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Willie Nelson bringing The Family to Foellinger

90-year-old continues to go strong with trusty guitar, Trigger, by side

Country legend Willie Nelson will be at Foellinger Theatre on Thursday, May 25, with opening act Austin Snell.
Sarah Senseny

Sarah Senseny

Whatzup Features Writer

Published May 17, 2023

Fort Wayne welcomes Willie Nelson to Foellinger Theatre on May 25 for a honky-tonk night with The Family. 

Along with celebrating his 90th birthday with a show at the Hollywood Bowl, this year has seen Nelson become an inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, release a new album, win a couple Grammys, and launch a four-part documentary series. 

Now, you can catch this living legend perform at a charming outdoor venue right in your Fort Wayne backyard. Supporting act Austin Snell has his own country sound that he calls grunge country.

All In The Family 

Nelson sets out on tour with his backing band affectionately named The Family, which includes Mickey Raphael, Billy English, Kevin Smith, and Micah Nelson, with Raphael and English playing with Nelson since the 1970s. 

Nelson’s sister, Bobbie Nelson, passed away in March of last year. She learned to play music alongside her younger brother Willie. She had been an integral part of The Family since 1973, playing her piano with graceful skill on tour and on record.

Thanks to the four-part Willie Nelson & Family documentary that was unveiled at the Sundance Film Festival this year, you can catch her and the rest of the band playing their country hearts out. 

Nelson & Family tour in Nelson’s Honey­suckle Rose V tour bus that is powered by Nelson’s own brand of bio-diesel, Bio-Willie. 

Trusty Trigger

It’s been 54 years, and Nelson’s still wearing a hole in that spruce top of his Martin N-20 classical guitar Trigger. 

Affectionately named after Roy Rogers’ horse, Trigger has served Nelson for decades and he refuses to put it down. The guitar even made an appearance with Nelson in an episode of the animated series King of the Hill.

The mystic guitar has all but fused its spirit with its wielder, the two being inseparable since he first acquired the guitar in 1969. Trigger was even there during Nelson’s transformation into outlaw country star in the 1970s. 

But what makes Trigger so special? Over decades of continuous play, with more than 10,000 concert appearances, Trigger has sustained a hole between the bridge and the soundhole. 

Martin built this spruce-topped guitar for use in classical music, i.e. played without a pick. But that wear and tear didn’t put Nelson off. The counter-culture country hippie he is, he embraced it. 

In his autobiography It’s a Long Story: My Life, Nelson says about the guitar: “I heard it as a human sound, a sound close to my own voice.” 

Today, Trigger is one of the most recognized guitars in music history; its body bearing more than 100 famous signatures. The gut strings, classical make, Brazilian rosewood, and spruce combined with Nelson’s own jive truly makes it one-of-a-kind.  

Star-studded 90th birthday party 

On April 29, Nelson celebrated his 90th birthday with a celebratory concert at the Hollywood Bowl. 

Nelson performed with his trusty Trigger and The Family, but the concert featured a whole host of performers and actors. Appearances at the concert, officially titled Long Story Short: Willie Nelson 90, included Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Sheryl Crow, Snoop Dogg, George Strait, Beck, Dwight Yoakam, and Keith Richards. 

The two-day event celebrated Nelson’s contribution to music both modern and classic and had a profoundly jovial effect on all who attended.

Rolling into rock hall of fame

Nelson’s fellow inductees for this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are as diverse as ever, including Kate Bush, Sheryl Crow, Missy Elliott, George Michael, Rage Against the Machine, and The Spinners. 

Nelson announced his appreciation of the forthcoming induction, but the choice to induct a country music star has stirred up controversy. In truth, such discourse isn’t a new conversation. Over the years, the Hall has broadened the definition of rock n’ roll, recognizing it not only as a musical genre, but a way of life.  

Is Nelson rock n’ roll enough to secure a spot among legends like Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Fats Domino, and The Doors? 

Admittedly, Nelson has led quite the rock-n’-roll lifestyle. Back in the 1970s, his advent of outlaw country changed the course of country music, and he was the first country act to sign to Atlantic’s rock-oriented label. At that time, some labeled him as a rock star, achieved by  his uniquely amplified sound from the Baldwin-designed pickup on Trigger. 

Apart from his musical leanings, Nelson has been heavily involved in activism, including Farm Aid, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, the LGBTQ+ movement, and the use of biofuel. 

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame defines its performer category as “artists who have created music whose originality, impact, and influence has changed the course of rock and roll.” 

The induction ceremony will be Friday, Nov. 3, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. 

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