Three days of peace, love and music with Willie Nelson and his cool friends at the end of the year in Austin

photo:  Gary A. Miller

It was another love fest in Austin with Willie Nelson & Family at his Three Night New Year’s Eve Celebration Extravaganza.   There is something so special about ending the year listening to Willie Nelson sing and then start the next year listening to Willie Nelson sing.  It erased the craziness that was 2016 and sent us all into 2017 feeling good and hopeful.  And he has the coolest friends who want to hang out with him and play.

photo:  Gary A. Miller

For the sixth year, ACL has hosted Willie Nelson & Family and Friends to perform at the Moody Theater at 310 Willie Nelson Boulevard in downtown Austin.   The ACL Live Moody Theater was completed in 2011, and that December was the first Willie Nelson and Friends New Year’s Eve Celebration.  That first year, Ray Price joined Willie Nelson & Family bring in the New Year.  Recent years have included Kacey Musgraves, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, with Willie Nelson and Family. Sturgil Simpson opened for the band in 2014.  John Stamos has been known to show up and sit in with the band on percussion.

photo:  Gary A. Miller

This year, Ryan Bingham performed all three nights before WN&F.  Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real flew in from shows in Jackson Hole, Wyoming to open the show, and then Lukas came back on stage after Ryan Bingham’s set, to play with WN&F.  Ray Benson, of Asleep at the Wheel, joined Willie and the band on Thursday and Friday nights.   On New Year’s Eve, as in years past, rock and roll hall of famer and blues guitarist Billy Gibbons played with Willie for a few songs in the opening set, before leaving to go play music at another gig.

Keeping with tradition, at midnight Father Time Texas descended from the ACL Moody Theater ceiling, accompanied by the New Year  Baby.  Andy Langer served as MC and helped with the countdown to midnight and introducing Willie Nelson.  “New York has Anderson Cooper.  LA has Ryan Seacrest.  We have Willie Nelson.  We win!  Austin wins!”

Willie Nelson lead us in rowdy version of Aulde Lang Zyne, and then a cake was brought out for Sister Bobbie, who’s birthday is on January 1st, and Willie and the crowd sang happy birthday to her.  Then, Willie was off and running with Whiskey River.  And the audience loved him, and cheered at all his hits, laughing at his escapades with almost getting busted in Laredo and singing very convincingly that Willie was always on their mind.  The last show on New Year’s Eve had the liveliest crowd, and fans stood up for the entire concert, which is what I always like to do.

Willie comes out on stage wearing his black hat, and plays a few songs before he sets his hat on an amp and picks up one of the bandannas, already tied, stacked on top another amp, and puts it on.  It is always exciting to hear the crowd cheer when he puts on the bandanna.   And then they squeal even louder when he tosses them out to fans in the crowd.   I lost count how many bandannas he tossed out over the weekend, six the first night, I know.  On New Year’s eve, these two fans were having so much fun dancing and enjoying the music, and Willie tossed them one of his bandannas.  Sorry it’s so dark, but I just had my cell phone, no other camera at the shows.   If you squint, it isn’t so bad.

(All these blurry cell phone pictures are mine.)


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