Jeanne Sager | Democrat
MUSIC LEGENDS WILLIE Nelson, left, and Merle Haggard were first-time performers at Bethel Woods.
No, It Wasn't A 'Geezerpalooza'!
By Jeanne Sager
BETHEL August 31, 2007 They just don’t make them like they used to.
The “Last of the Breed” packed Bethel Woods with more than 7,000 fans for what some have dubbed “Geezerpalooza.”
Indeed legends Ray Price, Merle Haggard and the inimitable Willie Nelson must have packed their Metamucil for the trip to Bethel.
At 81, 70 and 74 respectively, the trio of country and western icons are road worn, their flashy performing days long past.
But the crowd who came “for Willie” didn’t care.
They swayed in their seats as Ray Price trotted out the songs that landed him in the Country Hall of Fame more than a decade ago.
Microphone in hand, Price eschewed showmanship for classic crooning, proving at 81 he’s still “The Same Old Me.”
And he wasn’t afraid to tell it like it was.
Prepping the crowd for his own version of his song made famous by Engelbert Humperdinck, Price said, “It’s a song I recorded so many years ago, I don’t tell anyone when I did it.
“I tell ’em it was BH that was before Humperdinck,” he said, breaking into the “Release Me” over the laughter.
His voice, at least, was strong and clear, and Price received a standing ovation that brought him back onstage to sing one of his personal favorites from late friend and legend Hank Williams.
When Haggard appeared in basic black, a Fedora perched on his head and the letters to his first name spelled out in sparkling script on his guitar strap, the crowd went wild.
“Now it’s about to get funky,” one music-lover quipped.
Although glimpses of the legend without his hat and dark glasses through the night showed time, jail, and drinking have helped him live up to his name, Haggard can still play the guitar.
He made it clear he was there to play providing the crowd with an hour-long set short on talk and long on music.
“We’re just an old beer joint band,” he announced at one point. “We’re not used to playing in places as nice as this.
“We started out playing for drunks and look at us now!” he joked over the opening strains of “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down.”
But for all his staying power, Haggard couldn’t hold a candle to the braided man for this all-Willie crowd.
After singing “Mama Tried,” about his mother, Haggard delivered his most famous song about his daddy, the “Okie from Muskogee,” and the sing-along turned to whoops from the audience when Nelson appeared at the rear of the stage.
Even Price returned for a bit of the fun, joining the septuagenarian members of the Last of the Breed clan onstage.
Together Haggard and Nelson treated the audience to their best-known hit as a duo, “Pancho and Lefty,” and the former returned to back up his old friend on guitar for much of the night.
For folks like John and Phyllis Jones of Barryville who came “just to see Willie,” the last two hours of the show were what it was all about.
The Jones’ have been waiting 22 years to be able to see a show in their own backyard, and they couldn’t have picked a better place to see one of their favorites.
“It’s gorgeous,” John said. “The landscape, the setting . . .”
And, hey, Bethel Woods brought Willie to town what’s not to love?
The hippie cowboy sang the songs he wrote to make other people famous and the songs he’s sung for decades, going “Crazy” and setting out “On the Road Again.”
Setting down his cowboy hat and bringing out his trusty red bandana, Nelson lead a sing-along through the likes of “Always on My Mind” and “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” before beating the drum for his new album.
His new songs showed a new Willie, a Nelson who would headline a show dubbed “The Last of the Breed.”
“I used to fake a heart attack and fall down on the floor, but even I don’t think that’s funny anymore,” drew some knowing chuckles from his peers.
So too did the self-deprecating “Superman.”
“Too many pain pills, too much pot, trying to be something I’m not,” Willie sang. “I ain’t superman.”
But fear not activist Willie is alive and well.
After bringing out the Village of Florida’s own Jimmy Sturr to help stump for the upcoming Farm Aid concert in New York City, Nelson introduced his newest fight song to Bethel Woods.
“There’s a peaceful solution,” he sang, moving to the front of the stage with his hands in the air to get the crowd clapping along. “Now, let’s take back America.”