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Willie Nelson attracts both paying, nonpaying fans in downtown Columbia

Thursday, May 21, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
Willie Nelson performs at Ninth Street and Broadway as part of the Blue Note's Summerfest Series. Nelson opened with "Whiskey River."

COLUMBIA — Throngs of adoring fans saturated downtown Columbia at Ninth Street and Broadway on Wednesday, waiting to see and hear Willie Nelson.

Willie Nelson & Family, the epic country and rock music group, kicked off Summerfest, a series of outdoor concerts hosted by The Blue Note and held on Ninth Street.

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The arrival of 76-year-old Nelson was anticipated among Columbia residents, yet also attracted fans from a distance. Students Chris Morgan and Elliot Hendry traveled about three hours from Springfield to see Nelson.

“Through my co-workers, I found out that Willie Nelson was going to be playing at Summerfest in Columbia,” Morgan said. “On a whim, Elliot and I bought our tickets and decided to drive down to see it. We could have stood outside the show, but being inside the venue and actually seeing the concert is a lot cooler than standing on the sidewalk.”

Hendry also predicted that the concert would be a personal success for Nelson because of the musician’s long-standing career.

“This concert will be a hit because he still has the drive to play an entire show,” Hendry said. “Not many stars just give up their career; I think that as long as Willie Nelson is living, he will play his music.”

While many paying fans filed into lines that stretched down each side of Walnut Street, Nelson’s other admirers had different plans to experience the star’s performance without actually paying $32 for a ticket.

Columbia resident Ben Nagel sat at a table outside of the restaurant Tellers to enjoy a view of the concert stage from behind. Nagel had been reading and enjoying the weather at Tellers since 2 p.m., and at 6 p.m. he remained, waiting to see Willie Nelson.

“The idea to bring Willie to Columbia is great, and it’s nice to have an outside concert, but I don’t know why you would pay for a ticket when you can stand outside to listen and watch,” Nagel said. “At this point, Willie is such an icon, having him perform in Columbia will foster the downtown area and attract such an eccentric crowd, not to mention a delicious cross-section of humanity.”

Nagel thinks that Nelson has become so popular because of the name he has made for himself.

“Willie Nelson has been writing and performing songs since the 1960s,” Nagel said. “He is a folklore hero, and you even see him in random movies once in awhile. He is a household name who has carried his career consistently.”

Other fans agree with Nagel. Although she might not have purchased a ticket, MU student Lexy Martin was determined to hear the star sing and had high hopes for Nelson, clearing her evening events in order to come to the concert.

“I wanted to see Willie Nelson because this is the music that, as a child, you grow up listening to in the backseat of your parents’ car,” Martin said. “He was one of the first artists I was exposed to, and now he’s a legend; it would be a shame to miss this concert at such a great venue. Age is only a state of mind and as long as Willie is still rocking, then he should continue to rock out.”

Summerfest was only one of Nelson’s stops for his tour “On the Road Again,” and he will continue traveling until late October, performing more than 50 concerts across the United States.

The Blue Note has scheduled three more concerts for its Summerfest series, the next of which will be a performance by Ben Folds on May 27.


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