Archive for the ‘News and Reviews’ Category

Willie Nelson & Family at Mill Resort and Casino (September 21st)

Tuesday, September 21st, 2021
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Willie Nelson & Family at Outlaw Music Festival in Saratog Springs (9/17/21)

Saturday, September 18th, 2021

www.saratogian.com
by: Lauren Halligan

Read entire review here.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Longtime music legend Willie Nelson, at 88 years old, is still pleasing crowds as he once again leads the Outlaw Music Festival across the country.

For the festival’s Sunday night show at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the audience was treated to performances by Margo Price, Gov’t Mule, Sturgill Simpson and Willie Nelson & Family.

The local concert was among the first of a total 14-stop tour that will highlight different artists along the way, while always featuring Willie Nelson & Family as the headlining act.

While each of Sunday’s opening acts was distinctly different, offering a good variety for concertgoers, all three have found their way onto this unique tour under the title of “outlaw” – and alongside the iconic Willie Nelson.

In his gray pigtail braids, red bandana and straw cowboy hat, the beloved star took the stage ready to entertain. Sitting next to his son Micah Nelson, Willie got the show going with “Whiskey River” and “Still Is Still Moving To Me.”

A few humorous numbers like “Still Not Dead,” “Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die” and Micah’s song “If I Die When I’m High I’ll Be Halfway to Heaven” made light of the musician’s old age and mortality.

Willie played fan favorites like “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” “Always on My Mind” and “On the Road Again” as well as “Crazy,” and “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground.”

“Georgia On My Mind” and “Will the Circle be Unbroken” both made the setlist too, before Willie ended the performance with a comical cover of “It’s Hard To Be Humble.”

For a guy with so many decades of success, maybe it is hard to be humble – but Willie certainly knows how to make an audience feel right at home in his presence.

Willie Nelson and Family, Outlaw Music Festival in Philadelphia (9.11.21)

Sunday, September 12th, 2021
Willie Nelson & Family perform at the Outlaw Music Festival at the Mann Music Center on Sept. 11, 2021.  (These photos are not allowed to be sold, republished, or made available to wire services.)

photo: Charles Fox

www.inquirer.com
by: Dan DeLuca

The lineup for the Outlaw Music Festival tour at the Mann Center on Saturday was formidable.

The make-sure-you-get-there-early opener was Nashville songwriter Margo Price, finally out on the road again to spread the word about last year’s exemplary That’s How Rumors Get Started.

Price was followed first by guitarist Warren Haynes’ Southern rock band Gov’t Mule, and then by full-of-surprises country tough guy Sturgill Simpson, backed by a dazzling band of bluegrass musicians.

And, oh yeah, the last act to hit the stage: some guy named Willie Nelson.

Fans could be forgiven for tempering expectations for Nelson’s closing set. Sure, the “Red Headed Stranger” is the essential embodiment of the Outlaw brand, dating to when he and Waylon Jennings flipped the bird to Nashville and planted a nonconformist flag in Texas in the 1970s.

Willie Nelson and son Micah Nelson perform a duet at the Outlaw Music Festival at the Mann Music Center Saturday.

But on Saturday night at the nearly sold-out Mann — where proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test was required for entry, and mask compliance was better than at last week’s Made In America festival — Nelson was allotted only an hour of stage time, 15 minutes less than both Simpson and Gov’t Mule. Touring with his Family band, he was seated with pianist sister, Bobbi, on his right and guitarist son, Micah, on his left.

Micah eased the load for his father by taking lead vocals on four songs, including the country gospel standard “Keep on the Sunnyside” and the brand new “If I Die When I’m High I’ll Be Halfway to Heaven,” which Micah said he wrote after his father suggested the title.

Opening as always with “Whiskey River,” as an American flag backdrop was revealed — replacing an Outlaw tableau featuring a tour bus trailed by clouds of smoke disappearing into a tree — Willie took a little while to warm up.

He set the mood with the Zen koan “Still Is Still Moving to Me,” then eased into wistful, melancholy standards, some of which he wrote himself, such as “Crazy” and “Night Life,” and others, such as “Always on My Mind,” that he has made so indelible you just assume he wrote them.

Like an aging athlete finding his footing, Nelson got stronger as the show went on, his vocals more robust, the gypsy-jazz leads he squeezed out of his acoustic guitar Trigger friskier. The pairing of Hoagy Carmichael’s (by way of Ray Charles) “Georgia on My Mind” and Billy Jo Shaver’s “Georgia on a Fast Train” was particularly winning.

