Archive for the ‘Awards and Honors’ Category

Willie Nelson and Kacey Musgraves at the Grammys 2019

Monday, February 11th, 2019


“’s been a ?willie? nice week so far. Heart full from last night’s laughs and honoring Mr. William Hugh Nelson.’


Congratulations, Willie Nelson

Monday, February 11th, 2019

Willie Nelson wins 2019 Grammy for “My Way” (his ninth grammy)

Sunday, February 10th, 2019

Willie Nelson won his ninth Grammy Award on Sunday afternoon, in the Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album category for his 2018 Frank Sinatra tribute “My Way.”

The legendary Texas native and longtime Austin-area resident last won in 2016 in the same category for “Summertime,” a tribute to the Gershwins.

Matt Rollings, who co-produced the album with Buddy Cannon, accepted on Nelson’s behalf at the the Grammys’ afternoon Premiere ceremony in Los Angeles. Most of the awards are given out before the nationally televised evening program.

Nelson also was nominated in the Best Traditional Roots Performance category for “Last Man Standing,” the title track to an album of all-original material he also released last year. The winner in that category was “The Joke” by Brandi Carlile, who quickly won two more Grammys, including Best Americana Album. Carlile is a headliner at the Old Settler’s Music Festival near Lockhart in April.

In addition to the nine traditional Grammys he has received, Nelson also has been honored three times with special awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.

Willie Nelson Sings ‘Promiseland’ With Lukas Nelson, Dave Matthews

Sunday, February 10th, 2019
by: Joseph Hudak

Willie Nelson was the 2019 honoree when the Recording Academy’s Producers & Engineers Wing held its annual Grammy Week celebration on Wednesday in Los Angeles.

Recognizing the “artistic achievements and creative genius” of the Country Music Hall of Fame member, the event featured remarks from Kacey Musgraves, who praised Nelson’s unexpected role as a unifier. “He has this really unique ability to unite and really bring people together. It’s unlike any artist I can think of,” she said. “Underdogs, outliers, Republicans, rappers, presidents. Everyone loves Willie.”

The icon’s sons Micah Nelson and Lukas Nelson performed some of their father’s songs, including a moving rendition of “Living in the Promiseland,” the centerpiece track, written by David Lynn Jones, off Nelson’s 1986 album The Promiseland. Nelson himself joined in, along with special guest Dave Matthews, who earlier performed “Crazy” with Lukas Nelson. The evening ended with a customary sing-along of “On the Road Again.”

Along with Musgraves and Matthews, Ziggy Marley, Lisa Loeb, Feist, songwriter Diane Warren and “Weird Al” Yankovic were in attendance.

Nelson is the 11th artist to be recognized by the Producers & Engineers Wing. Past honorees include T Bone Burnett, Neil Young, Jack White, and Alicia Keys & Swizz Beatz.

Nelson is nominated for two Grammys at Sunday’s awards: Best American Roots Performance for the song “Last Man Standing” and Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album for his Frank Sinatra homage My Way. Earlier this week, he announced a new hemp-infused coffee as part of his Willie’s Remedy wellness line.

This day in Willie Nelson history: “Highwaymen” goes gold (February 10, 1986)

Sunday, February 10th, 2019

On February 10, 1986, “The HighwayMan” album, is certified gold for Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson

1. Highwayman
2. The Last Cowboy Song
3. Jim, I Wore A Tie Today
4. Big River
5. Committed To Parkview
6. Desperados Waiting For A Train
7. Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)
8. Welfare Line
9. Against The Wind
10. The Twentieth Century Is Almost Over

Lukas Nelson, Lady Gaga and Bradly Cooper win 2019 BAFTA Award

Sunday, February 10th, 2019

photo: Vivien Killilea
by:  Angela Stefano

Lukas Nelson is a 2019 BAFTA Awards winner! Along with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, the singer-songwriter earned the Best Original Music trophy, for his work on the A Star Is Born soundtrack.

>Cooper was in London on Sunday (Feb. 10) for the 2019 BAFTA Awards ceremony and accepted the honor for himself and his collaborators. Nelson did not attend, nor did Gaga.

