Willie Nelson 90 tribute: Sheryl Crow, Emmylou Harris, Beck
Welcome to Day 2 of our coverage of Long Story Short: Willie Nelson 90, the two-night tribute concert at the Hollywood Bowl to Shotgun Willie on this, his 90th birthday weekend.
Night 1 featured performances from a genre-spanning assortment of artists, from Kris Kristofferson to Snoop Dogg to Miranda Lambert to Sturgill Simpson to Neil Young and Stephen Stills. Willie himself jammed with Young and Stills, before bringing out country giant George Strait for a pair of joyful duets, “Sing One With Willie” and the deathless “Pancho and Lefty.”
As The Times’ Mikael Wood and Erin Osmon noted, the evening was both uplifting and melancholy, mortality not far from the minds of guests such as Norah Jones, who memorialized Willie’s late sister, Bobbie. Kristofferson, 86, and battling the effects of Lyme disease, made a rare public appearance, joining Rosanne Cash to sing his 1971 classic “Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again).”
As for the irrepressible Nelson, he led the crowd in a version of “Happy Birthday to Me,” and then, after a group singalong of the gospel standard “I’ll Fly Away,” went off-script to perform one more, the hilarious Mac Davis song “It’s Hard to Be Humble,” with Willie grinning his way through the bawdy line about filling out his skin-tight jeans. God bless that man.
Wood and Osmon will be at the Bowl again tonight, starting at 6:30, to bring you wall-to-wall-coverage.
6:26 p.m. And we’re back! Thanks for joining us for Night 2 of … Willie-chella? Willie-palooza? Not sure what we’re calling this. In any event, Erin and I are here for another evening of celebration of the man, the myth, the legend — Willie Nelson. My hope for the show: We get more of Willie himself, who played for only about 10 or 15 minutes last night. Free Willie! — Mikael Wood
6:33 p.m. I’m peering into my crystal ball and my prediction, Mikael, is that your Willie wish will come true. — Erin Osmon
6:38 p.m. Bluegrass phenom Billy Strings opens Night 2 with his magnetic take on Nelson’s “Whiskey River,” a welcome repeat of last night. I was in the elevator earlier with a very sweet, enthusiastic hippie whose greatest wish was that Strings would do this song again. I think I can see him bouncing along down in front. — E.O.
6:44 p.m. Presenter Ethan Hawke is wearing the same peach-colored satin suit with a deeply mismatched red shirt as he did last night. Either he found a 24-hour dry cleaner, or his stylist has taken the day off. — E.O.
6:49 p.m. Orville Peck gets the Hollywood treatment with an intro from Hawke, then pays tribute to Willie’s famously open mind with a growly take on “Cowboys are Frequently, Secretly Fond of Each Other,” songwriter and musicologist Ned Sublette’s lovably transgressive tune that Nelson covered in 2006. Of the many, many, many reasons to respect Willie Nelson (who hand-picked the talent for this Bowl bash), his willingness as a country legend to buck red-state orthodoxy — and to emphasize the humanism that’s core to country music — is near the top. — M.W.
6:50 p.m. “You have no equal,” rising country singer and fellow Texan Charley Crockett says of Willie before his tear-in-beer rendition of “Yesterday’s Wine.” His vocals sound less confident tonight, but his performance still elicits a sing-a-long from onlookers thanks to the legendary 1971 Willie-penned tune. — E.O.
7:00 p.m. Allison Russell is singing “Seven Spanish Angels” — the gospel-soul gem Willie cut with Ray Charles in the early ’80s — with Norah Jones on piano and harmony vocals. Jones’ presence is a good reminder of the fact that as much as he’s a country singer, Willie is a jazz vocalist (and guitarist) — a master of timing, of salty passing tones, of the brilliant ad lib that you never saw coming, but couldn’t forget once you heard it. — M.W.
7:08 p.m. “I was honored that Willie let me do this song,” Dwight Yoakam explains ahead of “Me and Paul.” “Watching him over the years I was fascinated with this song … if you ever needed someone to go get the money you sent this guy,” he adds of the late Paul English, Nelson’s longtime drummer, bodyguard, BFF and subject of the tune. Yoakam, in tight jeans and a 10-gallon hat, reliably twists his heel as if to uncork the song’s honky-tonk spirit, fleshed out by fiddle and the spirited piano work of Benmont Tench. I’ve always felt that Nelson, Yoakam and Tom Petty are fingers of the same glove, the black sheep little brothers of their respective microgenres (outlaw country, Bakersfield sound, heartland rock) and it’s a real wonder to see and feel the fusion of those spirits on this stage tonight. What a ripper! — E.O.
7:12 p.m. Margo Price is back — and let’s take a second here to mark the true Willie devotion of Price and the other acts who are playing both nights — to perform Billy Joe Shaver’s “Georgia on a Fast Train” with Waylon Payne, who took a moment in the song’s introduction to remember the work of his late mother, the country singer (and former Nelson running buddy) Sammi Smith. — M.W.
7:21 p.m. Micah Nelson, Willie’s youngest, who performs as Particle Kid, returns with pedal-steel adventurer and top-shelf producer Daniel Lanois to perform “Die When I’m High (Halfway to Heaven).” It’s a song whose origins are traced to a dominoes game with his dad, its title a direct quote from the nonagenarian. “I said, ‘that’s the best song you’ve never written,’” the younger Nelson explained, adding that he went immediately to the family garage, ripped a heavy duty bong and wrote his version of a Willie Nelson tune. “Keep on f—!” the younger Nelson shouts to close out his stirring tribute, the strangest of non sequiturs and proof that weird runs in the fam. — E.O.