And by the time the encores rolled around, with all the evening’s featured performers joining him for the country gospel sing-alongs on “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” and “I’ll Fly Away,” Nelson was commanding the stage from his seated position.

So much so that he decided to throw Mac Davis’ mock boastful “It’s Hard to Be Humble” as a closer on what was an evening of 5½ hours of performances. “To know me is to love me,” Nelson sang playfully. Indeed it is, and all the more so now, considering how vital and indomitable of an artist he remains at age 88.

Read entire review here.

Chris Stapleton, Willie Nelson at All American Roadshow (8.21.21)

Tuesday, August 24th, 2021

www.dallasobserver.com
by: Preston Jones

Read entire review here.

This past week in North Texas, the biggest bang for your musical buck could be found Saturday night at Arlington’s Globe Life Field: Chris Stapleton’s All-American Roadshow. Before a scarcely masked audience of 40,000, a quartet of A-list country artists doled out roughly five hours’ worth of sonic riches. (Certainly, those filing into Globe Life Field got more for their money than the folks filling up AT&T Stadium next door, where the Dallas Cowboys stumbled through yet another preseason loss, this one to the Houston Texans.)

Saturday’s extravaganza was a bargain delayed in its delivery: Stapleton had initially scheduled his stop for November 2020, but the pandemic had other plans.

“How many of you bought this ticket two years ago?” Stapleton asked the room early in his set, to raucous cheers. “Well, here we are, finally.”

With his wife, Morgane Stapleton, providing her otherworldly vocal accompaniment — the pair’s acoustic rendition of “Maggie’s Song,” from his latest record, Starting Over, was gorgeous and wrenching — and Mickey Raphael joining throughout on harmonica, Stapleton and his bandmates plowed through bluesy, folky, soulful tracks.

There was no questioning the country bona fides of the evening’s penultimate act. Willie Nelson, arguably the only name on the bill whose reputation befits such a massive space, walked on stage to a standing ovation.

The 88-year-old Texas icon settled onto a stool, strummed the opening chords of “Whiskey River” on his well-worn guitar named Trigger, and the scent of marijuana seemed to arrive instantaneously. It felt, as much as anything can in these upside-down times, both unifying and liberating.

Apart from the stool, which Nelson perched upon throughout the hour-long set, there weren’t any other apparent concessions to aging, unless you count the number of songs on which his son Lukas Nelson took lead vocals. Seated alongside him, Lukas kept a watchful eye on his father all night, leaning in to harmonize or take the band through covers (Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Texas Flood,” Kris Kristofferson’s “Why Me”).

harmonize or take the band through covers (Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Texas Flood,” Kris Kristofferson’s “Why Me”).

Nelson, making his first local appearance in over two years and visibly coughing at several points, roused to life in spots; “Roll Me Up and Smoke When I Die” followed by “Still Not Dead” was a highlight, as was the unbearably poignant sight of father and son trading verses on Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe.”

Regardless, it remains a joy to bask in Nelson’s presence and be reminded of the extraordinary durability of his classics (“On the Road Again,” “You Were Always on My Mind” and “Still is Still Moving to Me” were aired out Saturday). He’ll be back in our neck of the woods in November, playing the considerably smaller Billy Bob’s Texas.

Willie Nelson, Wisdom and Defiance

Friday, June 18th, 2021
marijuananotcrime

www.counterpunch.org
by:  Adam Chimientii 

Whenever I become discouraged (which is on alternate Tuesdays, between three and four) I lift my spirits by remembering: the writers are on our side! I mean those poets, novelists, playwrights and songwriters who speak to the world in a way that is impervious to assault because they wage the battle for justice in a sphere which is unreachable by the dullness of ordinary political discourse.

-Howard Zinn

Pop culture is shit. Most of the time at least. It is only at its best when it shakes up the consciousness of its audience in such a way that is possibly disturbing, when it challenges us to disobey the repressive forces always in control, and helps us acknowledge the human spirit. Classic pop culture has often promoted the idea of being an outlaw in a society or system that is largely illegitimate. There are countless underground figures that incite us with their art, but few mainstream heroes provide the same type of stimulus. Is Willie Nelson one of these anomalies?