“We won a BAFTA! Congrats to my amazing friends @ladygaga and Bradley Cooper, and to my amazing band @promiseoftherealofficial for creating something truly special!!” writes Nelson on Instagram. “Thank you for the recognition @bafta.

Adds Gaga, who is in Los Angeles, Calif., for the 2019 Grammy Awards, “I can’t believe we just won Best Original Music @BAFTA’s … We made a film about music. This means the world to me. Thank u to all our fans we love u so much, we wouldn’t be here without u.”

Nelson served as a musical consultant for the 2018 film. The fourth remake of the 1937 movie A Star Is Born stars Cooper and Gaga, but Nelson is also one of a number of country- and Americana-leaning artists who wrote songs for the soundtrack. Nelson has writing credits on seven of the movie’s songs, and he produced seven of the songs as well. In the film, Nelson also plays a member of Jackson Maine (played by Cooper)’s band.

Nelson, Cooper and Gaga’s A Star Is Born soundtrack competed for Best Original Music at the 2019 BAFTA Awards against the soundtracks from BlacKKKlansman (Terence Blanchard), If Beale Street Could Talk (Nicholas Britell), Isle of Dogs (Alexandre Desplat) and Mary Poppins Returns (Marc Shaiman). A Star Is Born and its stars also earned nods in the Best Film, Leading Actor, Leading Actress, Director, Adapted Screenplay and Sound categories.

Also known as the EE British Academy Film Awards, the BAFTA Awards are organized by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), an independent, arts-focused charity. A complete list of 2019 BAFTA Awards winners is available at

Saturday, February 9th, 2019

Dave Matthews, Kacey Musgraves, Willie Nelson, Lukas Nelson, MicahNelson
photo:  @joeymartinez

Laughed a lot with these lovely humans last night during the 12th annual producers and engineers wing Grammy week celebration honoring the old man @willienelsonofficial .”
— Micah Nelson

Willie Nelson honored at pre-Grammy event

Thursday, February 7th, 2019
by Lyndsey Parker

It was a multigenerational affair at the Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing’s annual Grammy Week Celebration on Wednesday night when this year’s P&E honoree, 85-year-old Willie Nelson, took the stage with his sons Lukas and Micah Nelson and Lukas’s band, Promise of the Real.

Also on hand were Grammy Album of the Year nominee Kacey Musgraves and veteran country songwriter and producer Buddy Cannon, who introduced the elder Nelson, and surprise guest Dave Matthews, who performed acoustic versions of Nelson’s 1961 classic “Funny How Time Slips Away” and his own “Gravedigger,” which Nelson covered in 2008.

There was a lot of love in the room at Village Studios in Los Angeles as Musgraves proclaimed, “[Nelson] has this really unique ability to unite. … It’s really unlike any other artist I can think of. Underdogs, outliers, Republicans, rappers, presidents — everyone loves Willie! Speaking of presidents, I asked Willie one time, ‘So, why don’t you just run for president?’ He was like, ‘Because I’d win.’ Touché.

‘He’s just a huge part of American culture. I mean, little kids are still dressing up like him for Halloween. … His songs are so iconic, so classic. They’re never gonna die,” Musgraves continued. “And let’s get real — he’s probably not either. He’s going to outlive us all.”

Matthews later echoed Musgraves’s sentiment, telling the Village crowd (which included “Weird Al” Yankovic, Diane Warren, Feist, Ziggy Marley and Lisa Loeb), “[Nelson is] just a great influence. If you need someone to make you think it’s better to be good and kind, you just have to look at that guy. And then you realize, ‘Oh, there’s no reason to be a d***, because look how far this guy’s gotten being a f***in’ great guy!’”

Matthews was later joined onstage by Lukas for a rendition of “Crazy,” the Patsy Cline classic that his father wrote in 1961, after which the Nelson sons jammed on an 11-minute medley of his hits. Finally, the man of the hour got up for “Living in the Promiseland” and “On the Road Again.”

Willie seemed to prefer to let his music do the talking, keeping his P&E acceptance speech short and sweet — though he acknowledged that being so universally likable had delivered a career advantage. “I want to thank the producers and engineers over the years for making me sound as good as I could,” he quipped. “And I’m glad they liked me, because they really could have screwed me up!”

