Legend Willie Nelson playing in Cape

Friday, April 6, 2012
In this file photo, Willie Nelson performs during a 2005 concert at the Show Me Center in Cape Girardeau. (Fred Lynch)

Chances are the Red Headed Stranger will be familiar to many area residents when he rides through town Sunday evening.

Known as an expert performer with a relaxed and poignant style, Willie Nelson's outlaw charm and humor have won him fans for more than 50 years. And Sunday, he's coming back to the Show Me Center after a canceled date in 2011 and a memorable performance in 2005.

"We're extremely excited to have a legend like Willie Nelson playing here," Show Me Center marketing director Joshua Hanlon said. "It's one of those kind of shows that you look at on the calendar and circle. We're not talking about any artist, here. He's a living legend."

As a songwriter and a performer, Nelson has played a vital role in post-rock 'n' roll country music. Although he didn't become a big name until the mid-1970s, Nelson spent the '60s writing songs that became hits for stars like Ray Price ("Night Life"), Patsy Cline ("Crazy"), Faron Young ("Hello Walls") and Billy Walker ("Funny How Time Slips Away") as well as releasing a series of records on Liberty and RCA that earned him a small but devoted cult following.

"I'm one of his biggest fans. It seems like everything I do is somehow influenced by Willie," said local musician Doug Rees. "He's such a great songwriter alone that it makes you want to study him. The man is one of the best ever at what he does."

During the early '70s, Nelson aligned himself with Waylon Jennings and the burgeoning outlaw country movement that made him popular in 1975. Following the crossover success of that year's "The Red Headed Stranger" and "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain," Nelson was considered a genuine star, as recognizable in pop circles as he was to the country audience. In addition to recording, he also launched an acting career in the early '80s.

"Willie has done a little bit of everything, I guess you could say," Hanlon said. "We expect a great show because that's what his shows are. People who miss it will wish they hadn't."

Even after becoming known as a star, Nelson never played it safe musically. Instead, he borrowed from a wide variety of styles, including traditional pop, Western swing, jazz, traditional country, cowboy, honky-tonk, rock, folk and the blues, creating a distinctive, elastic hybrid. Nelson remained at the top of the country charts until the mid-1980s.

"It's great seeing a Willie show because he does it without a set list. Does the whole show by the seat of his pants. At the same time, he's very real with the crowd," Rees said. "There was a time in my music career that I tried playing his songs and following his lead. But I realized there is only one Willie Nelson, and that's how it always will be."

During the '90s and into the 2000s, Nelson's sales never reached the heights that he experienced earlier, but he has remained a vital icon in country music, having greatly influenced the new country, new traditionalist, and alternative country movements of the '80s and '90s as well as leaving behind a legacy of classic songs and recordings.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at the Show Me Center, and tickets are available by phone at 651-5000 or online at showmecenter.biz. Tickets range from $37.50 to $67.50.

jsamons@semissourian.com

388-3641

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