An Outlaw Comes to “Town”

Recently, I had the bizarre, and uniquely American, experience of singing happy birthday to Willie as he stood only a few feet away from me. It was two days after his eightieth. What made it so strange was that it was alongside dozens of overzealous senior citizens reaching out for his hand and screaming his name.

The backdrop for this event was the ending of a concert in Central Florida that took place within what’s been described as a “master-planned, age-restricted retirement community”. The community seems to be designed as a sort of black hole for mom and dad or grandpa and grandma to disappear into, and live a peaceful, if occasionally bacchanalian, lifestyle. The outside world is never too relevant here because, goddamit, we deserve a break at some point, don’t we?

My dad lives in this community. He and I are at a point in our lives, due to medical circumstances hardly uncommon but terribly sad nonetheless,  where we are trying our best to come to terms with one another. I was grateful for the opportunity to bring my dad to the Willie Nelson show and enjoy an hour and a half of so-called outlaw country, together. We’re not your typical fans but that is the genius of Willie Nelson and his crossover appeal.

This Disney World-for-seniors that hosted Willie was built by an aggressive developer who, in a form of culturally vacuous (not to mention, environmentally destructive) alchemy, turned farmland into a never-ending series of homes, recreation centers and “town squares”.  The inhabitants live under controls and regulations, and the developer does not allow them to veer from the program. Conservative talk radio is perpetually beamed through speakers in public spaces and Republican superstars always seem to stop here in the course of their electioneering.

This is the kind of place where many older Americans feel they should live out the rest of their days. There is almost this compulsion to escape the real world in which their children live. In many ways, this is what Florida represents to people around the country. Yet amidst this scene, Willie and his crew pulled into town. It was perhaps a few years too late to raise hell, but he came on stage with enough energy to occasionally get some old folks up and dancing, in celebration of a life lived in defiance—a life that essentially challenges the idea of the detached and atomized community and individual.

The Struggle and the Hope

Willie Nelson is a rarity in today’s world. He is the outlaw that has somehow survived and continues to defy the stereotypes of our society. That night, he stood on stage with his guitar and played dozens of tunes for around an hour and a half. And he played them well. Yes, he smokes a lot of marijuana, and has for decades, but he is incredibly focused and a perfectionist when it comes to performing. Smoking pot is how many people deal with the pain or dullness of their lives, but despite the relative harmlessness and pervasiveness of marijuana use, too many Americans are marked as outlaws because of it. This is no secret but we too often forget the seriousness of the penalties imposed for a drug that millions of average Americans use for recreational purposes and joke about publicly (including Barack Obama himself.)

Most of Willie’s collaborators over the years are/were fiercely independent and non-conformist themselves. Some of these include his older sister Bobbie Nelson (who at 81 still performs regularly and treated the audience to a brilliant piano solo the night I attended), Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Tracy Nelson, Ray Charles, Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris, and Willie’s children, several of whom are excellent and original musicians themselves. Among his influences  are many  figures who challenged the status quo, and he has pointed out that he was blessed with a connection to Cherokee traditions, Mexican musicians, and the soul of the South, at a time when many ethnic and exotic traditions were being suppressed.

Furthermore, Willie Nelson is never really quiet about his views. He always speaks his mind and spreads messages of love and hope through his music. Most recently, he organized a benefit for the people of West and Abbot, Texas for the damages they suffered from the explosion in late April. He said of the tragedy, “It’s one of those things you don’t get over. But you will get through it.” This is the sort of advice you’d expect from a man with 80 years of pain, suffering, recovery and triumph under his belt. Willie has been able to combine his soft-spoken and simply-sung manner with the sincerity of a determined activist, reminding us how we are straying from the most important things in our lives: family, loyalty, a connection to the earth and its bounty, and the need to keep going in the face of adversity. This sort of activism is supposed to be rejected by senior citizens. They are supposed to opt for the easy life, the golden years, devoid of unnecessary drama. But for many of them, this is not an option or is increasingly unrealistic. They cannot afford the middle class dream, spiritually or materially. So they struggle on until their time comes.

