ELKHART— Picture Willie Nelson with his hair in two braids down his back and a folded red bandana wrapped around his head. Now picture him as a stuffed doll.
This doll in Nelson’s image was held up through much of the first three songs at Willie Nelson and Family’s sold out concert at The Lerner Theatre Friday night.
But the stuffed doll wasn’t the one who received the standing ovation when Nelson stepped out onto the stage at 9 p.m. with his equally famous, beaten-up guitar.
Nelson started the show by playing “Whiskey River.”
When he played “Beer For My Horses,” the house lights shined on the audience when their participation was expected, and they shouted out the lyrics when their turn came.
By the time he played “Funny How Time Slips Away,” for his third song, people were getting out their lighters to wave back and forth from their seats.
Nearly every seat was filled with die-hard Willie Nelson fans.
Tickets were still on sale earlier this week, but as of Friday they were bought up.
“It’s really exciting,” said David Smith, general manager at The Lerner. “Tickets sold out at around 6 p.m. today.”
Smith said Nelson held back about 60 seats and released them earlier Friday.
Friends John Healey, of Middlebury, and Irv Yoder, of Nappanee, were able to purchase their tickets the day they went on sale. They got tickets for main level seats.
“He’s a legend; Willie the Legend,” Yoder said.
Ann and Carl Rathjen, of Elkhart, purchased their tickets when they went on sale at The Lerner.
“I got there at 9:30 (a.m.) and tickets went on sale at 10,” Ann said. She and her husband were able to snag second row seats.
This is the second time the couple has seen Nelson live. They went to his show in South Bend last year.
Linda Delargy and her son Michael came from South Bend to see Nelson.
“She’s a fan of his, so I’m taking her to see him,” Michael Delargy said before his mother arrived.
“I’m taking my son to see him,” Linda said when she appeared.
“Well, I drove,” Michael countered.
This is her second and his first time seeing Nelson in concert.
“I’m Country now that I’m older and more mellow,” Linda said.
Volunteer Rose Martin, who dances with The Rockerettes, said she has seen the theater even more packed. She said more people came to the free Navy Band Sea Chanters show that came to The Lerner last month. She believes it was because the show was free.
That doesn’t bother Smith.
“I’m weird when it comes to shows because I think every show at The Lerner is the biggest show,” Smith said. “If people leave happy, it was the biggest show.”