Over two-dozen artists from the worlds of country and Americana rock took the stage at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on Saturday night to partake in the “Willie: Life & Songs Of An American Outlaw” tribute event. The all-star concert was meant to honor country legend Willie Nelson, and featured a handful of performances from artists including Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Dave Matthews, Alison Krauss, The Avett Brothers, Jimmy Buffett, Chris Stapleton, Margo Price, Jack Johnson, John Mellencamp, Kris Kristofferson, Lee Ann Womack, Lyle Lovett, Norah Jones, Sheryl Crow, and many more. The event also featured performances from Nelson, who played songs from his sizeable song catalogue alongside the rotating cast of musicians throughout the celebratory concert.
The mix of headline-worthy artists rotated on and off the stage throughout the evening (at times alongside Nelson) to play with the show’s Little House Band, comprised of Jamey Johnson, Don Was, Mickey Raphael, Paul Franklin, and Amanda Shires. The event started with Stapleton performing Nelson’s 1978 hit, “Whiskey River”, followed by Lee Ann Womack coming to the stage to perform “Three Days”. It was then Margo Price’s turn, and the singer/guitarist teamed up with Bobby Bare to perform “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”, followed by “Sister’s Coming Home” alongside Steve Earle.
Nelson’s own children, Lukas and Micah Nelson, took the stage for a five-song medley of “I Thought About You, Lord”, “Just As I Am”, “Time Of The Preacher”, “Bandera”, and “Hands On The Wheel”. Jason Isbell then performed “Milk Cow Blues”, followed by Nathaniel Rateliff, who played “A Song for You”. The first half of the show continued with performances from Lyle Lovett, Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, Jamey Johnson, and closing with Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, who played “Somebody Pick Up My Pieces” followed by “City of New Orleans”, with Nelson appearing from backstage to join them on the latter.
Set two opened up with a pair of performances from The Avett Brothers, who started the second half of the show off with “Bloody Mary Morning” and “Willie Got There First”. Next up was Norah Jones, who also delivered a pair of tunes alongside The Little House Band in “Remember Me” and “I Gotta Get Drunk”. Surfer-turned-musician Jack Johnson then appeared to perform “Willie Got Me Stoned”, a three-chord song based on his actual experience with the cannabis-loving Nelson.
Sturgill Simpson, Eric Church, and John Mellencamp each followed with their own respective performances, as well as Dave Matthews, who first came out to cover “Funny How Time Slips Away”, “Crazy” alongside Nelson, and “After The Fire Is Gone” with both Nelson and Sheryl Crow. The night continued with Nelson remaining on stage to perform”Me and Bobby McGee” with Kris Kristofferson and Eric Church, “The Harder They Come” with Jimmy Buffett, and “Always On My Mind” with Chris Stapleton and Derek Trucks.
Willie Nelson and Jimmy Buffett – “The Harder They Come” – 1/12/2019
[Video: Jay Barger]
Willie Nelson with Eric Church and Kris Kristofferson – “Me and Bobby McGee” – 1/12/2019
[Video: Taylor Hendrix]
Willie Nelson with Chris Stapleton and Derek Trucks – “Always On My Mind” – 1/12/2019
[Video: Jay Barger]
One of the highlights of the show came next with George Strait appearing from backstage to perform with Nelson for the first time in their respective careers. The two closed out the second set with renditions of “Sing One With Willie” and “Good Hearted Woman”.
Willie Nelson and George Strait – “Sing One With Willie” – 1/12/2019
[Video: Taylor Hendrix]
The show came to an incredible end with a three-song medley from Nelson, who was joined by every artist who took part in the celebratory event to help the night’s honoree to perform “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”, “I’ll Fly Away”, “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die”.
Willie Nelson with Special Guests – “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” – 1/12/2019
[Video: Jay Barger]
The event on Saturday was professionally filmed and recorded, with the concert scheduled to rebroadcast on A&E at some point in later this year.
Setlist: Willie Nelson Tribute Concert | Bridgestone Arena | Nashville, TN | 1/12/2019
Set One: Whiskey River (Chris Stapleton), Three Days (Lee Ann Womack), Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys (Margo Price & Bobby Bare), Sister’s Coming Home (Margo Price & Steve Earle) > Down At The Corner Beer Joint (Margo Price & Steve Earle), I Thought About You, Lord (Lukas Nelson & Micah Nelson) > Just As I Am (Lukas Nelson & Micah Nelson) > Time Of The Preacher (Lukas Nelson & Micah Nelson) > Bandera (Lukas Nelson & Micah Nelson) > Hands On The Wheel (Lukas Nelson & Micah Nelson), Milk Cow Blues (Jason Isbell), A Song for You (Nathaniel Rateliff), My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys (Lyle Lovett), Shotgun Willie (Lyle Lovett & Ray Benson), Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground (Alison Krauss), Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain (Vince Gill), Georgia On My Mind (Jamey Johnson), Somebody Pick Up My Pieces (Susan Tedeschi & Derek Trucks), City of New Orleans (Willie Nelson w/Susan Tedeschi & Derek Trucks)
Set Two: Bloody Mary Morning* (The Avett Brothers), Willie Got There First* (The Avett Brothers), Remember Me* (Norah Jones and The Little House Band), I Gotta Get Drunk* (Norah Jones and The Little House Band), Willie Got Me Stoned* (Jack Johnson), Red Headed Rounder (Sturgill Simpson), Me and Paul (Eric Church), Night Life* (John Mellencamp), Funny How Time Slips Away* (Dave Matthews), After The Fire Is Gone (Willie Nelson w/Dave Matthews), After The Fire Is Gone (Willie Nelson w/Sheryl Crow), Panco and Lefty (Willie Nelson w/Emmylou Harris), Till I Gain Control Again (Willie Nelson w/Rodney Crowell & Emmylou Harris), Me and Bobby McGee (Willie Nelson w/Kris Kristofferson & Eric Church), The Harder They Come (Willie Nelson w/Jimmy Buffett), Always On My Mind (Willie Nelson w/Chris Stapleton & Derek Trucks), Sing One With Willie (Willie Nelson w/George Strait), Good Hearted Woman (Willie Nelson w/George Strait)
Encore (Willie Nelson w/all participating artists): On The Road Again, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, I’ll Fly Away, Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die
*No House Band