Willie himself has led a life of struggle, abandoned by his parents at an early age, and compelled to work incessantly to achieve success, only to lose it soon after. He never made it easy on himself. He refused to “clean up” his act. Indeed, he was to challenge the idea that music could ever really be a business, and especially not one that could control its brightest and best talents. Kinky Friedman reminds us in the intro of a book written by Willie and Family last year, Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die, that Willie and Waylon Jennings and all their friends would tell the corporate executives to go fuck themselves, they were going to Texas. We are all lucky that they did abandon Nashville and the corporate-controlled country scene, because they would continue to produce all kinds of beautiful sounds and do it without much of a thought for boundaries and classifications.

There was a particularly tough period back in the early 90s, when Willie was splashed all over the front pages of news tabloids  after he found himself in trouble with the IRS. A deal was arranged: Willie was off the hook in exchange for the proceeds of an album fittingly titled “The IRS Tapes: Who’ll buy my memories.” The album didn’t sell nearly enough to satisfy the government, but Willie was saved, and his stuff recovered only after loyal friends, family and fans set about on that mission.

Just Breathe…and Resist

Loyalty is a common theme for Willie, as is renewal. He has children from several marriages and reportedly maintains close relations with all of them. One was lost along the way though. His first son Billy reportedly took his own life in late 1991, at a time of uncertainty in Willie’s career. The birth of his two youngest children in that same period surely must have contributed to a spirit of hope and renewal. These two boys, Lukas and Micah, as well as his daughters Lana, Susie, Paula Carlene, and Amy Lee, occasionally travel and perform with their dad. Willie told the New York Timeslast year,  “Honestly, right now, playing onstage with my kids is the biggest thrill I can get.” The excitement translates well to the audience, as the 2012 release of Heroes demonstrates. Lukas and Micah join their dad in some excellent original tunes and covers, including Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe” and Tom Waits “Come On Up to the House”. The former, written by Eddie Vedder, captures well the nature of Willie’s style and approach to living: “Practiced are my sins/Never gonna let me win, uh-huh/Under everything just another human being, uh-huh/Yeah, I don’t want to hurt/There’s so much in this world to make me bleed.”

His 80th birthday received plenty of attention, and of course the media reports mentioned the pot, the outlaw affiliations, the IRS troubles and more bad-boy details. These are necessary elements of the Willie Nelson narrative. Yet, a requirement of storytellers  like Willie and his friends who made up The Highwaymen (Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson), is to remain close to the struggle. This is a rare and often unbelievable characteristic for successful artists, but Willie Nelson has certainly maintained a connection to the downtrodden, and offers them his time, his hand and his guitar. [While Willie supported Dennis Kucinich and Gary Johnson in their bids, he ultimately, and in my opinion unfortunately, expressed support for Obama in both elections, despite a terrible record on two issues closest to Willie’s heart, the criminalization of marijuana, and the undelivered support of family farmers and outright embrace of Monsanto.]

The powerful national conscience, Howard Zinn, reached so many with his loyal storytelling. Willie Nelson credits him as a major influence and selected a quote by the radical historian for the book Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die. In the quote, Zinn refers to civil disobedience and discusses how people are too obedient in our society, “while the jails are full of petty thieves… the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.” Actually, this seems to be a universal problem. Yet, there has always been a powerful current of rebellious thinkers in our society, urging us to reject the line that we are helpless or that we should simply retreat into our own consumption-based existences. Some do it for decades.

Pete Seeger is still going strong at 94 years of age, which he celebrated early this May. Unfortunately, voices like Seeger’s and Nelson’s,  poetic geniuses like Alice Walker and prolific academics like Noam Chomsky, are up against a system of control not unlike that of the retirement community. This is why it is in our best hope to raise up our fists and organize, inspired by the spirit of these rebels with causes that we make our own. We must appreciate the notion of struggle in our own lives, but never accept it or become complacent, alas that’s what the crooked and greedy feed off.

A Dignified Walk Into the Sunset

There’s a sad verse in the classic country song “Desperados waiting for a train”, covered by The Highwaymen and sung by Johnny Cash. It’s about an old man admired by the protagonist, despite a total lack of honor bestowed upon him by society. It goes “One day I looked up and he’s pushin’ eighty/He’s got brown tobacco stains all down his chin/Well to me he was a hero of this country/So why’s he all dressed up like them old men/Drinkin’ beer and playin’ Moon and Forty-two.” I thought about this song a lot (The Highwaymen perform it beautifully) while taking a closer look at the outlaw elder that Willie is to me and so many others. I’m glad that he didn’t lose prominence as an artist and lose the honor of our society because he,  like all of us, deserves to have his life celebrated. . Dignified endings are usually hard to come by in this life and this is often the case for celebrities.

