Willie Nelson in Mother Earth News (May/June 1987)

May 7th, 2021

Mother Earth News
May/June 1987
Farm Aid’s Founder:  Willie Nelson
Patrick Carr

It’s midwinter in Tampa, Florida, and as usual the weather is warm going on stifling.  Willie Nelson really needs the air conditioner humming peacefully in his mobile home away from home, the Silver Eagle Honeysuckle Rose.

In his own, quiet, careful way, Willie’s all business today.  Waiting in the cool, dark comfort of the bus for the horde of people his presence will draw to town tonight, he’s working hard:  poring over snapshots of himself and his sister Bobbie outside the Abbott, Texas, church in which they learned to sing, for the cover of a genuine hard-core Christian mail-order gospel album; making little decisions about the set he and his band of honky-tonk gypsies will play tonight; ordering up a carefully nutritious chicken dinner from the kitchen bus that travels with his five-vehicle caravan, then forgetting to eat it; talking business with little haste or waste of words or energy, on the radio telephone at his elbow.

The business concerns the usual megastar matters — movie promotion, investment opportunities, the touring schedule, a $1.5 million book contract — but also something seemingly out of place in this context:  the Farm Aid cause, Mr. Nelson’s foray into public service.  Cocooned amid Tampa’s concrete consumerism, the former Bible salesman, and latter-day multimillionaire is taking time to help the family farmers of his country fight back against government policy, big business and the economics of scale.

There is something rather special about Willie Nelson.  It was he, after all, who united the rednecks and the hippies and the surburbanites of the 1970s in appreciation of a style of country music considered both archaic and impossibly uncommercial by the Nashville powers-that-were.  Likewise his image — a lovely blend of longhair, cowboy, rebel, hardcore party legend and wise old man — is suggestive.

It’s no wonder he’s such an institution.  You can look up to some entertainers (Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Paul McCartney), but Willie invites involvement, not distance.  The dominant element of his stare — a thoroughly savvy serenity — is mighty trustworthy.

That invitation to trust must have been part of his image all along.  Certainly it was during his late teenage years, when he was already trying to get ahead in the world by promoting dance concerts throughout east Texas, earning his percentage from acts like Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, Milton Brown and the Brownies, Spade Cooley, and the legendary Ernest Tubb while he watched from the wings and learned the ropes.  It also impressed the folks in the Nashville big leagues after Willie had decided to forgo his studies for the Baptist ministry in favor of a full-time career in the hillbilly highway nightlife; you need a lot more than even the kind of devastating song-writing talent Willie possesses to become a primary source for the Music Row hit machine the way he did in pretty short order.  And when eventually his ambitions outstripped what Nashville was willing to offer and he made his legendary end-run around Music Row, his aura so impressed the college hippies of Austin, texas, that not too long after he’d been among them they began to buy posters proclaiming, “Matthew, Mark, Luke and Willie,” and to enshrine them in their places of fun and meditation.

A Nashville executive describes his experience:  “It was amazing, just wonderful,” says the Nashville executive.  “I’ve never seen anything like it.  Neil Reshen (Willie’s manager) was so bad — I mean, you really wanted to have the man arrested; the secretaries used to run for the bathroom when he showed up.  But when you talked to Willie, it was like negotiating with Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and you were so relieved you didn’t have to deal with Neil that you gave Willie whatever he wanted.  But, of course, what Neil wanted and what Willie wanted were the same things.  They were working the good cop, bad cop routine, the oldest con in the world, but they did it so well you didn’t realize what was going on till it was all over.  And by then you’d done a deal you’d never have even dreamed of otherwise.  Willie just outplayed me, and he ended up getting what he really deserved.  And all that means is he’s smarter than I am.  He just has to turn that smile on you, and you’re hooked.  But now I take him seriously.  He may be beautiful, but he’s not dumb.”

Such a man — with his hard-earned combination of country compassion, common sense and carefully honed business skills – would have been the perfect choice if American farmers had gone looking for a leader in their hour of need.  That’s not how it happened, though.  It was Willie who went unbidden to the farmers.

September 1985 was when it began, in Champagne, Illinois, as a notion kicked around between Willie and his crew in the wake of Bob Geldof’s Life Aid marathon.  As Willie recalls, in the low-to-vanishing key for which he is renowned, “I have no idea how it got started.  I was just sitting in the bus….”

Like a large proportion of the projects Willie judges worthy, the 14-hour Farm Aid benefit moved from the idea to action with little further ado.  It was set up with minimum fuss and executed with slightly less toll and craziness than usually attends a mammoth outdoor music festival featuring multiple major entertainers.  (Which figures.  After more than a decade of organizing and hosting his legendary Fourth of July picnics, Willie is perhaps the world’s premier mastermind of such events.)   When it was all over — when Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, Alabama, Billy Joel, Kris Kristofferson, Bon Jovi, Joni Mitchell, Waylon Jennings, Kenny Rogers, Neil Young, Merle Haggard, John Cougar Mellencamp and some 45 other acts had done their thing and the TV viewers who watched them had sent in their donations — Willie and his crew suddenly found themselves in temporary possession of a great deal of donated money.

