Country legend Willie Nelson & Family performed live at Bluesville on Friday, January 6th 2017 in Tunica, Mississippi. Their opening act was Runaway June, a new girl trio out of Nashville. The daughter of John Wayne, Jennifer Wayne, is in Runaway June.
Willie is now 83 years old, almost 84. He is a performer I have photographed many times as a photojournalist. He is one of my all time favorites.
Above is a photo gallery from some of the times I have photographed Willie Nelson.
Nelson has written more than 2,500 songs and has released close to 300 albums.
I met him initially at the first Farm Aid in 1985. The mission of Farm Aid was to keep family farmers on their land at a time when many farmers were struggling to make a living. He helped raise money for their cause.
The first time I came into contact with Willie he looked me right in the eye and we made a real connection. And I was thrilled when he gave me his hat.
I went on to photograph him many times again. The most interesting time was in Branson, Missouri in the early 90's. He was working in a club to raise money to pay the IRS some back taxes. Our interview took place on his bus. Willie Nelson did not have to stay in Branson very long: soon he was on the road again.
Each time I met him; he was so nice, so down to earth and so kind.
Willie looked almost the same Friday night as when I photographed him for the first time. Maybe he was a bit grayer, perhaps he had a few more wrinkles, but he looked much the same as he always has. He still had a warm smile and he belted out song after song with that unique voice of his.
While I watched his 83-year-old wrinkly arms play that beat up old guitar “Trigger” the other night, I thought how glad I was that our two souls were on this earth at the same time. Hearing his music has made my life richer.
Friday he played all the favorites, he got the crowd to their feet to sing, he enjoyed the interaction with his fans.
If you look at my photo gallery, you can see how similar he looks over the years. How he plays the same guitar, with the same guitar strap, his hair is long; he wears a hat and lots of black.
I had the same honor of shooting pictures of B.B. King several times too over the years and going on his bus for an interview too. B.B. performed into his late 80's.
I thought about Willie as I watched him perform and I thought about B.B. King and I thought they both needed to be on the road, playing music for their fans, as long as they are able.
It's what they do.
By Karen Pulfer Focht, photojournalist in Memphis. www.karenpulferfocht.com