The last three songs performed by Willie and Family that evening in Central Florida were about death. The most recent of these (and most playful) was “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die”, where Willie embraces the idea that his spirit will endure in the form of a beautifully twisted joint that burns its way into the ether, leaving his friends high off the legend one last time. However, the music that Willie has created should endure for decades and more. We are not all that special but I would like to think we all live on in a peaceful spirit, despite the strife and pain on earth.

Willie could have  stopped making music and touring. He could have let the bullshit that comes with fame discourage his gentle nature and patience as a performer. He could have lost the ability to commiserate and his genuine public persona could have disintegrated over time. But it hasn’t. What Willie Nelson’s triumphs and troubles reveal is that he has remained true to what always drove his creative impulses, i.e. pain, suffering, and the determination to get beyond these moments in our lives. This is clearly one of the reasons why his work has endured and is so cherished.

My dad and I drove home from the show that night feeling closer than we’d been in awhile. I’d like to think that what made us bond was the rebellious nature that timeless art can provoke. On the other hand, maybe he realized that it’s nice to just breath and listen to a wise old man tell you that no matter where you have been or where you’re going, you’ve been blessed in more ways than you remember. Chilling out makes us remember…and smile.

So here is to Willie Nelson, his eighty years, and his hard-fought battles; to the folks who got him through them. And here’s to the stories of the countless millions who go unsung and untold, yet who resemble those iconic figures in the classic songs sung by Willie and his associates.

Adam Chimienti is a teacher and a doctoral student originally from New York. He can be reached at ajchimienti@gmail.com.

Willie Nelson, everyone’s favorite outlaw

Monday, June 14th, 2021

Read article here.

www.wsj.com
by: Alan Light

At 88, Willie Nelson is still singing, writing, championing the causes he believes in—and staying true to his renegade Texas roots

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Being stuck at home has been brutal for many of us, but it’s different for Willie Nelson. He’s spent most of his life on a tour bus, logging over 100 shows a year for decades; his signature song is “On the Road Again.” The guy wasn’t trained to be an indoor cat.

His response to quarantine has been a schedule and productivity that would be daunting for someone half his age. In the past year, Nelson has released two albums—First Rose of Spring and, more recently, That’s Life, songs from Frank Sinatra’s catalog; written his 10th book, Willie Nelson’s Letters to America; organized and performed at multiple livestream benefits (including the 35th annual concert for Farm Aid, an organization he helped found); delivered a keynote address at the (virtual) South by Southwest festival; recorded a version of “I’ll Be Seeing You” as a PSA for Covid vaccination; launched a new cannabis convention; and turned up on additional duets and recordings. It’s not the same as being on the bus, but it’s not a bad showing for a guy who turned 88 in April.

In a Zoom call from Maui (his other homes are in Austin and Los Angeles), Nelson laughed easily as he described his efforts to keep busy until he can get back in motion. His unmistakable craggy face is as familiar as family when it pops up on-screen. He spoke from an airy living room, with a ceiling fan lazily spinning above him and the word BEACH spelled out on the wall behind. He’s a friendly but succinct conversationalist, opting for an aphorism over spinning a yarn.

Close by the Hawaii house, he has a little club called Django’s Orchid Lounge, its name a combination of his favorite guitar player (jazz virtuoso Django Reinhardt) and Tootsies Orchid Lounge, the legendary Nashville honky-tonk across the alley from the Ryman Auditorium, where, in 1961, he first played a song he had written called “Crazy” for a guy who turned out to be Patsy Cline’s husband.

“I’ve got some friends here and we play a little poker, dominoes, watch TV, whatever,” he says. “Everyone has had their vaccinations, but still we’re not getting but just a few people together. It’s got a lot of windows and a lot of air, and we’re being very careful, but we have some really good times.”

Read article here.

Friday, May 21st, 2021

The Outlaws of Country Music

Saturday, April 3rd, 2021

Willie Nelson featured SWSX keynote speaker (3/17/21)

Thursday, March 18th, 2021

www.Kfan.com
by: Harley Tamplin

Willie Nelson talks music, COVID-19 and marijuana in long-awaited SXSW keynote

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Willie Nelson reflected on music, marijuana and the COVID-19 pandemic during a SXSW keynote that was nearly 30 years in the making.