That came as something of a shock.  “I figured people would respond,” says Willie, “but not nearly as well as they did, and as all that money started rollin’ in, I had to rethink my position.  I realized I had to do a lot more than make some calls and go out and sing.  My name was attached to that money, so by necessity I had to take responsibility and decide that I would be the one who writes the checks.  So that’s what happens, nothing goes out without my signature on it.  And so far, I know that every quarter of that money has gone to benefit the family farmer in some way.”

After Farm Aid One in Illinois and Farm Aid Two, held in Austin on the Fourth of July, 1986, the approximate total for which Willie has taken responsibility is $14 million.

And Willie doesn’t just sign the checks, he approves them.

“He makes the final decision,” says Caroline Mugar, the director of Farm Aid (Willie is Chairman of the Board).  “We just do the research on what’s going on, who’s doing what where, what they hope to do and how they’ve used the money they’ve already gotten, and we make recommendations.  Then Willie decides.”

Happy Shoeshine Friday

May 7th, 2021

Willie Nelson Book signing at Barnes & Noble in NYC (May 7, 2015) (“It’s a Long Story: My Life”)

May 7th, 2021

Willie Nelson’s new biography will be released this week, and he will be travelling and appearing on television to talk about it.  

Next Thursday, May 7th, he will be signing books at the Barnes & Noble on East 17th Street in New York City.

Thursday May 07, 2015 12:00 PM
Union Square
33 East 17th Street
New York
NY 10003

Willie Nelson, Forever Young (Country Weekly, May 6, 2013)

May 6th, 2021

Country Weekly
May 6, 2013

Willie Nelson can be described in so many ways:  singer, songwriter, activist, author, actor, even the “Red Headed Stranger,” after one of his best-known albums.  You can also call him “youthful” and “relevant”, even as he reaches the milestone age of 80 on April 30. 

With a poingnant new album, Let’s Face the Music and Dance, a bestselling memoir, Roll me UP and Smoke Me When I DIe:  Musings From the Road, and a full tour schedule, Willie is clearly indicating that he’s not quite done yet. 

As he’s often joked about retirement, “All I do is play music and golf.  Which one do you want me to give up?”  In celebration of his big 8-0, we take a look back at the key moments of Willie Nelson’s career.


Willie Nelson Farm Aid Playlist

May 6th, 2021


Our president and founder Willie Nelson had a birthday last week. To celebrate we put together an epic video playlist featuring three decades of collaborations that he’s had with other artists on the Farm Aid stage. 

Whether it’s Dave Matthews, Grace Potter, Waylon Jennings, Paul Simon or  Norah Jones, there’s something for everyone in this playlist. Which collaboration is your favorite?WATCH WILLIE’S STAR-STUDDED MUSICAL COLLABORATIONS

May 6th, 2021

Willie Nelson on the View (May 6, 2015)

May 6th, 2021

May 6th, 2021


“A Song for You,” — Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, Leon Russell

May 5th, 2021

Leon Russell, Willie Nelson and Ray Charles performing Leon’s hit – “A Song For You”. Live at willie’s 70th birthday concert in New York’s Beacon Theatre 2003.

May 5th, 2021

Willie Nelson, Michael McDonald, David Hildago, “Dreams of the San Joaquin”

May 4th, 2021

by: Jason Scott

Legendary singer-songwriters Willie Nelson and Michael McDonald are teaming up with multi-instrumentalist David Hidalgo, most known for his work with Los Lobos, on an updated version of “Dreams of the San Joaquin.” Originally written by Jack Wesley Routh and Randy Sharp, and famously performed by Linda Ronstadt and Kenny Rogers, the track arrives May 7 for BandCamp Friday as an exclusive release.

Track proceeds will benefit RAICES, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, and the United Farm Workers of America. The song, depicting a field worker toiling in the San Joaquin Valley during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression, will be made available on streaming services a week later. A Micah Nelson-directed visual is set to be released, as well.

“The migrant farm worker is as responsible if not more for maintaining our country’s position as one of the largest agricultural economies in the world,” McDonald says in a press statement. “The labor that falls squarely on their shoulders allows farmers to bring produce to our stores and food to our tables as reasonably priced as possible. COVID has ravaged this quadrant of the American workforce disproportionately.”

Nelson also reflects, “This was a collaboration of love and a prayer for understanding. It sends a message of hope that we all need to hear. I’ve always loved Mike’s voice and enjoyed making this with him and my son Micah.”

“After a particularly brutal year for farm workers, their support is priceless,” Ana Maria Rea-Ventre, Vice President of Advocacy at RAICES, shares. “This heartfelt rendition of ‘Dreams of the San Joaquin’ is a beautiful reminder of all that the migrant community of over eight million people sacrifices to give their families a better life. May we all be moved by this song to fight with our migrant brothers and sisters, to whom our country owes so much.”

Ronstadt recorded her version on her 1998 studio record We Ran. Rogers adapted the track for You Can’t Make Old Friends, released in 2013.

Read article here.

Willie Nelson, Cowtown Jamboree at Panther Hall (Fort Worth, Texas)

May 3rd, 2021

May 3rd, 2021

“You Don’t Think I’m Funny Anymore,” — Willie Nelson

May 3rd, 2021

Willie Nelson & Family at the Fillmore (May 3, 2017)

May 3rd, 2021