Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Snoop Dogg & More: Highlights From Night 1 of Willie Nelson’s 90th Birthday 

There’s perhaps no more magical a place to celebrate one’s 90th birthday than the Hollywood Bowl – that’s precisely what Willie Nelson got to do on Saturday (April 29) with Long Story Short: Willie Nelson 90. The first of his two-night stay at the revered venue saw the likes of Neil Young, Stephen Stills, George Strait, Chris Stapleton, Miranda Lambert, The Chicks and countless other artists across genres paying musical tribute to Nelson in honor of his 90th birthday.

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The venue was made even more magical with the sounds of Nelson’s timeless songs pouring through the speakers, as if the artists’ voices were wrapping attendees in a hug. The event was not only a celebration of Nelson’s monumental birthday, but a celebration of his life and legacy all wrapped up in the music that’s translated across generations. Below, we look at some of the standout moments from night one of Long Story Short. 

1. The Chicks sing “Bloody Mary Morning” 

Following an introduction by actress Jennifer Garner—who hailed The Chicks as her “heroes” who, like Nelson, are rebels who go against conformity—roaring applause shook the venue as The Chicks took to the stage. The trio of Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire and Emily Strayer brought some country to Los Angeles on a fiery rendition of Nelson’s 1974 hit, “Bloody Mary Morning.” Their musicianship was on full display that showed off Maguire’s sharp fiddle playing and Strayer’s banjo picking alongside Maines’ fierce voice, the trio letting the music take the lead in the electrifying performance. ”Happy birthday Willie, we love you,” Maines shouted as they departed. 

2. The Lumineers Offer Stirring “A Song For You” 

The Lumineers’ Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites offered a soul-stirring rendition of the Leon Russell-penned song that Nelson famously covered, “A Song For You.” With Fraites on piano backing Schultz’s beautiful voice, the twosome really let the lyrics do the talking, with Schultz’s tender voice casting a spell over the thousands of fans who filled the canyon as he sang, Listen to the melody, ’cause my love’s in there hiding/I love you in a place where there’s no space or time. Their rendition was simply stunning and captured the heart of the song. 

3. Chris Stapleton Performs “Always on My Mind” 

It’s hard to imagine a better singer for Nelson’s classic “Always on My Mind” than Chris Stapleton. After performing another one of Nelson’s melancholy ballads, “Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning,” Stapleton gave a plaintive performance of the song frequently heard in ASPCA commercials, as gospel group The McCrary Sisters provided hauntingly beautiful background harmonies. Stapleton made it sound like it could’ve been recorded today, as the song’s message is still just as poignant as when Nelson released it in 1982, Stapleton’s incomparable voice reflecting the emotion of one of Nelson’s most notable songs. 

4. Neil Young & Stephen Stills Deliver Timeless Hits

Fans were nothing short of elated by the sight of two music titans, Neil Young and Stephen Stills, who immediately brought the crowd to its feet when they took the stage, opening their set with the title track of Stills-Young Band’s 1976 album, Long May You Run. The rock gods kept the high energy going with the classic Buffalo Springfield song written by Stills, “For What It’s Worth,” which had crowd reveling in every moment. 

5. Willie Nelson Performs With Friends 

Young and Stills’ set served as the perfect segue for the man of the hour, as they became part of the family band when Nelson made his way to the stage, grinning from ear to ear, to a standing ovation and thunderous applause. Accompanied by his sons and fellow musicians Lukas Nelson and Micah Nelson, Nelson took a seat center stage, opening the set with his and Young’s 1985 collaboration, “Are There Any More Real Cowboys?” 

“I want to thank all the artists and everybody who came out here to help us celebrate whatever we’re celebrating,” Nelson joked before welcoming fellow Texan and country king, George Strait, to sing their 2019 duet, “Sing One With Willie.” Nelson lent his guitar skills while Strait handled lead vocals, Nelson coming in at the end with his rugged, familiar voice. The pair also dueted on one of Nelson’s signature hits he originally did with Merle Haggard, “Pancho and Lefty,” the story made even more epic between his and Strait’s legendary voices. 

The show proved how Nelson has touched all corners of music throughout his more than 60-year career when rapper Snoop Dogg came strolling onto the stage with a blunt in hand. Snoop took seat next to his longtime buddy, the two launching into their marijuana-friendly collaboration “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” injecting humor into the spirited show. “Love you, brother,” Snoop cheered as he exited the stage. 

Photo by Josh Timmermans for Blackbird Presents

Nelson kept the energy moving with another classic hit, “On the Road Again.” “I hear you,” Nelson professed as the crowd sang along, followed by the standard “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” that saw all of the night’s performers return to the stage, gathering around Nelson as they sang along in unison. But Nelson couldn’t leave without leading a full venue sing-a-long of “Happy Birthday” and a spirited cover of Mac Davis’ “Hard to Be Humble” that Nelson included on his 2019 album, Ride Me Back Home, that helped bring the show to a resounding close, the night capturing what makes Nelson’s music so special: the love he pours into it. “Thank you for coming out,” he said as he walked offstage. “We love you.” 

Nelson and friends return to the Hollywood Bowl for the second installment of Long Story Short on Sunday (April 30). 

Main photo by Jay Blakesberg/Courtesy of Blackbird Productions

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