The 87-year-old country star and Texas icon headlined the second day of the virtual festival, touching on various subjects during a wide-ranging conversation with Andy Langer of Austin City Limits radio and Texas Monthly.

Remarkably, it was Nelson’s first ever speech at SXSW — in 1992, he was booked to deliver a keynote at 10:30 a.m., but Nelson’s tour bus didn’t arrive in time after a concert the night before.

In hindsight, Langer joked, it may not have been a good idea to book Nelson to speak at 10:30 a.m.

As a prolific musician who has written thousands of songs, Nelson said the COVID-19 pandemic has been tough as he adjusted to not performing in front of fans.

“I miss it a lot,” he said. “All the musicians miss it a lot, but I know I sure as hell do.”

In fact, Nelson misses playing live so much that “every now and then” he sits in his tour bus, which is parked outside his home, “to pretend I’m going somewhere,” he revealed.

But that doesn’t mean Nelson, who is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, is going to rush back into in-person concerts.

“I don’t know what it will feel like, because I don’t know what kind of comeback it will be,” he said, when asked how returning to the stage will feel.

“I don’t know who will be able to come to the show, and I don’t want to do a show anywhere, any time that has a danger of somebody getting sick. That’s going to have a lot to do with when I get back to work,” he added.

“It will be a challenge, and whenever we do get back it will be a sign of some sort of success.”

After decades in the business, music remains as important to Nelson as ever — and after all those years, he’s learned to trust his judgment about which songs people will like, he said.

“I know what I like, and I have to trust what I like as being good. So far that’s the way it’s been, I trust my opinion,” he said.

“We all react to the same thing. Music will move you. Period. It will make you laugh or cry, jump or clap your hands, and anything that will move you, do it.”

Read entire article here.

Willie Nelson, “That’s Life”

Thursday, March 4th, 2021

Willie Nelson Loves Releasing Cover Songs, Even If Labels Say “Nobody Wants To Hear ‘Em”

The 1978 album ‘Stardust’ almost didn’t see the light of day

www.CMT.com
by: Marcus K. Dowling

Released February 26, That’s Life is impressively Willie Nelson’s 71st solo studio album. The tribute to Frank Sinatra is the second volume of Nelson’s Sinatra tribute collection, following 2018’s My Way. Cover songs have played an incredible role in elevating Nelson from being a country superstar to a global icon with an instantly recognizable voice. However, when it came to Stardust — his Grammy-winning album of American Songbook covers released in 1978 — Columbia Records almost derailed his career evolution towards creating unique interpretations of classic songs.

Read entire article, see more pictures and videos here.

Willie Nelson can’t wait to get on the road again

Thursday, March 4th, 2021
Photo: Dave Creaney

Read article here.

www.wsj.com
by: Alan Paul

You might think that Willie Nelson, at age 87, would enjoy a chance to slow down his constant touring, after decades of playing about 150 shows a year, two weeks on and two weeks off. But when Covid-19 shut down live performances last year, the self-proclaimed “road dog” didn’t repair to his Texas ranch or his Maui home to relax and wait things out.

“This is the worst time of my life,” he says. “I have never been this frustrated. I try to think positive, but I feel like I’m in jail—I can’t go here, I can’t go there—and that really pisses me off.”

Mr. Nelson remains strikingly prolific, averaging about a new album a year while also writing books. He also oversees a SiriusXM channel called Willie’s Roadhouse and two cannabis companies: Willie’s Reserve, which sells a range of products with THC (the principal intoxicating compound in cannabis) and says it operates “under a simple philosophy: my stash is your stash,” and Willie’s Remedy, which features hemp-based “wellness products,” including CBD-infused coffee, tea and lotions.

“That’s Life,” a big-band tribute to Frank Sinatra released Feb. 26, is Mr. Nelson’s second release of the pandemic, following last July’s sparse, elegiac “First Rose of Spring.” That album made its debut at number five on the Billboard country album chart—Mr. Nelson’s staggering 53rd top-10 album, making him the only artist to have a top-10 country album in seven straight decades, from the 1960s to the 2020s.

