DULUTH – "Willie Nelson for President 2024″ proclaimed the $5 bumper stickers in the official merchandise tent Thursday night at Bayfront Festival Park.

The country music legend came to Duluth for the first time since 2011, giving his usual stump speech, er, concert. He started with the pleading "Whiskey River" and ended with the tongue-in-cheek "It's Hard to Be Humble."

If you've seen Willie in recent years, you've likely heard these same songs before. But there were many first-timers on Thursday like singer/songwriter Geno LaFond from Grand Marais and mining heavy equipment operator Allen Pangrac from Embarrass, Minn.

"For 91, this is awesome," Pangrac said mid-show of the nonagenarian's performance.

It was first-rate, age notwithstanding. Willie was in fine form, singing with thoughtful phrasing more than talk-singing, which has been his default approach on some nights as he ages. He punched his words on the end of the back-to-back Peach State odes, the stirringly wistful "Georgia on My Mind" and the chugging "I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train."

Willie's acoustic guitar work was eloquently expressive, embracing jazz, Tex-Mex, flamenco and deep-note blues whether he was taking extended solos, offering introductory passages or playing filigree between vocal lines.

His ballads, including "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground," "Always on My Mind" and the aforementioned "Georgia," seemed to resonate more deeply as you realize this might be the last time you witness Willie even if it was your first time.

Unlike many of his recent records on which he addressed mortality in his songs, that vibe didn't permeate his lyrics on Thursday. Perhaps the closest he came was in the third selection, 1993′s "Still Is Still Moving to Me."

"And it's hard to explain how I feel," he crooned cryptically. "I can be moving or I can be still. But still is still moving to me."

Still? He can't wait to get on the road again. He's been doing campaign stops in smaller cities throughout the Midwest with Des Moines and Camdenton, Mo., on deck before he starts his summer Outlaw Music Festival with Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp and others that brings him to Somerset, Wis., on Sept. 6, his second consecutive year in that venue.

But it wasn't summertime in Duluth. Hoodies and blankets were de rigueur as the temperatures dipped into the mid-50s with a Lake Superior breeze under a burnt orange full moon in the town where Willie's pal Dylan was born 83 years ago on Friday.

"I hope they give Willie a [space] heater," Pangrac, hiding under his just-purchased Willie hoodie, said before the Texas icon started.

Indeed, Willie had a heater onstage (he warmed his fingers at least once) and sported a quilted black jacket.

He arrived onstage without introduction, grabbed his red, white and blue guitar strap that he hitched to Trigger, his trusty weathered acoustic guitar. And he eased into "Whiskey River," as he always does to kick off his rallies.

Billed, as always, as Willie Nelson and Family, the band has shrunk in recent years. His son Micah Nelson is off playing guitar with Neil Young. Subbing for Micah was Waylon Payne, son of the late Jody Payne, Willie's guitarist for 35 years. Harmonica player Mickey Raphael, the main soloist other than Willie, has been on board since 1973. Billy English, a percussionist since in '83, replaced his late brother Paul, Willie's bestie, on drums. Upright bassist Kevin Smith joined in 2012. And there is no pianist since Willie's sister Bobbie died in 2022.

The quintet had the intimate feel of a bluegrass combo, especially with English playing with brushes on his sparse drum kit and Willie giving the band cues with his hand or head. Three times he asked Payne to sing lead, though Willie joined him for a few lines on "Me and Bobby McGee" and "Help Me Make It Through the Night."

Willie's platform, er, set list could unite a divided country. From a cover of Merle Haggard's "Workin' Man's Blues" and his own music biz protest "Write Your Own Songs" to his playful "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die," the easygoing Texan connected with the crowd whether they were Vikings or Packers fans, North Face or Carhartt loyalists, urbanites or farmers, hippies or rednecks, kids or grandparents.

Like a dedicated candidate, Willie is not only stumping from town to town but busy publishing his views. On May 31, he will release "The Border," his 75th studio album and seventh since 2020. In November, he'll publish "Willie and Annie Nelson's Cannabis Cookbook: Mouthwatering Recipes and the High-Flying Stories Behind Them." (Willie's Joint, the booth selling his cannabis-themed T-shirts, was almost as busy Thursday as the official merch tent offering hoodies and those bumper stickers.)

Seated and saying little between songs other than "Thank you" and introducing the band members, the singer with the pigtails may not have been physically invigorating but he sure seemed vital, maybe proving that, at his age, he could fulfill the wishes on that bumper sticker.

After a crisp 60-minute performance that didn't seem as brief as it was, he got up from his padded stool, tossed his straw cowboy hat into the crowd, removed the red bandana wrapped around his head and threw that into the crowd. Then, like a victory-seeking candidate, he spread his arms as wide he could, put both hands to his lips and blew a two-handed kiss. About 7,000 folks were ready to cast their votes.