The moment was more than 30 years in the making, as Willie Nelson and Family took to the stage of the Grand Theatre Center for the Arts on Tuesday, Sept 11 — the first of two shows for the legendary country and gospel singer to open the venue's sixth season.
“I’m a big fan and I don’t do many concerts, but this was such a special opportunity,” said Harrington, a Tracy resident. “I just enjoy his music. I’m just savoring this great atmosphere and small venue. He’s here with family, and this is wonderful.”
Like the hazy fog that sweeps over Tracy in the winter, Nelson and family blew into the downtown theater, 715 Central Ave., on Tuesday for the first of two shows for his ongoing Roll Me Up and Smoke Me Tour.
The second show begins Wednesday, Sept. 12, at 7:30 p.m., at the downtown theater. Tickets are still available and can be purchased at the theater or online at www.atthegrand.org/box-office-tickets.
More than 550 people nearly packed the theater to hear the timeless 79-year-old shred the guitar with the same nimble fingers that have come to define his musical career.
True to form, Nelson, who was unavailable for interview, appeared in a black T-shirt and jeans with his hair hanging in his trademark double braids as he played to the backdrop of his native Texas flag.
There was no escaping the marijuana-themed merchandise being sold in the lobby, but for an older crowd that was raised on Nelson’s music, it didn’t seem to matter.
“Sometimes you have to relax and enjoy the music for what it’s worth,” said Stockton resident Janelle Jenkins. “I’ve been listening to his music forever, it seems like, so this is all in good fun and everyone loves it.”
Following the one-hour-and-30-minute set, Nelson signed several autographs for fans close to the stage.
Robert Cleary and his fiancée, Stephanie Oliveira, were across the street from the theater at the Great Plate Bar and Grill earlier in the night for dinner when they saw Nelson was headlining.
When the singer ended his set and popped the top on his pen, Cleary, 26, was ready to fulfill “one of my lifelong dreams, because he is my lifetime hero.”
The 26-year-old proudly displayed his signed concert poster and bandana with parody pigtails, which was on sale in the lobby of the theater.
“He was totally ready to sign everything — it was amazing,” Cleary said. “It was a great show, he appeased the people — and (my fiancée and I) both grew up in Tracy our whole lives, so to see him here, someone so big, it was awesome.”
Oliveira was quick to point out that she might have got the best prize of all that night.
“He was kissing the girls, so I stepped right up and asked for one, too,” she said, motioning with her hands in the same fashion that Nelson did to grab her head with both hands and kiss her lips. “I might not ever wash my face.”
Nelson’s appearance in Tracy was also a surprise to Stephanie Ridder and her husband, Tom, when they saw posters for his impending arrival Sunday while attending the Tracy Dry Bean Festival.
The couple enjoyed their first Nelson concert from the balcony.
“This is a great venue, and to see a living legend, it’s amazing,” she said. “Our seats are great. It’s so much fun, and we love country, so what a perfect night this has been.”
• Contact Joel Danoy at 830-4229 or firstname.lastname@example.org.