Willie Nelson’s 90th birthday celebration will go down in the concert history books. In a two-night star-studded event, celebrities lined up to perform with Willie.
Guests included George Strait, Snoop Dogg, Norah Jones, Keith Richards, Miranda Lambert, Billy Strings, Neil Young, The Chicks, Chris Stapleton, and The Lumineers, among many others.
Kris Kristofferson stepped out of retirement to celebrate Nelson’s birthday. Kristofferson, who retired quietly from touring in 2020, returned to the stage this past weekend to sing a pair of duets from his storied songwriting catalog: 1971 single “Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)” with Roseanne Cash and “Help Me Make it Through the Night,” a collaboration with Jones. Released in 1970, Nelson covered “… Make it Through The Night” in 1980.
— Jason French (@jasontfrench) April 30, 2023
“Are there any more real cowboys?” Neil Young sang Saturday night at the Hollywood Bowl.
Willie Nelson, wearing a cowboy hat and red-white-and-blue guitar strap, strolled onto the stage on his 90th birthday, bringing the crowd of more than 17,000 to its feet.
Nelson sat in a chair – one of the few onstage concessions he’s made to age – and joined Young for the rest of their 1985 duet, “Are There Any More Real Cowboys?”
“I want to thank all the artists who came out tonight to help celebrate whatever it is we’re celebrating,” said Nelson, feigning senility and getting a laugh.
After Young, Nelson brought out George Strait, a country superstar of the following generation, for their self-referential duet, “Sing One With Willie,” followed by the Willie perennial, “Pancho and Lefty,” with Strait singing the part once played by the late Merle Haggard.
Nelson then shouted, “Come out and roll one with me Snoop!”
Strutting out came rapper Snoop Dogg, sitting next to Nelson as they launched into their stoner anthem, “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.” Perhaps fittingly, each seemed to forget the words at times. The two friends looked too happy to care.
“Somebody make some noise for the legend Mr. Willie Nelson!” Snoop shouted mid-song.
During Nelson’s set Sunday night, Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards emerged from backstage to perform songs with the 90-year-old: “We Had It All”,” a song cut for Waylon Jennings’ 1973 album “Honky Tonk Heroes” that Nelson and Richards previously performed together, and the Billy Joe Shaver-penned “Live Forever,” an on-the-nose nod to each’s enduring legacy.
Miranda Lambert sang “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” Nelson’s 1978 hit with Waylon Jennings. The Chicks blazed through 1970’s “Bloody Mary Morning” at the same break-neck pace that Willie and his Family Band played it live in their prime.
Chris Stapleton sang a reflective rendition of “Always on My Mind,” Nelson’s biggest solo hit of the 1980s. Nelson’s son Lukas sang “Angel Flying Too Close to The Ground” alone with his acoustic guitar, his voice a dead ringer for his dad’s.
Nelson has outlived nearly every member of that band, which backed him for decades of constant touring and recording. His little sister and piano player, Bobbie Nelson, died last year.
The 90-year-old wasn’t ready to stop singing. He interrupted and broke into Mac Davis’ “It’s Hard to Be Humble,” – Nelson and his sons recorded it in 2019.
Its chorus was a perfect ending to the birthday celebration:
“To know me is to love me, I must be a hell of a man. Oh lord, it’s hard to be humble. But I’m doing the best that I can.”
Credit: Ketv, The Tennessean, Los Angeles Daily News