Willie Nelson, Maui’s Favorite Rock Star Resident

Photos:  Dano Sayles
By:  Dano Sayles
February 2014

Say the name Willie Nelson to any stranger on the street and chances are they know who you’re talking about. A country music icon with work spanning over five decades, Willie Nelson is an 80 year old singer, songwriter, actor, philanthropist, beloved icon and Maui resident from Abbott, Texas.

Over the span of his lengthy and impressive career, Willie has written more than 2,500 songs and released close to 300 albums. In the late 1950s, Nelson produced some of his most famous songs, “Crazy”, the famous hit sung by Patsy Cline, and “Funny How Time Slips Away”, sung by Ray Price, before releasing his own albums which would prove to be some of the most popular of his career. Leading the way in a new kind of “outlaw” country music, Willie moved back to Texas in 1970 and began hosting his famous Fourth of July picnics near Austin, with guest performances from other musicians like Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. In 1975, the Texas Senate named Fourth of July “Willie Nelson Day”. That same year, Willie won his first of 6 Grammy Awards with the song “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” from the album Red Headed Stranger (1975).

Willie Nelson continues to tour extensively and remains one of Maui’s favorite north shore homeowners, where he can be seen at Charley’s Restaurant & Saloon in Paia playing surprise shows for lucky guests when he’s not hosting poker night with friends Don Nelson, Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson.


Maui is home to more than just Willie and his biggest fans.  His sons, Lukas and Micah, grew up and went to school here. You’ll often see Lukas Nelson and his band playing around Maui along with Micah painting along side them (and sometimes jumping on the drums.)  Willie has brought up some great kids with their own impressive talents

Willie Nelson in the movies

A few years, several successful albums and collaborations later, Willie decided to make the move into motion pictures with a small role in his first movie, “The Electric Horseman”, starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda (1979). To date, Willie has appeared in more than 30 feature films and TV movies and has been featured in more than 185 soundtracks. Lukas Nelson and Luke Wilson collaborated on a short film that recently won the Santa Barbara Film Festival.  Look for Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real music on the new film “Satellite Beach.”  We’d be shocked if we didn’t see it show up at the Maui Film Festival.

Farm Aid

In 1985, along with Neil Young and John Mellencamp, Willie organized the first ever Farm Aid concert to raise awareness about the loss of family farms and raise funds to keep family farms going strong. Almost 30 years into the making, Farm Aid has raised more than $45 million and continues to support small family farms all over the country.

“As long as there’s a few farmers out there, we’ll keep fighting for them.”

Hard Times

Although he has run into his fair share of difficulties, including having his property seized by the IRS in 1992 for back taxes equaling nearly $17 million, Willie has continued to win the support of devoted fans, farmers and music lovers from all around the world. In true Willie fashion, he released “The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories” and settled his debts by 1993, the same year he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

“I think most art comes out of poverty and hard times.”


Discovering the benefits of biodiesel during a trip to Hawaii, Willie invested in the development of biodiesel and even started marketing his own brand called BioWillie in 2007, currently available on Maui at Pacific Biodiesel in Kahului. Although no longer directly involved in the company, Willie continues to support the cause by using only biodiesel on his tour buses and says “It seems like that’s good for the whole world if we can start growing our own fuel instead of starting wars over it.”

In addition, Willie continues to support his hometown of Abbott, where he purchased the local church and grocery store, both previously in danger of shutting their doors. In 2011, Willie was inducted into the National Agriculture Hall of Fame for his work supporting family farmers and in 2012, was honored by the Country Music Association with an all-star tribute in Nashville.

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