Cody Johnson Tips His Hat to Willie Nelson at ACM Awards with “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”

Willie Nelson made a special appearance at the 2023 ACM Awards before a tribute performance by Cody Johnson.

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Hosts Garth Brooks and Dolly Parton gave the Texas titan a shout-out during the show in honor of his recent 90th birthday. Though Nelson couldn’t be at the show as he’s currently preparing for a tour, he did make a surprise appearance via video call, his face lighting up the giant screen onstage to applause from the crowd.

Nelson thanked Parton for sending him flowers for his birthday, and couldn’t help but poke fun at Brooks. “Garth, I’m assuming your gift is in the mail?” Nelson questioned, joking that along with flowers, he also appreciates other “plants.”

This led to Johnson’s tribute performance of one of Nelson’s biggest hits, “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.” Fellow Texan Johnson brought all the country vibes to the stage. Between his soulful voice and southern drawl, he did the Nelson classic justice as he sang the familiar lyrics, Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys / Don’t let ’em pick guitars or drive them old trucks / Make ’em be doctors and lawyers and such. He even went so far as to alter the signature line to say, Mamas don’t let your cowboys grow up to be babies.

“I meant what I said,” Johnson quipped. “Happy birthday Willie, burn one for me tonight.”

The performance ended with a standing ovation, with Keith Urban among the artists rewarding him with cheers of approval.

Johnson was nominated for three awards at the ACM Awards: Single of the Year, Song of the Year and Visual Media of the Year for “Til You Can’t.” Both Single and Song went to Cole Swindell’s hit “She Had Me at Heads Carolina,” while Visual Media went to the video for Hardy and Lainey Wilson’s powerful “Wait in the Truck.”

Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images

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