The No. 1 takeaway from the Willie: Life & Songs Of An American Outlaw tribute concert is that Willie Nelson treats everyone like family.
On the red carpet before Saturday’s (Jan. 12) event at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, Margo Price told reporters Nelson always tells her a new joke whenever they’re together. Lyle Lovett said he believes Nelson’s classic songs will forever be part of the human consciousness, but it’s his humanity that will be his resounding legacy.
“Willie Nelson has written classic songs that will always endure,” Lovett said. “I think even more than this music, Willie is known for his humanity. There’s something about being in the same room with Willie, there’s a feeling from him that just makes everybody feel better. He’s such a powerful person. I don’t know what it is. It’s an almost mystical feeling. And he brings that to his music.”
For one night only, the all-star concert brought together Price, Lovett, George Strait, Jimmy Buffett, Sheryl Crow, Eric Church, Kris Kristofferson, Steve Earle, Dave Matthews and more to become an extended part of the Nelson family.
Standout performances included Red Headed Stranger’s “Time of the Preacher” from Lukas and Micah Nelson, who received one of the night’s first standing ovations. Chris Stapleton opened with “Whiskey River,” and expectant mother Price sang like an outlaw songbird on “Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.”
But the top highlights were the performances featuring the man of the night. Strait and Nelson performed “Sing One with Willie.” Church joined Nelson and Kristofferson on “Me and Bobby McGee,” and Matthews and Nelson crooned on “Crazy.” Nelson and the entire cast closed with “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” “I’ll Fly Away” and “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”
Additional performers seen onstage included Alison Krauss, Bobby Bare, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Jack Johnson, Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, Lee Ann Womack, Nathaniel Rateliff, Norah Jones, Ray Benson, the Avett Brothers, Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks. Don Was led an all-star house band that featured Jamey Johnson, pedal steel player Paul Franklin and guitarist Audley Freed.
The night was filmed for an upcoming A&E special that is expected to air later this year.