songs Willie penned, the two best paired in the middle of the show: “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” and “On The Road Again.” The latter sprung from the film Honeysuckle Rose and the latter is essentially Willie’s anthem.

The renovations at Ruth Eckerd Hall were glorious. It was such a beautiful surprise to see the renovations making huge progress; many folks figured there would be years of construction. Walking up to the venue is so bright with the two story windows and a huge high ceiling. The inside is not overwhelming due to the very tasteful lighting. The great acoustics of the hall are evident throughout, and thankfully the folks manning the soundboard kept the volume reasonable. The back patio has been thoughtfully retained.

Willie finished up his Valentine’s Day performance at Ruth Eckerd Hall with a Hank Williams cover (“I Saw the Light”) but not before a medley of other Williams’ songs and a special rendition of Willie’s own “Valentine,” not seen on a setlist in a long time.

Valentine won’t you be my Valentine
And introduce your heart to mine and be my Valentine
Summertime we could run and play like summertime
With storybooks and nursery rhymes so be my Valentine

It is evident that the folks at Ruth Eckerd Hall intend the venue to be a must stop for audiences and performers alike.

Carrie Auerbach reporting from the left coast of Florida


Brad Auerbach has been covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.

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