Now in its 12th year, the Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing Grammy Week Celebration also honored the contributions of the Producers & Engineers Wing’s 6,400-plus professional members, who work together to shape the future of music recording.
Nelson, who has eight Grammy wins and 200 hundred albums under his belt — and who planned to head back into the studio Thursday, according to Cannon — joins a list of P&E honorees that includes such illustrious names as T Bone Burnett, Jimmy Iovine, Quincy Jones, Neil Young, Nile Rodgers, Rick Rubin, Jack White and Alicia Keys.
“Willie is one of the icons, and he has been a standard-bearer for all of us,” said Recording Academy president and CEO Neil Portnow.

Willie Nelson To Be Honored With 2019 Producers & Engineers Wing Award (Feb. 6, 2019)

Wednesday, February 6th, 2019
by:  Ana Yglesias

The GRAMMY-winning country legend will be honored for his many years of “artistic achievements and creative genius” during GRAMMY Week in February 2019
Willie Nelson may already have many accolades and achievements to his name, including eight GRAMMY Awards, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for more. On Oct. 30 the Recording Academy’s Producers & Engineers Wing announced they will be honoring Nelson during GRAMMY Week 2019 to “celebrate his artistic achievements and creative genius.”

he P&E Wing’s 12th annual celebration will take place on Feb. 6, 2019 in Los Angeles, Calif. as part of GRAMMY Week, which culminates with Music’s Biggest Night, the 61st GRAMMY Awards on Feb. 10. In addition to honoring Nelson, the event also acknowledges the industry contributions of the Wing’s more than 6,400 professional members.

“Each year, the Recording Academy’s Producers & Engineers Wing annual GRAMMY week event honors members of the recording community who exhibit exceptional standards of integrity, creativity and sonic quality,” said Maureen Droney, Managing Director of the P&E Wing. “We are thrilled to pay homage to Willie Nelson, an undeniable icon with an incomparable—and uncompromising—body of work.”

Nelson is a musical force to be reckoned with, a living legend who has released more than 200 albums over his six-decade career, a true leader in outlaw country music, and the larger genre as a whole. He has made an impact in the music industry as a songwriter, performer and collaborator, and in the larger world as an author, actor and activist. He has always used his platform to speak his mind and make a positive impact on those around him, such as with Farm Aid, an annual charity concert he co-founded in 1985 to support family farmers.

To date he has won eight GRAMMYs, taking home his first at the 18th GRAMMY Awards in 1975 for Best Male Country Vocal Performance for his breakout hit “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain,” from Red Headed Stranger. The album was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame in 2002, followed by several more of Nelson’s recordings. Over the years he has been recognized by the Recording Academy on multiple other occasions, receiving the President’s Merit Award in 1986, the GRAMMY Legend Award in 1990 and the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.

“Willie Nelson has inspired generations of musicians and fans, and continues to set precedents of excellence within the music community,” added Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow.

In 2018 the P&E Wing honored power couple Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz. Prior honorees include Jack WhiteRick RubinNile Rodgers and Neil Young.


Willie Nelson honored (November 1, 1986)

Wednesday, January 30th, 2019

Willie: Life & Songs OF An American Outlaw, A Willie Nelson All-Star Concert Celebration

Sunday, January 27th, 2019

photo:  Jason Kempin

It takes a village: A star-studded lineup paid tribute to Willie Nelson on Jan. 12 at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena as part of the “Willie: Life & Songs OF An American Outlaw, A Willie NElson All-Star Concert Celebration.” The performance will air later in the year on A&E Networks.
by:  Glen Peoples

On a drizzly, windy Saturday afternoon in January, with Nashville’s honky-tonk bars buzzing a block away, Keith Wortman sits on a leather chair in a small room backstage at the Bridgestone Arena. In six hours, Chris Stapleton, backed by a top-notch group of players led by Don Was (Wortman’s longtime creative partner), would kick off a memorable tribute to Willie Nelson: “Life and Songs of an American Outlaw.” To Wortman, founder of Blackbird Presents, the first song is the culmination of Blackbird’s latest celebration of a legendary musician.