That run is particularly amazing for an artist who, early in his career, was sometimes considered too stark, idiosyncratic or downright weird to make it as a country performer. Mr. Nelson’s first triumphs were as a songwriter, most notably with Patsy Cline’s 1961 take on his ballad “Crazy,” which became one of the biggest jukebox hits of all time. He recorded as a solo artist from 1962-72 but didn’t find consistent success until he ditched Nashville, haircuts, suits and alcohol in favor of Texas, long braids, jeans and joints.

Mr. Nelson also bypassed any concept of musical genres, proving equally comfortable in a duet with his “Outlaw Country” buddies Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard, the pop crooner Julio Iglesias or the blues and R&B greats Ray Charles and B.B. King. Mr. Nelson and Mr. Sinatra called each other their favorite singers; both shared distinctive phrasing and an ability to make any song they sang their own.

That was clear on “Stardust,” Mr. Nelson’s 1978 album of American standards. Record executives thought that releasing the collection at the height of his country stardom was foolish, but it became a number one album and cemented his place as an iconoclast who transcends genres. “It was amazing that they thought I was crazy, because I can’t imagine anybody not loving those songs,” says Mr. Nelson. “They never get old and never will. There’s one thing about a good song—it’s always good.”

Mr. Nelson had huge hits throughout the ’80s, including “On the Road Again,” “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” (with Mr. Iglesias) and “Always on My Mind.” He also appeared in dozens of TV shows and movies, starting in 1979 with “The Electric Horseman.” In 1985, he worked with Neil Young and John Mellencamp to found Farm Aid, an annual concert that has raised millions of dollars for family farmers.

That era of stardom hit a wall in 1990 when the IRS seized Mr. Nelson’s assets, estimating that he owed $32 million in back taxes. Mr. Nelson even feared that the government might auction off his beloved guitar Trigger. He refused to file for bankruptcy; instead, he recorded a two-disc album (“The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories?”) of some of his favorite songs, sold initially only by mail order via TV ads and later released in stores. He recorded it alone, featuring just his voice and guitar, primarily to keep costs down, but in the process created a sparse fan favorite. Proceeds from the sale helped him settle his debts by 1993.

Mr. Nelson, who has been married since 1991 to his fourth wife, Annie Nelson, is a sparse but genial conversationalist—until you tiptoe up to the topic of any of his friends and musical collaborators who have died in recent years. He has faced a relentless series of such losses, most recently with the deaths last fall of fellow Texas singer-songwriters Billy Joe Shaver and Jerry Jeff Walker. “Yeah, it’s horrible,” he says in a tone that sounds like a door slamming shut.

Mr. Nelson seems to prefer thinking forward, looking toward his next project—and he always has something in the works. He is currently excited about a gospel album that he cut with his sons Lukas and Micah and his daughters Paula and Amy. In June, his 10th book, “Willie Nelson’s Letters to America,” will be published by Harper Horizon (which, like The Wall Street Journal, is owned by News Corp).

That follows up last September’s “Me and Sister Bobbie: True Tales of the Family Band,” co-written in alternating chapters with his big sister, who was his first musical mentor and has been his piano player since the early ’70s. The two were raised by their grandparents in Abbot, Texas. “She taught me so much,” says Mr. Nelson. “When I was 8 years old, I’d sit next to her on the piano bench and try to learn what she was doing as she played songs like ‘Stardust’ and ‘Moonlight in Vermont.’ I look forward to hearing her play every night and take so much comfort knowing she’s over there on the right side of the stage.”

Mr. Nelson has been an outspoken marijuana advocate for decades. He credits replacing heavy drinking and a three-pack-a-day cigarette habit with marijuana in about 1971 with changing his life—and maybe even saving it. Mr. Nelson says he dumped out a pack of cigarettes, filled his empty Chesterfield pack with 20 freshly rolled joints and never looked back. After decades working with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, a Washington-based nonprofit group, Mr. Nelson says that he is happy to see more of the country coming around to his way of thinking, including legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults in 11 states and the District of Columbia.

Mr. Nelson’s other key to longevity is probably more mainstream. “If you want to live a long time, you have to take care of yourself,” he says. “You have to pay for the day, every day. As you’ve always heard, if you don’t use it, you lose it. You need to move. So every day, I’ll jog or walk, do some sit ups—just a little something to pay for the day!”

Willie Nelson in Japan (February 1984)

Tuesday, February 9th, 2021
japan

Feb. 21, 1984

American country western singer Willie Nelson, surrounded by a troop of photographers, speaks to the press in Tokyo, as he kicked off his five-city tour in Japan.  He said he intends to offer “both standard and original jazz” to the Japanese audience.

