Archive for the ‘News and Reviews’ Category

Willie Nelson’s ‘A Beautiful Time’ just might be the best album of the year

Monday, November 14th, 2022
by: Sam C. Mac

At 89, the Texas country-music legend is at the top of his game, finding new beauty in old songs by The Beatles and Leonard Cohen.

Times change, political landscapes shift, new trends in music arrive and expire with the passing of the years. But never will a moment come when we no longer need great songwriters—musical minds that know how to make sense and poetry out of our strange existence. Nor will we ever run out of use for genius singers, voices with the incalculable ability to dig into a lyric and render universal emotions from words on a page.

One of Texas’ favorite sons, Willie Hugh Nelson, was graced with both of these special talents, and most of us learned long ago never to take them for granted. Still, A Beautiful Time, released back in April, might disarm even longtime fans who recognize that the Willie Nelson of today is as valuable a figure in American music as he was when he and his buddy Waylon Jennings set about emancipating themselves from the Nashville label system in the 1970s. Not only is Nelson’s 72nd solo effort likely the best album of 2022 (with only 40-or-so calendar days left to unseat it), it’s also as assured a showcase for his ineffable gifts as he’s ever crafted—an unexpected shot of vitality, good humor, and pathos from a great artist fast-approaching his 90th birthday but showing no sign that he’s ready to blow out a final candle anytime soon.

The great Nelson albums rely on no single proven formula. The concept record has been a well to which he’s returned often, and it’s resulted in clear masterpieces like the murderous horse opera Red Headed Stranger (1975) and late-career mortality meditation December Day (2014), but also the narratively muddled song-suite Tougher Than Leather (1983) and plainly mismatched genre workouts like Milk Cow Blues (2000). Another favorite card in old Willie’s deck has been the collaborative record, a path to surprising and essential deep cuts like his album with Hank Snow (Brand on My Heart) and his virtuoso team-up with Texas swing stalwarts Asleep at the Wheel (Willie and the Wheel), but also one that’s led to at least a couple more kitschy duets with Waylon than necessary. The only real tried-and-true strategy of Nelson’s discography is a reliance on his peerless skills as an interpretive singer, a vocalist who feels out every emotion in a song so convincingly that even the ones he didn’t write tend to sound like direct transmissions from his soul.

A Beautiful Time boasts a number of exceptional vocal performances from the 89-year-old. Some can be heard on the songs he co-wrote with longtime collaborator Buddy Cannon, others on tunes penned by leading figures from today’s Nashville establishment, like Texas-born Rodney Crowell and Kentuckian Chris Stapleton. None are better than Willie/Cannon’s extraordinary ode to pragmatism and patience, “Energy Follows Thought,” although the abundance of affirmation and amnesty on “Live Every Day” make for a worthy second-place finish. More eyebrow-raising, though, are two songs on this tracklist that stand out for how unlikely it is to imagine anyone needing new interpretations of them… at least, until you hear Nelson’s.

The original synth-pop version of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song” from I’m Your Man (1988) is by no means definitive; as with many of Cohen’s songs, live versions from later in his life do his wise-beyond-their-years lyrics more justice. Covers of the song, though, tend to be by younger artists, not older ones, and they usually reach for a gospel-like reverence in spite of funny lines like, “I asked Hank Williams, ‘How lonely does it get?’ / Hank Williams hasn’t answered me yet.” Believe that Nelson feels that bitter joke in his bones as deeply as he does “My friends are gone and my hair is gray” in his head and his heart. In fact, he feels every line of this great song, not as if he were singing some sacred text but rather narrating his own storied career—or casting an oddball pop classic as a country standard, replete with lonesome harmonica and gorgeous, crying steel guitar.

A recasting of genre is critical to the success of the other ostensibly dubious cover here, of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends,” which Nelson lends a lovely southern twang and the warmth and immediacy of a rowdy barroom band. Important, too, is the sense that the “friends” here are, for the most part, long gone—that they live in Nelson’s heart and in his mind, that it’s their memory (and some getting high, of course) that gets him through the day. Which is to say, Nelson opens the song to new interpretation, as is his wont and our great pleasure—turning the buoyant psych-rock of Sgt. Pepper’s tuneful curio into a moving elegy, the full-band accompaniment seeming to summon the spirits of fallen country vets whom Nelson considers extensions of his own legacy, like Waylon, Merle Haggard, and Billy Joe Shaver.

What makes A Beautiful Time so special is that its unabated confrontation of mortality comes without the grimness and resigned sense of expectancy that usually follow such a concept, especially from aging singer-songwriters. Nelson never seems much focussed on The End here (sample song title: “I Don’t Go to Funerals”), too absorbed is he with making sure every moment that he has left is spent in the company of others, reveling in the power of a lifelong love and sharing the wisdom accrued from his years on this planet. This album is Nelson’s earnest encouragement to keep living, and to never stop looking for meaning in life even after the most beautiful times are over.

Waylon and Willie due at ChicagoFest (August 9 1979)

Tuesday, August 9th, 2022


Two big stars for ChicagoFest will be country music singers Waylon Jennings on August 8 and Wilie Nelson on Aug. 9.  Willie, who likes only Southern cooking, is bringing his own chuckwagon and chef.  Joe drives the chuckwagon with his motorhome behind it.    The rock group Kiss will perform at the international Amphitheater on Sept. 22.

Willie Nelson draws 50K fans to Wichita Riverfest

Monday, June 6th, 2022

by: Erick Erickson

WICHITA, Kan. — Willie Nelson was on the road again, and the country music legend showed he could still draw a crowd.

