With over 80 combined Grammy Awards, Willie Nelson and Alison Krauss and Union Station know how to put on a show.
Sunday's "Willie Nelson and Family" concert at Thompson-Boling Arena made history in Knoxville by merging Nelson's timeless tunes with Alison Krauss and Union Station's musical excellence.
Co-headlining the tour with Nelson, Alison Krauss and Union Station played their two-hour set with grace and precision. This seasoned band of five exceptionally skilled musicians, singers and songwriters performed each of their well-known songs with a zealous enthusiasm that is often absent from long established groups.
Krauss, with her bizarre sense of humor, kept the audience chuckling between beautiful renditions of the band's poignant bluegrass tunes.
"Well folks, that's about the most upbeat sad song we've got for you tonight," Krauss said at the conclusion of the band's classic hit, "Every Time You Say Goodbye."
Also on the set list was a two-song instrumental interlude by Union Station's 13-time Grammy Award winning Dobro player, Jerry Douglas, followed by guitar player Dan Tyminski's much anticipated acoustic performance of "Hey Brother"—his recent chart-topping collaboration with Swedish DJ, Avicii.
Krauss, who holds the record for most Grammy Awards won by a female artist, said she and her band had played many shows in Knoxville since their start in 1989.
"Knoxville is one of the best towns for bluegrass music," Krauss said.
The band ended their evening of musical excellence with simple, pared down versions of their most famous songs—all in preparation for Willie Nelson's classic sound.
When Nelson, one of the last living stars of country music's golden age, took the stage at 9:30 p.m. — a time some would call late for an 81-year-old artist — the crowd's fervor was palpable. Fans sporting knock-offs of Nelson's signature pigtail braids and red bandanas stood to welcome the country music legend.
The crowd sang and swayed along with Nelson and his 45-year-old splintered guitar, Trigger, as they rehashed an hour-and-half of his most popular tunes including "Crazy," "Beer for My Horses," "On the Road Again" and "You Were Always on My Mind." Although Nelson is no longer in his prime — he often sang-spoke lyrics and struggled to keep his rambunctious guitar riffs on beat with the drummer — his classic grit and infectious positive attitude kept the audience satisfied.
While Nelson said very little, pausing between sets only to introduce his five-piece band, the show was seldom boring. Sensing this might be the outlaw's final bout on the touring circuit, fans went wild as Nelson tore off his classic red bandana and tossed it into the crowd.
Still, Nelson showed no intention of slowing down. Along with his classic songs, the octogenarian showcased brand new tunes such as "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die" and "Band of Brothers."
Douglas named Nelson as one of his country music idols.
"Seeing Willie play is like watching a good president play guitar," Douglas said. "He's one of the greatest names in country music."
The evening concluded on a joyous note when Nelson invited all of the evening's performers, including Alison Krauss and Union Station and opening act, The Wild Feathers, on stage to sing a medley of gospel tunes including "I'll Fly Away" and "Will the Circle Be Unbroken."
The "Willie Nelson and Family" concert is best summarized in lyrics from Nelson's 1980 hit, "On the Road Again."
"The life I love is making music with my friends / And I can't wait to get on the road again."