These star-laden concerts are “what I’ve always dreamed about doing,” Wortman says as three people stand in the doorway waiting for a moment of his time. Organizing the concert is corralling a flurry of moving parts. For “Life & Songs of an American Outlaw,” television played an additive role. “The model is an all-star show for an icon – bring out a Who’s Who of artists, backed by an incredible all-star band, and organize multi-platform distribution, which is to say they all become broadcast specials, not just the concert itself.”

Other types of concerts, namely festivals, count on sponsorships to bolster the bottom line. Blackbird has done roughly 25 all-star celebrations to date. In addition to one-off concerts, Blackbird has the Outlaw Music Festival it produces with Nelson and his manager, Mark Rothbaum. In 2018, 17 Outlaw Music Festival concerts averaged 8,887 tickets sold per night and an average gross of $426,160, according to Pollstar data.

Television effectively subsidizes the concert and, apparently, T-shirts that cost only $20 (an amazingly low price for an arena concert). This particular concert will be televised on A&E later in 2019; previous Blackbird concerts have aired on AMC, CMT, PBS, AXS, and more. “It’s harder to make the economics work because there are a lot of moving pieces and the expenses can get pretty significant,” explained Wortman. “So having a budget from a network certainly helps.” Compensation for artists is part of the business model, although Wortman couldn’t reveal specific numbers. “People are compensated through a number of different ways: expenses, fees, royalties on the products we put out.”

“Life and Songs of an American Outlaw” was like a festival in a bottle, a one-stop shop for Willie Nelson music performed by a multi-day festival-worth of talent. Sure, their appearances were typically limited to a song, and not always a duet with Nelson, but each performance had the emotion of a 30-minute set. The crowd hung on every note. Out of about 16,000 fans in attendance, you could count the people who left early on one hand.

Nelson at 85 years old is due for a tribute concert and brought aboard friends with an authentic connection: they know him, recorded with him, toured with him or cited him as an influence. Sometimes the concert was an easy sell. The Avett Brothers “probably said yes before they finished asking the question,” Seth Avett joked before the show. Having a prior relationship to the star is a requirement for his other concerts, too. Typically when doing these all-star events, Wortman will get calls from record labels trying to get their artists on his show to promote their new albums. These are non-starters. “That’s not an honest conversation.”

Nelson’s Rolodex must have made booking artists easier, but choosing the right lineup is crucial to this type of concert. “It’s a big responsibility. You want to honor the artist and their songs in a meaningful way and you want to put the artists on the show in a special position to succeed. Part of doing that is giving them a big platform, the broadcast.” And while the broadcast’s audience is a lure for the performers, Wortman also wants to preserve the show for posterity. “You’re talking about some of the most epic musical moments.”

Many performers were past participants at Nelson’s roving Farm Aid concert or Outlaw Music Festival (produced by Blackbird with Nelson and his manager, Mark Rothbaum): Jack Johnson, Jamey Johnson, Alison Krauss, Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price and Sheryl Crow.

Nathaniel Rateliff, who performs with his band The Night Sweats, said he tries to be more involved with Farm Aid every year. Rateliff just happened to have a free day before flying to Europe for a tour. “I would have been bummed to be too busy or if our tour had already started.” Lyle Lovett, who performed “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys,” noted Nelson’s ability to bring people together.

“Willie’s my hero [and] one of the most special human beings that ever walked the planet.” John Mellencamp, who co-founded Farm Aid with Nelson and Neil Young, and Dave Matthews both turned in memorable performances. Both are Farm Aid board members.

Some relationships go back decades. Vince Gill, who turned in a lovely rendition of “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” told the audience he opened for some of Nelson’s shows as a teenager. Susan Tedeschi played Farm Aid in 1999. She and her husband Derek Trucks, who perform as the Tedeschi Trucks Band, played “Somebody Pick Up My Pieces.” Tedeschi followed-up with a duet with Nelson on “City of New Orleans.” Tedeschi and Trucks usually enjoy a quiet period that time of year. “But Willie called,” said Trucks, laughing. Some of the legends had signed Margo Price’s guitar by the time she hit the red carpet before the show. “I’ve been walking around making everybody sign it. So I’ve got Kris Kristofferson, Bobby Bare, Emmylou Harris.”