Nelson, 89, took to the stage at the Wichita Riverfest on Saturday, KSNW-TV reported. Nelson and his band performed at Kennedy Plaza in the Kansas city, and Wichita police estimated more than 50,000 people were in attendance, The Wichita Eagle reported. Willie Nelson & Friends was joined by the singer’s three opening acts: Charley Crockett, Chapel Hart and Katie Jo, KSNW reported.

“Everybody was just excited for Willie,” Wichita Festivals Inc. President Nancy Duling told the newspaper. “You could just feel the energy.”

Festival officials say it’s the biggest concert turnout in at least 15 years.

“A Beautiful Time” — Willie Nelson

Tuesday, May 17th, 2022

Willie Nelson & Family shows cancelled, because of COVID-19 outbreak

Saturday, May 7th, 2022

Willie Nelson Hits The Top Of The Country Charts With “If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time”

Tuesday, October 12th, 2021

The “Red Headed Stranger’s 1976 chart-topper aided greatly in defining his artistic legacy.
by Marcus K. Dowling

read article, see more photos here.

By 1976, Willie Nelson was already an icon. However, he arguably had yet to truly discover himself as an artist capable of crafting a legacy. Nineteen albums into his career, he’d finally found success at Columbia Records by merging his Austin, Texas-honed outlaw ways with a songwriting pen that just fifteen years prior had written Patsy Cline’s timeless country ballad “Crazy.” Finally, however, an unexpected cover tune that reached the top of Billboard’s Hit Country charts in September 1976 allowed Nelson the ability to begin the process of ascending to his legendary status.

Following up Red Headed Stranger — his debut concept album about a fugitive on the run from the law after killing his wife and her lover — would be no easy task. His breakout hit on the album was a cover of Roy Acuff’s 1947 classic “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain,” which spurred the album on to Billboard Top Country Album chart-topping, and eventually, double-platinum selling success a decade later. However, pop-country — the lane wherein Nelson now resided due to his success — was, in that era, a mish-mash of discofied countrypolitan sounds, hard-rocking and whiskey-drenched soulful rock, plus ballads featuring soaring vocal performances that erred in the direction of seemingly unrepentant sorrow and heavenly joy. For a veteran, unexpected country star whose appeal laid far outside of mainstream expectations, discovering the best way through seems an impossible task.

Related to Nelson’s success, Lefty Frizzell was a honky-tonk era country crooner from the radio and barnstorming show tour era. His smooth tenor over raucous blues keyed country as a genre, expanding into a national phenomenon. “If You’ve Got The Money” was recorded in 1950, at the initial height of Frizzell’s career. It’s a rollicking jam of a track with lyrical content that mirrors but pre-dates country’s outlaw era. The song’s narrator is a ne’er do well mate who claims that he won’t have time for his lover if his lover runs out of money to spend on him. Yes, it’s an upbeat jam. However, if it were released in the modern era, it’d be deemed intensely problematic.

However, 1950 was not 2020. The single stayed at number one for three weeks on the chart of Most Played Country and Western Jukebox Records, peaked at number two on the list of Best Selling Country and Western recordings, plus overall, spent 22 weeks on the country charts.

Ready to double-down on his finally achieved significant success with the album The Sound In Your Mind, Nelson set upon creating a bluesy/bluegrass hybrid that underpinned his restrained, soulful, and yet still wholly countrified vibe. Aside from covering Lefty Frizzell’s “If You’ve Got The Money, I’ve Got The Time,” he covered Frankie Laine’s 1949 hit “That Lucky Old Sun,” which in 1953 became a pop smash for Ray Charles.” However, in regards to “If You’ve Got The Money, I’ve Got The Time,” in 1976, Nelson’s version followed “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” to number one on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart.

Impressively, his success with Lefty Frizzell’s songs and style keyed what ultimately became his legacy. One year later, in 1977, Nelson’s fourth release for Columbia Records was Willie Nelson: To Lefty from Willie. Legendary rock critic Robert Christgau offered the following as a review of his takes on Frizzell’s works:

“Although Nelson earned his legend as a songwriter, he’s turning into a singer now that profit-taking time has come…On this heartfelt, if opportune farewell to Lefty Frizzell, his cracks and creaks and precisely conversational timing hold their own against the more conventionally exquisite singing of Merle Haggard or Frizzell himself.”

For album number five, 1978’s Stardust, Nelson’s love of Ray Charles — that preceded from the “If You’ve Got The Money, I’ve Got The Time” album The Sound In Your Mind’s cover of “That Lucky Old Sun” proved instrumental. It yielded the then fast-developing icon’s cover of Charles’ 1960 version of Hoagy Carmichael’s 1930-released American standard “Georgia On My Mind.” One year after its release and chart-topping success, “Georgia On My Mind” became Georgia’s official state song on April 24, 1979, when Gov. George Busbee signed it into law.

If wanting to understand Willie Nelson’s appeal as a country superstar, the precise point at which to best regard his career is to study the impact of his cover of Lefty Frizzell’s “If You’ve Got The Money, I’ve Got The Time.” Being an unexpected blending point for his then past and present wholly inspired his — and in many ways, country music’s — future.

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

Tuesday, September 21st, 2021

Willie Nelson & Family at Outlaw Music Festival in Saratog Springs (9/17/21)

Saturday, September 18th, 2021
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
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
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
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

Willie Nelson, everyone’s favorite outlaw

Monday, June 14th, 2021

Read article here.
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.”

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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
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.