7:37 p.m. Rodney Crowell, wearing a red-and-white “Where’s Waldo”-style shirt, brings Emmylou Harris to the stage to join him for two songs: “It Ain’t Over Yet,” which he calls a tune about “aging in this entertainment business,” and “Till I Gain Control,” which he describes as a song he wrote “two-thirds of a lifetime ago” — and which he says reminds him of his days playing North Hollywood’s storied Palomino club. — M.W.
7:39 p.m. The alternate title of this performance is “Emmylou Gets Her Flowers.” The crowd rightfully adores her. — E.O.
7:40 p.m. “For Willie’s 90th and the memory of Merle,” Rosanne Cash performs a graceful take on “Pancho and Lefty,” propelling its famous chorus to the heavens with moving backing vocals by the McCrary Sisters. — E.O.
7:47 p.m. Warren Haynes is blues-ing up the joint with a snarling rendition of “Night Life.” Big couple of weeks for that classic 1960 song of Nelson’s: Haynes’ cover follows one Frank Ocean included in his much-discussed headlining set at Coachella. — M.W.
8:18 p.m. Tom Jones is back tonight to sing “Across the Borderline,” the haunting Ry Cooder tune that served as the title track of Nelson’s 1993 album, for which Nelson teamed with tonight’s musical director, producer Don Was. Jones’ singing is handsome and powerful, as always, but I have to say that his showman’s talents might’ve been better showcased in a less-regal number. — M.W.
8:24 p.m. “This is a ridiculous group of musicians parading through here,” Beck notes ahead of his performance of the 1947 Roy Acuff chestnut “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” which became Nelson’s first No. 1 country hit 28 years later. He likens Nelson to a wizard, and calls the song one of his favorites in Nelson’s catalog. His version sticks the landing, at once a respectful ode and a welcome update, his vocals strong and steady. Beck’s observation about Nelson’s friends and peers who’ve graced the stage this weekend is perceptive beyond a sheer accounting of personnel; it’s incredible to ponder the range of those who love Nelson, how much this cohort transcends every imaginable classification, how Willie, and few others, brings together giants of county, rock, hip-hop, indie, experimental — seemingly all genres — without any off-putting airs or grandstanding. Among this diverse squad, Willie floats in a plane of spiritual unity while at the same time exemplifying a flesh-and-blood example of the melting pot that America is supposed to be. His implicit example is never not moving. — E.O.
8:29 p.m. Following a rollicking performance of the Western swing classic “Stay a Little Longer” from Bob Weir, with a stoner intro from Woody Harrelson, the crowd erupts for Shooter Jennings and Lukas Nelson, next-gen outlaws, who duet on “Good Hearted Woman,” written by their fathers in 1971 in a Fort Worth hotel room. It’s the song that propelled Willie and Waylon’s brand of outlaw country to the mainstream and it’s nice to know that it’s become an heirloom, two sons doing their dads proud. — E.O.
8:34 p.m. Lukas Nelson did “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” last night, and it was solid. Tonight, though, Willie’s son seemed touched by a little of what his dad has long been tuned into: This was searching, soulful, downright celestial — maybe the best performance of the weekend so far. — M.W.
8:43 p.m. We were not fans of the Lumineers’ flat take on Leon Russell’s “A Song for You” last night. But the band’s Wesley Schultz redeemed himself tonight with a tender rendition of “Pretty Paper,” the title track of Willie’s gorgeous late-’70s holiday album. “I know we’re about seven, eight months out from Christmas,” Schultz says, “but we’re gonna play a Christmas song in mid-April.” — M.W.
8:48 p.m. Eighty-six-year-old Kris Kristofferson, who’s mostly retreated from public life, returns to sing his oft-covered 1970 ballad “Help Me Make It Through the Night” with Norah Jones, the pair huddled around a mic stand as if to keep warm. The affection between the two is palpable — at one point she pats his back — and their smoky voices sway with ease, like branches in the wind. Kristofferson’s appearance last night with Rosanne Cash was good, but this was truly remarkable. — E.O.
8:57 p.m. Tonight, “A Song for You” goes to Nathaniel Rateliff. This feels like the kind of performance you hope to see at karaoke, where some random dude grabs the mic and blows you away with his voice and his guts. — M.W.
9:02 p.m. Sheryl Crow says that 27 years ago, she was getting ready to go on stage with Willie at the Beacon Theatre in New York, and she was nervous. “Kris Kristofferson says, ‘Don’t try to sing with him, just sing louder than him,” she recalls, laughing, before adding that Willie’s the only person who ever offered her dad a joint! Her version of “Crazy,” Nelson’s lil’ tune that helped make Patsy Cline a star, brings the crowd to its feet, her honeyed delivery less acrobatic than Cline’s but no less poignant and magical. — E.O.
9:08 p.m. “Man, I’m nervous,” Dave Matthews says, and he’s stammering to prove it as he recounts his version of a familiar celebrity story: The Time I Got Way Too High with Willie Nelson. Matthews’ jammy folk-soul thing has its limits, but I give him credit for thoroughly remaking Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away” in his own idiosyncratic style. — M.W.
9:16 p.m. “The Maker,” Daniel Lanois’ 1989 epic centered on a lyrical spirit quest, gets a gorgeous treatment by Emmylou Harris and its author tonight, she on acoustic guitar and he on sparkling electric. It’s another through line among the weekend’s performers: Emmylou, Willie and the Dave Matthews Band have all covered it before. — E.O.