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Minute-by-Minute at Willie Nelson’s 90th Birthday

May 5, 2023

Minute-by-Minute at Willie Nelson's 90th Birthday

6:35pm – Billy Strings kicks off Night Two at the Hollywood Bowl with “Whiskey River.” It’s the same song as the first night but it’s a welcome repeat number (and face).

Minute-by-Minute at Willie Nelson's 90th Birthday

Billy Strings by Randall Michelson

6:39pm – Ethan Hawke opens the show, saying “Willie has always stood for equality,” so it’s no surprise to see the next guest…

6:40pm – It’s Orville Peck in a sleeveless vest (Aren’t his arms cold?! It’s freezing tonight) and his classic fringed mask. Performs “Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly Fond of Each Other.” Makes use of the full Hollywood Bowl stage – he is owning this moment.

6:45pm – Charley Crockett. “Yesterday’s Wine.” Lady in box next to me states loudly, “Now this is real country.”

6:49pm – Allison Russell and Norah Jones do “Seven Spanish Angels.” These two voices are so perfectly in sync… please call me as soon as they do a duet record together.

6:56pm – Chelsea Handler introduces Dwight Yoakam for “Me and Paul.”

7:05pm – Waylon Payne and Margo Price take the stage together for “Georgia On A Fast Train.” These two are having the absolute best time together. Their chemistry is off the charts. From the box next to me, I hear a fan whisper under their breath, “MARGO IS MOTHER.” Couldn’t agree more.

Minute-by-Minute at Willie Nelson's 90th Birthday

Margo Price by Randall Michelson

7:14pm – Particle Kid (aka Willie’s younger son, Micah) along with Daniel Lanois. “I went to the garage and got high as shit and wrote a Willie Nelson song.” The lyrics come from a phrase his dad said one day: “If I die when I’m high I’ll be halfway to heaven, or I might have a long way to fall.”

7:19pm – Dame Helen Mirren (!) introduces Rodney Crowell. Emmylou joins mid-song for “‘Till I Gain Control Again.” Crowd goes bananas.

Minute-by-Minute at Willie Nelson's 90th Birthday

Emmylou Harris by Randall Michelson

7:33pm – Rosanne Cash does “Pancho and Lefty.” Totally different interpretation compared to Night One (where it was performed by Willie and George Strait), but a universally beautiful song nonetheless.

7:46pm – Lyle Lovett melting hearts and brains on “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys”

7:53pm – The “Aloha State Statesman” Jack Johnson performs one of the only non-Willie catalogue songs of the night, “Willie Got Me Stoned and Took All My Money.”  He wrote it after Willie got him stoned and took all his money (in a poker game).

Minute-by-Minute at Willie Nelson's 90th Birthday

Jack Johnson by Jay Blakesberg, Blackbird Productions

7:57pm – Beck (in sunglasses). First artist to acknowledge the unreal house band. “Can you imagine waking up in the morning and opening your eyes and realizing ‘I’m Willie Nelson’? It’s already a great day.” Performs “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain.”

8:03pm – TOM JONES! One of the most unexpected joys of the night. His love for Willie shines through in his performance of “Across the Borderline.”

Minute-by-Minute at Willie Nelson's 90th Birthday

Tom Jones by Josh Timmermans

8:12pm – Surprise guest host Woody Harrelson takes the stage. “Not to self-promote, but just so you guys know, I did open a dispensary… seems like the right audience.” He introduces the legendary Bob Weir. Billy Strings and Margo Price join Bob on stage for a fun and enthusiastic “Stay All Night (Stay a Little Longer).”  Margo is having the most fun tonight.

Minute-by-Minute at Willie Nelson's 90th Birthday

Billy Strings, Margo Price, Bob Weir by Jay Blakesberg, Blackbird Productions

8:18pm – Shooter Jennings and Lukas Nelson together! The next generation doing their fathers proud with own rendition of “Good Hearted Woman.”

Minute-by-Minute at Willie Nelson's 90th Birthday

Shooter Jennings, Lukas Nelson by Randall Michelson

8:22pm – Lukas performs a heart-wrenching version of “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground.” Sounds so much like his dad yet simultaneously unique to himself. He has all 18,000 attendees in the palm of his hand.

8:29pm – The Avett Brothers. Wow. They sound so good, and fresh off the MerleFest stage just 48 hours prior. It’s been a few years since I saw them and gosh I missed them.

8:40pm – Chelsea Handler introduces Norah Jones, who performs an instrumental ode to Bobbie Nelson.

8:43pm – Norah brings on Kris Kristofferson (!) and helps him through “Help Me Make It Through the Night.” There’s not a dry eye in the house.

Minute-by-Minute at Willie Nelson's 90th Birthday

Kris Kristofferson, Norah Jones by Randall Michelson

8:49pm – Ethan Hawke introduces Nathaniel Rateliff. Not unlike the first evening (where he performed “City of New Orleans”) he steals the show with “A Song For You.” Rateliff is a national treasure who should be protected at all costs.

8:54pm – Sheryl Crow does “Crazy.” Crowd (rightfully) goes Crazy.

9:02pm – Dave Matthews, overflowing with sheepish charisma, tells an amazing story about getting high with Willie on his bus and how proud his mom was of that moment. The photo of that night is still prominently displayed on her mantle. He performs “Funny How Time Slips Away,” a song that seems to be the theme of the night.

Minute-by-Minute at Willie Nelson's 90th Birthday

Dave Matthews by Randall Michelson

9:18pm – Jamey Johnson and Warren Haynes perform “Georgia On My Mind.” From the first word Jamey sings, the audience goes wild. These two bring down the house.

9:28pm – The Children of the Highwaymen, including Lukas and Micah Nelson (Particle Kid), Shooter Jennings, and Rosanne Cash. One of the few moments during the show with technical difficulties.

Minute-by-Minute at Willie Nelson's 90th Birthday

Woody Harrelson, Willie Nelson by Randall Michelson

9:35pm – Woody Harrelson returns to the stage to introduce Willie. The man of the hour finally takes the stage. Willie performs “Stardust.” It is perfect. I am crying.

9:53pm – Willie duets with his longtime studio producer, Buddy Cannon, on “Something You Get Through” (which the two wrote together).

10:02pm – KEITH RICHARDS JUST WALKED OUT. I AM DECEASED. It’s hard to even remember what they performed because everyone is in such shock. (They performed “We Had It All” and “Live Forever”).

Minute-by-Minute at Willie Nelson's 90th Birthday

Willie Nelson, Keith Richards by Randall Michelson

10:10pm – All skate. “On the Road Again” of course. Willie wraps up the night by taking us all to church, ending with a medley of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “I’ll Fly Away.” It’s going to take an awfully long time to process everything from this weekend.

Lead photo of Willie Nelson by Randall Michelson.

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Minute-by-Minute at Willie Nelson's 90th Birthday
Minute-by-Minute at Willie Nelson's 90th Birthday