Long Story Short: Willie Nelson 90, 2- night star-studded event at the iconic Hollywood Bowl on April 29 & 30, 2023.
2 nights, 4 hours each, 79 performances. It was a massive event and lineup, the likes of we aren’t probably to see again in our lifetimes. Music lovers knew how huge this was when the lineup was announced. We knew we couldn’t miss one second of it.
The theme of the event was clear to see. It’s about the connections, the people, relationships, and family. Norah Jones summed it up saying “Thank you Willie for always bringing people together. It’s a gift.” Willie crosses genres, evident on the bill: Ziggy Marley, Snoop Dogg, Dave Matthews, Lumineers, Jack Johnson, Beck (his father was a conductor at the Bowl), Avett Brothers. And of course, there were some country faves: Chris Stapleton, Miranda Lambert, Tyler Childers, Lyle Lovett, Margo Price, Dwight Yoakam, Sturgill Simpson, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Charley Crockett, Nathaniel Rateliff, The Chicks, Sheryl Crow.
In addition to Nelson himself, The night will be remembered by the legends, nostalgia and reunions. Bob Weir (Grateful Dead), Neil Young and Stephen Stills, Lyle Lovett, Tom Jones, George Strait, Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Dwight Yoakam, Warren Haynes (Allman Brothers), and Keith Richards (Rolling Stones). It’s so inspiring as many of the legends are in their 80s and still sounding strong and sharp. Many, like Nelson, still tour.
Artist Collabs and Song Highlights
The highlights for us were the song pairings/matchups of artists (some unexpected), especially the ones that sang together with Willie. And seeing music legends across genres that Willie collaborated and/or recorded with at different points in his still-going-strong career.
- The biggest surprise guest (was super secret, no one knew) was at the end of the 2nd night when legendary Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards casually walked on stage, joined Willie on his acoustic for Waylon’s “We Had It All” and Billy Joe’s “Live Forever”. The lyrics like, ‘We’re gonna live forever, you and I, I’m gonna cross that river’ are relevant today as ever as we know their legacies will live on. The two icons have recorded together and tonight played like they were much younger than their years and looked genuinely happy to be together again. It ended with a nod and a bow to Willie. We could’ve watched them play for hours. Fans who left early to beat traffic are kicking themselves.
- There were so many meaningful moments, but maybe the most memorable was when legend Kris Kristofferson (who retired in 2020) sang his song “Lovin’ Her Was Easier” with Rosanne Cash the first night- tightly together at the mic after walking slowly, but smiling so big after the song finished and saw the crowd reaction. On the next night, surprising us all, he came back out to sing classic “Help Me Make It Through The Night” with Norah Jones-it was tender and beautiful. Jones also played “Down Yonder” as a tribute to sister Bobbie Nelson (as the family band and Highwaymen performed in the past) to honor her, which was quite touching.
- Neil Young and Willie paired up on “Are There Any More Real Cowboys”. Just seeing these two legends together, still doin’ it, was everything. Preceded by Young/Stills’ beautiful, soft, acoustic, nostalgic “Long May You Run” and powerful, “For What It’s Worth”, written by Stills. The Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young breakup was one for the books, so seeing these 2 together again decades later, is heartwarming. The famous electric riffs bring it all back (plus Neil’s iconic harmonica); we felt like we were right back in the 70s.
- Before the night 1 finale, Nelson called out Snoop (doobie in hand) and asked “What key are we doing?” Snoop said, “The key of smoke”. Fittingly, Snoop & Willie sang “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die”. Of course they did. It was so perfect.
- Willie with Sheryl Crow was sweet and lovely, the pair sitting together for ballad “Far Away Places” (she also sang”Crazy” earlier on showcasing her signature voice). She said Kris Kristofferson told her 27 years ago when she first sang with Willie ‘Don’t try to sing with him, just sing louder than him.’ “He’s my favorite person to sing with and the only person to ever offer my dad a joint.”
- Jamey Johnson (with his deep, soulful voice) joined icon Booker T on a beautiful version of “Georgia (On My Mind)” with a standing O. Jamey has many connections including Nelson, Farm Aid, Strait (co-written songs with many) and has been through so much in life. The backstories of Johnson and many these artists could fill a book.
- Jack Johnson said, “I don’t think anyone has poured this much love into the world…he’s one of the best human beings”. Both nights, Jack sang and shared the backstory of his song “Willie Got Me Stoned (and took all my money)”- about getting back at Willie and his friends after playing poker with them in Maui; it became a crowd sing along with the hilarious lyrics.
- Beck said- ‘what a ridiculous group’ in amazement of the lineup and talked about his fave moment when Willie threw magic dust on him like the wizard of Oz, sang sad ballad “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”- one of his favorite songs. He also played a beautiful version of “Hands on The Wheel” with fitting lyrics, ‘At at time when the world seems to be spinning helplessly out of control’ that gave us chills.