Willie Nelson, “That’s Life”

Saturday, January 23rd, 2021

www.RollingStone.com
by: Patrick Doyle

Willie Nelson was a young country music and western-swing fan when he heard Frank Sinatra on the radio for the first time. “Though he was a million miles from western swing, he had a sweet swing of his own,” Nelson wrote in his book It’s a Long Story: My Life. “There was a tenderness to his voice, a purity and ease of phrasing. When he sang the popular songs of the day, I marveled at the natural way he told the story.”

Sinatra helped Nelson find his own indelible style, and the two even went on to play shows together. In 2018, Nelson released My Way, which managed to make Sinatra’s best-known songs sound new again.

On February 26th, Nelson will release That’s Life, another set of Sinatra classics. That’s Life goes a little deeper than his previous Sinatra covers albumin addition to hits like the title track and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” he includes lesser-known songs like “Just in Time” and “The Lonesome Road” from 1959. The album, produced by Buddy Cannon and Matt Rollings, was largely recorded at Capitol Studios in Hollywood, where Sinatra recorded a string of classics from 1956 to 1961.

Nelson has released a highly entertaining lyric video for the title track. The video incorporates footage of the artist Paul Mann, known for his legendary movie posters, painting an image of Nelson under a streetlamp.

Written by Dean Kay and Kelly Gordon, “That’s Life” was first recorded in 1963 by Marion Montgomery. Mikal Gilmore, who has written Rolling Stone stories about Bob Dylanthe Clash and more, has authored a deep essay about Nelson and his connection to Sinatra, available to read here. “What Nelson does here on That’s Life — as he did on My Way — is find common ground with Sinatra,” Gilmore writes. “As a result, what binds these singers is an understanding that, regardless of genre, the art of both men is one and the same: giving voice to songs of experience.”

“I’m just glad to be able to do another tribute to him,” Nelson recently said. “I’m anxious to get it out there”

It’s a busy week for Nelson. He also just received his Covid-19 vaccine shot. 

Willie Nelson to speak at SWSX

Wednesday, January 13th, 2021

www.austin360.com
by: Eric Webb and Peter Blackstock

Willie Nelson: South by Southwest keynote speaker. Rolls right off the tongue. And somehow, it’s never happened before now.

The legendary Austin musician and cultural icon will deliver the keynote for this year’s edition of the city’s marquee festivals and conference, event organizers revealed Wednesday, as SXSW navigates a pandemic-era shift to an online format. In the same announcement, SXSW also revealed dozens of big-name featured speakers, ranging from Austin-based Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey to entrepreneur Richard Branson to music-and-film stars LL Cool J and Queen Latifah.

Rebranded this year as SXSW Online, the March 16-20 event will offer streamed versions of its hallmark events, including conference sessions, music showcases and film screenings. More details are expected in the coming weeks. The cancellation of SXSW 2020 marked the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic’s devastating effect on Austin’s entertainment scene.

Nelson’s keynote will mark the first time he has appeared as a speaker at SXSW. He was scheduled to deliver the keynote in 1992, but his bus did not arrive back in Austin from a distant concert in time for the 10:30 a.m. speech. To make up for missing the engagement, Nelson performed a surprise set at Auditorium Shores (now Vic Mathias Shores) as part of a free SXSW showcase that night.

”“No individual has had the cultural impact on, or been more synonymous with, the creative vibrancy of Austin than Willie Nelson, and we are incredibly honored to have him as a SXSW Online 2021 Keynote,” SXSW chief programming officer Hugh Forrest said in a statement.

The “On the Road Again” troubadour’s annual Luck Reunion is a popular event each year around the time of SXSW, though last year’s went virtual due to the pandemic. His appearance for SXSW Online will follow the Feb. 26 release of “That’s Life,” his second tribute to the songs of Frank Sinatra in three years. The first, 2018’s “My Way,” won a Grammy for best traditional pop vocal album.

In addition to the keynote, more than 200 sessions were included in Wednesday’s announcement, under themes such as “Challenging Tech’s Path Forward,” “Cultural Resilience in the Arts” and “Transforming the Entertainment Landscape.”

Read rest of article here.

Thank you, Willie Nelson

Wednesday, January 13th, 2021