Nearly every song per-formed was written or co-written by Nelson – with a few exceptions. Jamey Johnson wowed the audience with his version “Georgia on my Mind,” written by a close friend of Nelson’s, Ray Charles. Jack Johnson performed “Willie Got Me Stoned and Took My Money,” an original song he debuted at 2015’s Farm Aid concert.

One performer, in particular, lacked a connection: George Strait. Announced to a standing ovation as “The King of Country,” Strait explained he showed up because he and Nelson had never performed together on stage. Strait showed up with a humorous song written just for the occasion. It was a fitting end to the show before the requisite all-star jam closed the evening with superstar performers backed by an orchestra of guitars.

“Life & Songs of an American Outlaw” worked because it adequately paid tribute to Nelson and his legacy. Look for it on A&E – it’s part of the business model, after all.

Willie Nelson Celebrated By George Strait, Margo Price & More at ‘Willie: Life & Songs Of An American Outlaw’

Sunday, January 20th, 2019

Photo:  Al Wagner
by:  Isaak weeks

Willie Nelson and George Strait perform at Willie: Life & Songs Of An American Outlaw at Bridgestone Arena on Jan. 12, 2018 in Nashville, Tenn.
Given the universal appeal and introspective catharsis that marks the best of Willie Nelson’s work, the sheer range of talent who took the stage to celebrate the life and career of Nelson at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena for Willie: Life & Songs Of An American Outlaw should have come as no surprise.

As the dozens of guest performers — from old friends like Kris Kristofferson and Emmylou Harris, to fresher upstarts like the Avett Brothers and Margo Price — came together at the end of the roughly four-hour commemoration to follow Nelson in a closing medley of “On the Road Again” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” it became even more apparent just how ubiquitous the outlaw legend’s hits have become over the last 50 years.Aid

“I think everybody in America grew up with Willie Nelson to some degree,” the Hawaii-born Jack Johnson told Billboard on the red carpet before the event, where he was on hand to perform his song “Willie Got Me Stoned.”

“He was on my radar as a kid just from my parents playing his records around the house, but shortly after I started putting out albums in 2001, I had a chance to jam with Willie at his house one island over from me. Willie is empathetic to the mixture of cultures that come together to create music in Hawaii, and I think that respect to a melting pot of influences has been felt throughout his career.”

The following five performances were highlights of a night that was recorded and is slated to be aired as a major broadcast special on A&E Network in 2019.

A pair of Margo Price duets

A nominee for Best New Artist at this year’s Grammy Awards, the current Queen of Americana took the lead mic on a rendition of the 1978 hit “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” alongside Outlaw legend Bobby Bare. It proved to be merely a warmup to a barn-burner of a moment when Bare exited and Steve Earle appeared to join her for a rousing recreation of the Phases and Stages era “Sister’s Coming Home.”

Lukas and Micah Nelson’s trilogy

While Lukas is arguably better known around Nashville, thanks to his appearances at various local events in the wake of the release of the 2017 album Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real and his work on A Star Is Born, Micah stunned those unfamiliar with his vocal talents in the future-folk project Particle Kid by embracing the classical and Spanish influences found within the gospel-tinged “I Thought About You, Lord.” He then accompanied his brother on a pair of their father’s standards that span across his career, as Lukas’ talent shined through “Time of the Preacher” (from Willie’s 1975 commercial breakthrough Red Headed Stranger) and “The Songwriters,” a cut from Willie’s 2014 album Band of Brothers.

Alison Krauss stuns

Having previously recorded a cover of Nelson’s 1981 hit “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” for an extended edition of her 2017 release Windy City, Krauss’ vocals filled every corner of the arena, as the audience put away cell phones and stopped speaking in mid-conversation to appreciate a master at work. To quote Vince Gill, who walked onstage to perform “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” as Krauss exited: “Damn, damn, damn!”