- Rocker Warren Haynes jammed like it was yesterday with his energetic version of “Midnight Rider” (his Allman Brothers Band song). Most artists sang Willie songs but we loved the inclusion of other legendary and meaningful ones. His voice and picking were strong and got a huge crowd reaction and we wanted more.
- Chris Stapleton’s soul-stirring voice on “The Last Thing I Needed” and “Always On My Mind” were uniquely his and supported by gorgeous back up singers that had a little gospel twinge.
- Nathaniel Rateliff, seems to be part of the extended family by now, and fitting he was there tonight. We’ve covered Rateliff many times but it never gets old. The pairing with Margo Price was sublime on “Take Back the Weed” a perfect song choice by Nelson and Leon Russell.
- Country music legend, Dwight Yoakam said, as he introduced “Me and Paul” (about 60 year friendship of Nelson and Paul English) “I’m honored Willie allowed me to do this song, as he wrote the song about Willie and this fella…about all the experiences together, and how Willie was like Tom Sawyer to his Huck Finn. It’s one of the greatest songs ever written in country music.”
- Helen Mirren introducing legendary duo Rodney Crowell and Emmylou Harris, was pretty cool and they sounded fantastic on the sweet ‘Til I Gain Control Again”. All acts were backed by the legendary house band that spread covered the huge stage.
- We were happy to see so many Texans and Austinites (Edie Brickell, Charlie Sexton, Gary Clark Jr.) presenting and performing- Texans Crowell, Lambert, Strait, Jones, Bridges, The Chicks, Lovett, Crockett, … We loved the matchup with rock and blues Gary Clark Jr. and Leon Bridges (Ft Worth) on “Nightlife”, followed by Gary’s jam on “Texas Flood”.
- Willie with George Strait joined 2 icons for 2 great song choices, “Sing One with Willie” that was quite funny and the epic “Pancho & Lefty” written by Van Zandt and recorded by Nelson and Haggard decades ago. Some say 3 of the best singer/songwriters ever. It was particularly great with Lukas and Micah backing.
- The Highwaymen-it was so special to see offspring of the original group, Lukas and Micah Nelson, Scooter Jennings, and Rosanne Cash on a memorable rendition of “Still Dream About”. Each bringing a unique voice to their parent’s versions and a great tribute to the original group. Incredibly beautiful to see these bonds and we can only imagine the days when Willie played with Johnny Cash.
- Lukas Nelson– many by now have heard Lukas Nelson sing, but tonight on “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” he had the crowd so quiet you could hear a pin drop; he got an amazing reaction and standing applause. His voice so keenly Willie, at times. Nelson played throughout the nights with his band Promise of the Real, as did Micah. We’ve seen these brothers perform many times over the years and are so inspired by how they’ve grown as artists.
- Micah Nelson (aka Particle Kid)- said “Thanks for coming to dad’s birthday party. I don’t think my dad would’ve made it to 90 without all of you, the music keeps him alive”. He did a great rendition with buddy Daniel Lanois of “If I’m High When I Die I’ll Be Halfway to Heaven”. He told the story about how he wrote the song after playing dominoes with dad and said ‘it’s the best song that’s never been written’ so dad told him to write it; so he went to the garage and wrote it from Willie’s perspective (and was really high). It’s fantastic.
- The finales: the finales each night were larger than life- with all the performers coming on stage to sing with Willie, and took up the entire breadth of the massive Bowl stage. To see the mix of genres and ages all there to celebrate Mr. Willie was a sight to see. They sang some classics to close out- “On the Road Again”, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken/I’ll Fly Away”, “It’s Hard to be Humble” and “Happy Birthday To You”.
- The all-star house band was led by Grammy Award-winning Music Director, Don Was (played/produced with tons of legendary musicians like Wolf Bros, Tom Petty, Dylan, Elton, B-52s, Stones) and Mickey Raphael played solos on many songs throughout the shows. As one of the last members of the original Nelson Family Band playing for decades, his harmonica is a beautiful part of these iconic songs.
Helping Younger Artists
In addition to people like Margo, Sturgill, and Nathaniel, Willie’s been helping so many young artists. Billy Strings has been blowing up over the last few years with his bluegrass and debuted his fast pickin’ duet with Willie,”California Sober”. Singer songwriter Tyler Childers is on fire lately having been at the major music festivals and beautiful”Healing hands of Time” and “Time of the Preacher” had the crowd hollerin’.
Although many didn’t seem to know Lily Meola, they were blown away (who’s part of the extended family in Hawaii, played with Willie at Farm Aid, was on America’s Got Talent.). Her moving backstory, like so many on the bill, is emotional and inspiring. She and Nelson sang together the moving “Will You Remember Mine”.
The thing that struck us most, was the magnitude of pure love and joy (and weed) from the artists who have real connections & history with Willie. There was no shortage of shout outs to him for helping them come up in their careers and the amazing, sometimes hilarious backstories of how they met or how the songs got written.
