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Review: Willie Nelson rings in the New Year at ACL Live

Pam LeBlanc

Editor’s note: This article was originally published January 1, 2014

Willie Nelson didn’t even take the stage until moments before midnight, and by then the party had already been going for nearly four hours.

But that’s when things got crazy at the Willie Nelson and Family show to kick off the new year in downtown Austin.

Father Time Texas, with a long white beard, descended from the ceiling of the Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater, riding a giant bat. Baby New Year, in the form of a dwarf, strutted around the stage wearing a diaper and white bowler hat. An enormous Texas flag unfurled as a backdrop, balloons fell, streamers soared, people smooched and then Nelson started his show like he always does - with a rendition of “Whiskey River.”

Nelson played for more than an hour, the cap of a long night of partying that started with a standout performance from the Whiskey Sisters, followed by shows from Paula Nelson (Willie’s daughter) and Delbert McClinton. Tanya Tucker showed up, too, dropping in for a few songs.

The show was so long that some came and left, sneaking out for coffee or to watch the city’s fireworks show just a few blocks away.

But this was Willie’s night, and everyone was ready when he came on.

Wearing a black Tshirt, blue jeans and his signature red bandana, he didn’t waste time on chit chat between songs. Instead he launched into hit after hit, from “Still is Still Moving to Me” and “Good Hearted Woman” to “If You’ve got the Money I’ve Got the Time,” “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” “Crazy,” “Always On My Mind,” “City of New Orleans,” “Georgia,” and “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground.”

As he reeled off the hits, the audience batted around balloons and sang along with their favorite outlaw. The whole place just felt like old Austin.

The highlight? Probably Willie singing “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” as revelers lit cigarettes and wafted the smoke toward the stage, no-smoking rule be damned.

One thing’s clear. This city loves Willie. And the feeling seems to be mutual.