At his show at Forest Hills Stadium this summer, Willie Nelson did something unusual: He played his classic “Funny How Time Slips Away” in full. Regulars of his shows might have noticed that he usually plays a short version of the 1961 song as part of a medley alongside “Night Life” and “Crazy,” but because he was playing a shorter set, he decided to drop some other songs and switch things up. “I like to keep it in [my set] if I can,” he told Rolling Stone afterward.
The performance was reminiscent of another excellent version: In 1997, Austin City Limits threw a songwriter special with several old-school legends: Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Porter Wagoner, Mel Tillis, Billy Joe Shaver, Ralph Emery, Mickey Gilley, Bobby Bare, Kimmie Rhodes and more. It was intimate and full of moving moments, like Kristofferson opening up about a profound religious experience that led him to write “Why Me Lord.”
But one musical performance stood out — Willie picking up his guitar, Trigger, and playing “Funny How Time Slips Away.” He wrote the song during a dark period, when he was living in Houston in the early Sixties, working as a radio DJ, trying to support his family. By the time of this performance, he’d played the song thousands of times. But it quickly became clear that this was not a normal performance. “Well, hello there,” Nelson sang, hitting a dissonant chord that he quickly resolved, launching into a performance that perfectly combined his unique phrasing and acoustic jazz escapades (listen to the solo). In the clip, you can see the effect of the performance: Kristofferson has tears in his eyes; Shaver moved in deep meditation.
Nelson just released a new song, “Vote ‘Em Out,” and will bring his Outlaw Music Festival to L.A.’s Hollywood Bowl this Sunday, playing alongside Phil Lesh & Friends, Sturgill Simpson, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Margo Price, Particle Kid and more.