Willie who’s finally nominated for the Rock Hall (seems way overdue) is known for much more than his outlaw music, songwriting, and films. He’s also an activist, horse rescuer, school builder in Kenya, and mentor. The man has no pretense, is authentically himself, and it’s inspiring to see how much he does for others. Willie has always been about being a good person (his motto is ‘Don’t be an asshole’), doing the right thing, and being himself.
When the night was done, Willie took off his hat and bandana and threw them into the crowd. Even after 4 hours (each night), we were sad to see it end. The entire event and production was incredible and we were pleasantly surprised with how strong the venue sound was. It was an epic night at an iconic venue celebrating this legend that will live on in our minds and has us wondering if we were dreaming. We’re already excited about Willie’s 95th celebration.
Billy Strings – “Whiskey River,” “Stay All Night”
Charley Crockett – “The Party’s Over”
Particle Kid & Daniel Lanois – “The Ghost”
Edie Brickell and Charlie Sexton – “Remember Me”
Lyle Lovett – “Hello Walls”
Margo Price and Nathaniel Rateliff – “I Can Get Off On You”
Beck – “Hands on the Wheel”
Norah Jones – “Down Yonder,” “Funny How Time Slips Away”
Warren Haynes – “Midnight Rider”
Rosanne Cash and Kris Kristofferson – “Lovin’ Her Was Easier”
Lukas Nelson – “Angels Flying Too Close to the Ground”
Leon Bridges and Gary Clark Jr. – “Night Life”
Gary Clark Jr. – “Texas Flood”
Jack Johnson – “Willie Got Me Stoned”
Tyler Childers and the Food Stamps – “Healing Hands of Time,” “Time of the Preacher”
Ziggy Marley – “Still Is Still Moving to Me”
Tom Jones – “Opportunity to Cry”
Jamey Johnson – “Live Forever”
Bob Weir – “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”
The Chicks with Keith Sewell – “Bloody Mary Morning”
The Lumineers – “A Song for You”
Nathaniel Rateliff – “City of New Orleans”
Sturgill Simpson – “I’d Have to Be Crazy”
Miranda Lambert – “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”
Chris Stapleton – “The Last Thing I Needed,” “Always on My Mind”
Neil Young, Stephen Stills with Promise of the Real – “Long May You Run,” “For What It’s Worth”
Willie Nelson, Lukas Nelson, Micah Nelson, Neil Young with POTR – “Are There Any More Real Cowboys”
George Strait and Willie Nelson – “Sing One With Willie,” “Pancho and Lefty”
Snoop Dogg and Willie Nelson – “Roll Me Up”
Willie Nelson – “On the Road Again”
All– “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” “I’ll Fly Away,” “Happy Birthday,” “It’s Hard to Be Humble”
Billy Strings – Whiskey River
Billy Strings – Stay All Night
Orville Peck – “Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly Fond of Each Other”
Charley Crockett – “Yesterday’s Wine”
Allison Russell, Norah Jones – “Seven Spanish Angels”
Dwight Yoakam – “Me and Paul”
Margo Price, Waylon Payne – I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train
Particle Kid, Daniel Lanois – (Die When I’m High) Halfway to Heaven
Rodney Crowell – It Ain’t Over Yet
Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris – ‘Til I Gain Control Again
Rosanne Cash – Pancho & Lefty
Warren Haynes – Nightlife
Lyle Lovett – My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys
Jack Johnson – Willie Got Me Stoned and Took All My Money
Beck – Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain
Tom Jones – Across the Borderline
Bob Weir, Margo Price, Billy Strings – Stay All Night
Lukas Nelson, Shooter Jennings -Good Hearted Woman
Lukas Nelson – Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground
The Avett Brothers – Pick Up the Tempo
The Avett Brothers – Heaven and Hell
The Lumineers – Pretty Paper
Norah Jones – Down Yonder
Kris Kristofferson, Norah Jones – Help Me Make It Through the Night
Nathaniel Rateliff – A Song for You
Sheryl Crow – Crazy
Dave Matthews – Funny How Time Slips Away
Emmylou Harris, Daniel Lanois – The Maker
Jamey Johnson w/ Booker T – Georgia (On My Mind)
Lukas Nelson, Particle Kid, Shooter Jennings, Rossana Cash – Highwayman
Willie Nelson, Booker T – Stardust
Willie Nelson, Sheryl Crow – Far Away Places
Willie Nelson, Lily Meola – Will You Remember Mine
Willie Nelson, Buddy Cannon – Something You Get Through
Willie Nelson, Billy Strings – California Sober
Willie Nelson, Keith Richards – We Had It All
Willie Nelson, Keith Richards – Live Forever
All, Willie Nelson – On the Road Again
All, Willie Nelson, Everyone – Will the Circle Be Unbroken / I’ll Fly Away
All, Willie Nelson, Everyone – Happy Birthday to You