On Friday night, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame hosted its 2023 induction ceremony at Brooklyn, NY’s Barclays Center. The star-studded affair, which fans at home were able to stream live for the first time ever, honored 2023 performer inductees Willie Nelson, Kate Bush, Missy Elliott, Rage Against The Machine, Sheryl Crow, George Michael, and The Spinners with more than four hours worth of speeches and special performances.
Among the many notable presenters to take the stage during the evening was Dave Matthews, who had the honor of inducting outlaw country great and cultural icon Willie Nelson into the Hall. Matthews spoke with reverence about Willie as a person, artist, activist and philanthropist.
“Willie Nelson wrote his first song in 1940,” Matthews said. “He was 7 years old. Willie made 72 albums since his first.”
Matthews continued, “I was standing next to Willie at his 85th birthday celebration—he’s 90 now—some local TV station asked him when he was gonna retire, and he said, ‘Well, I play golf and I play music, which one do you want me to give up?'”
He went on to speak about some of Willie’s notable musical collaborations, from his 1976 compilation with Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser, which became the first country album to sell one million copies to his iconic country supergroup with Waylon, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson, The Highwaymen.
“What else do I got?” he added. “Oh, you know what? I don’t know if you know this: Willie likes to smoke weed. According to at least a couple good sources, one time Willie smoked in the White House. In his autobiography he said it was with someone that worked there, but Jimmy Carter, who was the president at the time, said that it was Jimmy’ son. I like to think that if Jimmy were elected for a second term, that weed would have been legal in the mid-’80s.”
While the comment could have been a simple moment of levity, Matthews followed the thread through the eventual exporting of manufacturing and farming jobs to other countries, the diversion of farm subsidies from family farms to corporate entities, and the skyrocketing rates of farm foreclosures and farmer suicides that prompted Willie, along with John Mellencamp and Neil Young, to launch Farm Aid, his long-running, highly successful annual benefit concert.
“Greed doesn’t rest,” Dave Matthews said, “so neither, for now, does Willie Nelson.”
That’s not to say he didn’t keep things light. Matthews went on to recount his first time meeting Nelson: “The first time that I was at Farm Aid, we came offstage … and we went on his bus after our set, and I got so high that I thought I might forget to breathe. And then we got more high. And then we continued to get high until, finally, Willie said, ‘Is everybody high?’ My mom still has a photograph of me and the band so high on Willie’s bus with Willie up on her [walls]. She’s very proud of me.” He also recounted an old story from Snoop Dogg, another prodigious pothead, who recorded “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” with Willie in 2012: “When smoking with Willie was the only time he ever had to say, ‘I can’t smoke anymore.'”
In addition, Matthews spoke about Willie’s legendary IRS back tax bill that he paid off in the ’90s by doing Taco Bell and Pizza Hut commercials commercials, leaving it to a quote from late comedian Bill Hicks to explain Willie’s singularity as a beloved figure, even in “selling out”: “You do a commercial and you’re off the artistic roll call forever. And that goes for everyone… except Willie Nelson.”
After accepting his induction, Willie Nelson went on to perform “Whiskey River” with Chris Stapleton and his family band and welcome fellow inductee Sheryl Crow to the stage for “Crazy”. Dave Matthews also offered up a solo rendition of “Funny How Time Slips Away” and joined Nelson, Stapleton, and Crow for a rendition of “On The Road Again“. Watch crowd-shot videos of the speeches and performances below via YouTube user MarchofTheRashbaum.
Dave Matthews Inducts Willie Nelson Into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – 11/3/23
Willie Nelson w/ Chris Stapleton – “Whiskey River” – Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony – 11/3/23
Dave Matthews – “Funny How Time Slips Away” (Willie Nelson) – Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony – 11/3/23
Willie Nelson w/ Chris Stapleton, Dave Matthews, Sheryl Crow – “On The Road Again” – Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony – 11/3/23
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In addition to performer inductees Willie Nelson, Missy Elliott, Rage Against The Machine, Sheryl Crow, George Michael, and The Spinners, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremony recognized Soul Train creator Don Cornelius, who received the Ahmet Ertegun Award; a pair of Musical Influence Award recipients, DJ Kool Herc, the New York DJ widely credited as the “father of hip-hop,” and Link Wray, the guitarist best known as the originator of the power chord; and Musical Excellence Award honorees Chaka Khan, Al Kooper, and Bernie Taupin. Live performers and presenters at the ceremony included Carrie Underwood, Elton John, H.E.R., New Edition, St. Vincent, Olivia Rodrigo, Stevie Nicks, and more.
You can watch the entire 2023 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony livestream on demand today via Hulu or Disney+.
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