Not quite a year ago, a small constellation of stars from inside and outside Texas — among them Sheryl Crow, Robert Earl Keen, Margo Price, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Emily Gimble, Nathaniel Rateliff, and Vincent Neil Emerson — gathered at Willie Nelson’s sprawling ranch in Luck, Texas.
The occasion for such an auspicious gathering? A concert to mark the Red Headed Stranger’s 89th birthday, the details of which were left to The Next Waltz’s Bruce Robison to finesse.
If your own invite got lost in the mail, fret not: The performance was preserved for posterity, and on April 28, just ahead of Nelson’s 90th birthday, One Night in Texas: The Next Waltz’s Tribute to the Red Headed Stranger, will hit stores. (Nelson’s birthday is April 29th.)
“It was magical,” Robison said of the Luck-staged concert in a recent conversation. “We didn’t get a soundcheck or anything. We had worked on those songs, but we didn’t get to go over them with the artists or anything.”
The result is a rarity among today’s often-highly polished live records: A thrillingly vivid, engagingly giddy document of musicians responding in the moment to the profound abilities of those around them, paying tribute to a foundational talent with their own impressive skills.
Indeed, on One Night in Texas, Emerson (who’ll headline Denton’s Thin Line Fest on Friday) often sounds like he’s holding on for dear life during “Bloody Mary Morning,” just as Rateliff’s stirring rendition of “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” seems to almost stop time.
“We were all just playing … [the record is] just the way that it went down,” Robison said. “It was really something, and when I listened back, I was like, ‘God, this is crazy cool.’ … When I listen to this, it really has a warts-and-all feel to it, where I was like, ‘Man, that sounds like the ‘70s.’”
One Night in Texas won’t be the only tribute to Nelson on his 90th birthday. A pair of concerts — titled “Long Story Short: Willie Nelson 90” — will take over the Hollywood Bowl on April 29 and 30.
The line-up for those performances is equally star-studded: Beck, Chris Stapleton, Allison Russell, Rosanne Cash, Orville Peck, Tom Jones, and Ziggy Marley are among those confirmed, with a healthy contingent of Texas talent also slated to appear, including Leon Bridges, the Chicks, Lyle Lovett and Kacey Musgraves.
It’s a testament as much to Nelson’s influence as much as his endurance. Indeed, for his part, Robison doesn’t hesitate when asked about Nelson’s influence on his own award-winning and impactful career.
“I just look at his songs as really the gold standard of deep and emotionally ambitious songwriting,” Robison said. “I think those of us that are really proud of Texas songwriting, that’s what it’s done at its best.”
Preston Jones is a North Texas freelance writer and regular contributor to KXT. Email him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter (@prestonjones). Our work is made possible by our generous, music-loving members. If you like how we lift up local music, consider becoming a KXT sustaining member right here.