“Is this a graduation?”
That’s the joke Willie Nelson made Wednesday night (Feb. 6) as he was presented a framed declaration recognizing him as the 2019 honoree of the Recording Academy’s Producers & Engineers Wing.
The presentation was part of the P&E Wing’s 12th annual, invitation-only celebration at Los Angeles’ legendary Village Studios, and it served as the official kickoff for Grammy week in L.A.
When it was his turn to speak, Nelson thanked all the producers and engineers he’s ever collaborated with saying, “I’m glad they liked me because they could have really screwed me up. Again, thanks to all of y’all, and I’m glad to be here.”
The historic Village Studios was a one-time Masonic temple and the former West Coast headquarters of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s meditation empire. The Beatles meditated there once, and John Mayer keeps a studio on the second floor. Fleetwood Mac designed to Studio D where an arched stained-glass window reflected a section of Wednesday’s scene that had music professionals mingling to a live jazz trio and noshing on a raw bar of sushi and mussels — one of the many food stations scattered throughout the complex.
It was recommended that invitees arrive early. Had they gotten distracted by the exorbitant amount of food and drink, they would have missed the intimate concert Nelson put on with sons Lukas and Micah Nelson featuring Promise of the Real and Nelson’s longtime harmonica player Mickey Raphael.
Kacey Musgraves, Farm Aid board member Dave Matthews and Nelson’s longtime producer Buddy Cannon were the surprise guests. Celebrity attendants included “Weird Al” Yankovic, Ziggy Marley, Lisa Loeb, Feist, and Diane Warren.
“Underdogs, outliers, Republicans, rappers, presidents — everyone loves Willie,” Musgraves said. “Speaking of presidents, I asked Willie one time, why don’t you just run for president? He said, ‘Because I’d win.’”
Matthews celebrated Nelson’s musical contributions by performing “Ain’t It Funny How Time Slips Away” and “Crazy” acoustically with Lukas.
Lukas and Micah thrilled the crowd with a medley of songs from Redheaded Stranger including “Time of the Preacher.”
Then Nelson joined in for the finale, “Living In the Promise Land” and “On the Road Again.”
Neil Portnow, President/CEO of the Recording Academy, was among the night’s first speakers saying, “Willie is an incomparable songwriter, musician and producer, and he has amassed admirable credentials as an author, actor and activist, and he continues to thrive as a relevant and progressive musical and cultural force … Willie is one of the icons, and he has been a standard-bearer for all of us.”
Previous P&E Wing honorees are Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun; Jerry Wexler; Arif Mardin and Tom Dowd; Chris Blackwell; T Bone Burnett; Jimmy Iovine; Quincy Jones & Al Schmitt; Neil Young; Nile Rodgers; Rick Rubin; Jack White and Alicia Keys & Swizz Beatz.