Willie Nelson is a world-renowned musical icon, but in Texas, he’s something more: a beloved native son and benevolent elder who’s brought countless new talents into the family fold — often during the famed Luck Reunions at his ranch outside of Austin.
As Willie’s 89th birthday neared, Luck Presents, the entity creating those events, and Bruce Robison, the singer-songwriter, producer and force behind all-analog record label The Next Waltz, wanted to celebrate his influence and impact with a Texas-sized party. On May 1, 2022, Sheryl Crow, Nathaniel Rateliff, Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen, Margo Price, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Vincent Neil Emerson, Shinyribs, Emily Gimble and Robison serenaded their inspiration with songs plucked from the greatest canon in American music. Fortunately, Robison rolled tape. The result, One Night in Texas: The Next Waltz’s Tribute to the Red Headed Stranger, will be released on April 28, 2023 — one day before Willie turns 90.
“To put together a night of Willie Nelson music was a dream for me. His music has always been a part of my life, guiding me like the North Star,” Robison explains. “It’s the soundtrack to living in Texas.”
That’s why he didn’t want the handpicked house band to rehearse; they were performing songs they’d heard — and in some cases played — hundreds of times. In the casual vibe of these 14 tracks, one can hear that familiarity — as well as the affection each performer has for their chosen tunes.
Naturally, Earle delivers “Pancho and Lefty”; he’s been singing that Townes Van Zandt staple for most of his career. Crow incorporates Willie’s jazz phrasing into her wonderfully bluesy “Night Life,” but gives it a little torch smoke as well. Rateliff shines on two gems — “Crazy” and “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” — while Price channels Dolly Parton on “Shotgun Willie.” The drinking songs — “Bloody Mary Morning,” “I Gotta Get Drunk” and “Whiskey River” — are admirably delivered by Emerson, Shinyribs and Hubbard, respectively. Shinyribs also sings “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys”; Keen waltzes through “Pick Up the Tempo” and Robison inhabits “Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning” and “(How Will I Know) I’m Falling In Love Again.”
Phosphorescent’s Matt Houck wraps it up with “The Party’s Over,” but not before pianist Gimble gives a lively nod to sister Bobbie Nelson on the instrumental “Down Yonder.” Bobbie, who often played the song during Willie’s shows, passed away on March 10, just seven weeks before Gimble’s performance.
Gathering with musical friends and playing these songs after Bobbie’s passing and all that pandemic-induced isolation “felt like it was about more than just Willie,” Robison says. “The night just felt like some kind of celebration of life. When it was coming together, I knew I had to try to record it. When I heard the tape, it sounded like magic to me. It sounded like 1973. It is definitely the sound of people having fun.”
One can definitely hear that sound in “Whiskey River” and “I Gotta Get Drunk,” the first two singles. The crowd’s hoots and hollers reinforce what Robison characterizes as “a great night in Texas.”
In the Lone Star State, music is as essential as breathing. And Willie Nelson’s music is the most essential of all. That’s why artists always show up when chances come around to celebrate the man and his profound contributions to the soundtrack of our lives.
One Night in Texas: The Next Waltz’s Tribute to the Red Headed Stranger will be available for pre-order on Feb. 17 at TheNextWaltz.com and all digital music platforms. Watch the website for more details and single release announcements, and subscribe to The Weekly Waltz newsletter for exclusive updates and behind-the-scenes info.
“Bloody Mary Morning” – Vincent Neil Emerson
“Shotgun Willie” – Margo Price
“Pick Up The Tempo” – Robert Earl Keen
“I Gotta Get Drunk” – Shinyribs
“Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” – Nathaniel Rateliff
“Pancho and Lefty” – Steve Earle
“Down Yonder” – Emily Gimble
“Night Life” – Sheryl Crow
“Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning” Bruce Robison
“Whiskey River” – Ray Wylie Hubbard
“My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys” – Shinyribs
“Crazy” – Nathaniel Rateliff
“(How Will I Know) I’m Falling In Love Again” – Bruce Robison
“The Party’s Over” – Phosphorescent