Willie Nelson performs in concert during the Luck Reunion at Luck, Texas on March 16, 2017 in Spicewood, Texas. 

When the bearded Johnson took the stage, several people in the crowd excitedly mistook the singer for Chris Stapleton, who had opened the show earlier with a rousing rendition of “Whiskey River.” The difference between Stapleton’s performance — which was a crowd pleaser, don’t get me wrong — and what the audience witnessed from Johnson’s handling of the oft-covered “Georgia on My Mind” was that the latter resulted in a standing ovation that began a full minute before the final lyrics were bellowed by an artist that deserves much more recognition than he currently has.

George Strait finally sings one with Willie

It’s remarkable to realize that, before last night’s performance, George Strait and Nelson had never performed together. The two reigned as key talents in country music in the ’80s, and Willie has made a career out of performing duets with fellow legends on multiple projects. It made sense, then, that the first time they would share a stage Strait would mark the occasion by debuting a new song seemingly titled “I Ain’t Never Got to Sing One With Willie.” The tune, making light of the two entering their twilight years as performers, had the two arguing over whether this occasion finally made Strait’s career or ruined it.

Lukas Nelson: “Every single person that came are the loves of my life, for the love they showed my father”

Sunday, January 13th, 2019

Willie: Life & Songs of an American Outlaw concert (January 12, 2019) (Nashville, Tennessee)

Sunday, January 13th, 2019

Everybody loves Willie Nelson.

We realize that’s an obvious statement — but it was made even more obvious Saturday night at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, during the all-star tribute concert “Willie: Life & Songs Of An American Outlaw.”

More than 2 dozen acts — almost uniformly huge names in country, rock and Americana — shared the stage to play their favorite songs by Nelson, and several of them got to do so with the man himself.

It’s no small feat to stand out among a crowd that includes Chris Stapleton, Alison Krauss, George Strait, Dave Matthews, Sheryl Crow, Kris Kristofferson, John Mellencamp, Lee Ann Womack, Eric Church, Jimmy Buffett, Emmylou Harris, The Avett Brothers, Jack Johnson — man, it’s hard to know where to stop — and others.

But throughout the night, there were performances that were more than just a really good cover. They were moments that truly did justice to an iconic “outlaw.” Spoiler alert: a bunch of the best moments came from Nelson himself.

Derek Trucks and Willie Nelson perform during the Willie: Life & Songs of an American Outlaw concert at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn., Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019. (Photo: Andrew Nelles /

The mood was electric from the moment the stage lights turned on, revealing Stapleton at center stage. His soulful take on Nelson’s 1978 hit was a prime showcase for his voice, of course, but the rollicking tune also flexed the muscles of a stacked house band, with Jamey Johnson, Don Was, Mickey Raphael, Paul Franklin and Amanda Shires among their ranks.

She also provided fiery backup for Steve Earle, but Price’s finest moment came when she took on Willie and Waylon’s classic cover, giving it an inspired spin as a “Mamma” herself. Bonus points for bringing Country Music Hall of Famer Bare along to belt out the chorus.

Lukas and Micah Nelson: “Time of the Preacher”

Nelson’s two youngest children have followed their dad into the music business, but unsurprisingly, they don’t make a habit of performing his songs on stage. That made their medley at Saturday’s show a rare, touching treat, and their lineage couldn’t have been clearer when they harmonized on “Time of the Preacher” from the classic “Red Headed Stranger” album.

Jason Isbell: “Milk Cow Blues”

“Willie Nelson loves the blues,” the Americana giant told the crowd. “And I love Willie Nelson.”

Stands to reason, then, that Isbell loves the blues. He made that clear in the ensuing five minutes, presiding over the tune in that same cool, meter-breaking way Willie has, whether he’s singing the blues or a ballad. He also got to whip out the kind of classic blues solo you don’t tend to hear at his own shows, along with turns from pedal steel master Paul Franklin and 400 Unit bandmate Amanda Shires.

Lyle Lovett: “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys”

The Texas native was truly in his element Saturday night, and was greeted with a standing ovation before strumming and singing his way through Nelson’s 1980 chart-topper.

