By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Downstream Casino will celebrate its fifth anniversary by hosting a country music singer who defines longevity.
Willie Nelson, appearing in concert tonight at the casino, has worked and performed with a long list of other collaborators as varied as Jack White, Snoop Dogg and Ray Charles. He has had a successful career inside country music and outside of it, and has inspired countless others. And he has also been successful completely outside of music, acting in more than 30 movies and being an activist for biofuels, family farms and marijuana legalization.
But for Joplin-area residents, the concert actually happening may be the biggest surprise of all.
Originally booked in 2002 and 2007, Nelson canceled the concerts for health reasons and "just taking a few weeks off." The 2002 concert, set for Neosho with Wynnona Judd, got canceled the day before the show for health reasons.
Joplin's Access Entertainment ended up closing its doors because of the cancellation Ñ it refunded tickets to concertgoers yet still had to pay for staging, rigging and vendors for the outdoor performance. A promise for a make-up date never materialized.
A July 2007 show, booked at Joplin's Memorial Hall, also was postponed so Nelson could have some downtime. Rescheduled for October of that year, Nelson finally showed and played to a packed house.
But if anyone has earned some latitude, it's probably the Grammy-winning Nelson, who has been in the music business since the 1950s.
Starting as a deejay at a country music station in Fort Worth, Texas, Nelson also recorded independently and played nightclubs, according to his official press bio. Some of his original songs became hits, including "Family Bible," recorded by Claude Gray in 1960.
His success convinced him that a move to Nashville was in order. 1961 was a breakout year: Faron Young made Nelson's "Hello Walls" a nine-week No. 1 song, and Patsy Cline transformed his "Crazy" into a quintessential, genre-defining song.
As an artist for Liberty Records, he eventually scored two Top-10 hits, but it wasn't until he broke away from Nashville in a drive inspired by rock and folk music. In 1972 he moved back to Texas and recorded "Shotgun Willie" and "Phases and Stages."
Those two albums set the stage for "Red Headed Stranger," which helped coin the term "outlaw country" along with Waylon Jennings, according to his bio. Called an "acoustic concept album," the success surprised the music industry.
Throughout the '80s, Nelson kept recording. "On the Road Again" reached No. 1 in 1981, and "Always on My Mind" achieved crossover success. He also founded Farm Aid in 1985, a fundraising concert for family farmers. The '90s brought legal trouble from the IRS, including a bill for $16.7 million that forced the sale of many of his assets. But he was also inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1993, the year he cleared that IRS debt.
And he didn't stop working. He has released albums at a steady pace up to the 2010s, for a total of 67 studio albums and 37 compilations.
The concert is the centerpiece of Downstream Casino's fifth anniversary, said spokesperson Sean Harrison.
The casino recently finished its Kappa hotel expansion, which rounded out the casino's resort concept with an indoor pool and spa. Though no major work is planned in the immediate future, long-term plans for the casino include a convention center and plans for the tri-state border, where Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma meet.
"We've talked about a multi-purpose convention center so that we could have big concerts year-round instead of just the summer," Harrison said. "Our pavilion is about 20,000 square feet, so we're talking about something three times that size."
As for the border intersections, the casino is considering some sort of walking trail and fixing up the three-state marker. The casino also owns 200 acres in Kansas, once intended for a casino by Penn National Gaming, that it hopes to develop commercially.
Want to go?
Willie Nelson will perform at 8 p.m. tonight at Downstream Casino's outdoor pavilion. Tickets range from $40 to $80. Details: 918-919-6000.