Alison Krauss: “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground”

Saturday’s show was taped for TV, which naturally led to a number of stops and starts, and then in turn led to a lot of loud conversations and trips to the beer stand for fans. But you’d be hard-pressed to find an empty seat when Krauss began her stunning (surprise, surprise) rendition of Nelson’s 1981 chart-topper. The room was brought to a whisper — aside from all the whistles and cheers that greeted bluegrass great’s voice, ringing pristinely across the arena floor.

Jamey Johnson – “Georgia on my Mind”

In terms of artists who’ve truly picked up Nelson’s torch, perhaps no one deserved to be on the bill

more than Jamey Johnson. He paid tribute to his hero with with one of his most famed covers – a Hoagy Carmichael composition that both Nelson and Ray Charles made their own. Johnson’s spin was a worthy, reverent one, too.

Norah Jones and the Little Willies: “Remember Me/ I Gotta Get Drunk”

The acclaimed singer-songwriter (and Nelson collaborator) had apparently been preparing for this gig since 2001, when she first formed the “Little Willies” band in tribute to Nelson. Their two songs were an all-too-brief celebration of the country legend’s jazzy side.

Jack Johnson: “Willie Got Me Stoned And Took All My Money”

Embracing the idea of country music being “three chords and the truth,” Johnson treated the crowd to a goofy three-chord song based on a real experience: the time Nelson invited him to his house to play poker. Just look at the song title, and you’ll know how one that turned out.

Willie Nelson and Dave Matthews: “Crazy”

Two singular croons intertwined on what might be Nelson’s most beloved composition. Matthews seemed a little sheepish about “dressing up” for the show – which in his world, apparently, is wearing a blazer – while Nelson threw his coat on the ground right before they played.

Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris: “Pancho and Lefty”

Right after taking the stage, Harris asked the crowd a rhetorical question: “Are we not all blessed to be living in the time of Willie?”

Her harmony vocal soared during her duet with Nelson – on a Townes Van Zandt tune he recorded with Merle Haggard in 1983.

Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and Eric Church: “Me and Bobby McGee”

Only one artist gets to come to a Willie Nelson tribute concert and play their own famous song, and that’s Kris Kristofferson. His performance of his signature tune — with Nelson’s harmonizing — was a celebration of their lifelong friendship, and a genuine thrill for the packed house.

Stars gather at tribute for Willie Nelson in Nashville last night

Sunday, January 13th, 2019

photo:  Jason Kempin
by:  Joseph Hudak

TV tapings can be a drag. But amid the set changes and staged introductions from host Ed Helms at Saturday night’s all-star tribute to Willie Nelson in Nashville, there were some true moments of musical spontaneity — particularly from the guest of honor.

Titled Willie: Life & Songs of an American Outlaw and produced by Blackbird Presents, the concert, which will air sometime this year on A&E, assembled a powerful cast of guest artists to pay tribute to the 85-year-old. George Strait, Kris Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris, Jimmy Buffett, Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and Eric Church all performed songs from, about or popularized by Nelson, often in collaboration with the Country Music Hall of Fame member himself.

Chris Stapleton opened the evening — like Nelson has been doing since the Seventies — with Johnny Bush’s “Whiskey River,” adding extra muscle to the song with his patented growl and establishing the tone of the tribute: these wouldn’t be paint-by-number re-creations. Rather, the Nelson catalog had room to breathe, thanks to bandleader Don Was’s versatile A-list house band, which included Amanda Shires, Jamey Johnson, Audley Freed, Paul Franklin and Nelson’s longtime harmonica player Mickey Raphael.

Margo Price, with an assist from Bobby Bare, offered a rowdy “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” Steve Earle, with Price, cow-punked “Sister’s Coming Home” and Lee Ann Womack added a hint of Countrypolitan to “Three Days.” Following a sublime reading of “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys,” Lyle Lovett even picked up the tempo, joining Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson for a full and funky “Shotgun Willie.”

After joking that this was his first time performing inside the Bridgestone Arena, Sturgill Simpson paid tribute to Nelson with “Red Headed Rounder,” an unreleased song Merle Haggard wrote about his friend. Earlier, fellow Nashville boundary-pusher Jason Isbell nodded to Nelson’s blues influences with “Milk Cow Blues” and also found himself at the center of some entertainment news: The night’s co-host W. Earl Brown, who played Dan Dority on HBO’s Deadwood, confirmed that Isbell appears in the upcoming Deadwood Statehood movie.

But it was the more subdued, stripped-down performances that carried the most emotional weight, including a consecutive three-song set from three of country’s untouchable vocalists. Alison Krauss’s spine-tingling “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” earned a standing ovation, Vince Gill’s “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain” hushed the arena and Jamey Johnson’s booming “Georgia on My Mind” made us all wish — yet again — that he’d release new music of his own.

That less is more approach most applied to Nelson, a famously idiosyncratic vocalist who can get swallowed up by a large band. On Saturday, he was at his best when leading Harris and Rodney Crowell in “Til’ I Gain Control Again” and the entire cast in the finale medley of “On the Road Again,” “May the Circle Be Unbroken,” “I’ll Fly Away” and “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me.” While huge, swelling soundtracks play well in arenas and for TV, Nelson’s continued prowess would be better highlighted backed by a small combo or even his trusty Family Band.

Still, he was in his zone, particularly when playing guitar, on collaborations with Kristofferson and Eric Church (“Me and Bobby McGee”), Dave Matthews (“Crazy”) and George Strait. Remarkably, the Strait duets marked the first time the two Texas stars had ever performed together, and stood as the best of the evening’s pairings, including a spirited “Good Hearted Woman.”

But it was on the new Strait song “Sing One With Willie,” off Strait’s upcoming album, where the pair displayed a mischievous chemistry that underscored the camaraderie of the tribute show. A tongue-in-cheek lament written by Strait, Nelson, Bubba Strait and Buddy Cannon about how the King of Country has never been asked to duet with the Red Headed Stranger, the track found both men pining for the other.

“Now I’ve heard him with Merle, Waylon and Cash/Jones and Toby, that man is totally gracious,” Strait sang. “I’m thinking ‘Damn, why not me?’/we can even sing it on TV — just like him and ol’ Julio Iglesias.”


“Whiskey River,” Chris Stapleton
“Three Days,” Lee Ann Womack
“Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” Margo Price & Bobby Bare
“Sister’s Coming Home,” Steve Earle & Margo Price
“I Thought About You, Lord/Just As I Am/Time of the Preacher/Bandera/Hands on the Wheel,” Micah & Lukas Nelson
“Milk Cow Blues,” Jason Isbell
“A Song for You,” Nathaniel Rateliff
“My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys,” Lyle Lovett
“Shotgun Willie,” Lyle Lovett & Ray Benson
“Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” Alison Krauss
“Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” Vince Gill
“Georgia on My Mind,” Jamey Johnson
“Somebody Pick Up My Pieces,” Susan Tedeschi & Derek Trucks
“City of New Orleans,” Willie Nelson with Tedeschi/Trucks
“Bloody Mary Morning,” The Avett Brothers
“Willie Got There First,” The Avett Brothers
“Remember Me,” Norah Jones and the Little Willies
“I Gotta Get Drunk,” Norah Jones and the Little Willies
“Willie Got Me Stoned,” Jack Johnson
“Red Headed Rounder,” Sturgill Simpson
“Me and Paul,” Eric Church
“Night Life,” John Mellencamp
“Funny How Times Slips Away,” Dave Matthews

With Willie Nelson:
“Crazy,” Dave Matthews
“After the Fire Is Gone,” Sheryl Crow
“Pancho and Lefty,” Emmylou Harris
“Til’ I Gain Control Again,” Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell
“Me and Bobby McGee,” Kris Kristofferson, Eric Church
“The Harder They Come,” Jimmy Buffett
“Always on My Mind,” Chris Stapleton, Derek Trucks
“Song One With Willie,” George Strait
“Good Hearted Woman,” George Strait
“On the Road Again/May the Circle Be Unbroken/I’ll Fly Away,” full cast
“Roll Me Up and Smoke Me,” full cast