Willie Nelson Paid Proper Tribute in A&E’s ‘American Outlaw’ (review)
“Are we not all blessed to be living in the time of Willie?”
These words from the ravishing and ageless Emmylou Harris right before she launched into a rendition of “Pancho & Lefty” pretty much sums it up, and that’s the reason that a massive tribute was organized for the country music legend called Willie: Life & Songs of an American Outlaw. Transpiring on January 19th, 2019 at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, the tribute saw performances from George Strait, Eric Church, Jamey Johnson, Sheryl Crow, Nora Jones and The Little Willies, Ray Benson, Lyle Lovett, The Avett Brothers, and a host of others.
Organized by Blackbird Presents who’ve put together a host of these tribute shows over the years, usually if you can’t swing a ticket, you miss your opportunity to see so much country music star power assembled in one place. But for this particular event, footage from the tribute was compiled, and is premiering on A&E Easter Sunday (4-12).
A worthy tribute with some great collaborations and performances, the televised portion starts off with a blistering version of “Whiskey River” from Chris Stapleton that reminds you why he rocketed up the country music depth charts like he did over the last few years. Quite a few of the performances during the special include Willie himself, including a duet with Emmylou Harris on “Pancho & Lefty,” and a great performance of “Always On My Mind” involving Derek Trucks and Chris Stapleton.
One of the most newsworthy collaborations that came out of the tribute was Willie Nelson finally taking the stage with George Strait. Though their collaborative song “Sing One With Willie” leaves a little to be desired, it is cool to see the two Texans on stage together for the first time. The house band for the tribute also is it’s own treat. Led by Don Was, it includes Amanda Shires, Mickey Raphael of course, and other great players including Jamey Johnson.
Perhaps the marquee performance of the event is Jamey Johnson lighting into “Georgia On My Mind.” Johnson is very familiar with Willie’s catalog, and selected a song he knew could clobber out of the park, and does so in a goosebump moment. “I’m like everybody else out here man, I just love Willie Nelson,” Jamey Johnson said. “He got me hooked on golf … and some other things. But the best thing he ever got me hooked on is straight up old-fashioned country music.”
Actor Ed Helms was kind of a strange pick for emcee of the tribute, but he did just fine. Jack Johnson made the cut for the televised program with a rather silly acoustic Willie tribute song, while performances from Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price, and Steve Earle didn’t make the cut. You do get to see all of them and more in the grand finale of the program when all the performers take the stage to sing “On The Road Again.” The A&E special also includes something even live attendees didn’t get to see, which were numerous backstage interviews with the performers speaking on the importance and influence of Willie.
The airing is part of an extended lineup of original country music programming A&E has on tap for Easter. Right before the airing of the Willie Nelson tribute, the two-hour Biography: Dolly delving into the five-decade life an career of country icon Dolly Parton will air (Sunday, April 12 at 8pm ET/PT). The special covers Dolly’s life all the way from childhood to her recent celebration of 50 years at the Grand Ole Opry, with many interviews and vignettes from throughout her Hall of Fame run.
Then on Monday, April 13th at 9pm ET/PT, A&E will air Biography: Kenny Rogers. It chronicles Kenny’s life from his childhood, through the rise and fall of The First Edition, the iconic release of “The Gambler,” and to the height of his career as a successful solo artist. Similar to the Willie special, it will also include live performances and interviews from the Blackbird Presents-produced All In For The Gambler tribute concert that transpired in Nashville in 2017.
All three of the specials will also air on repeat several times in the coming weeks, so check local listings. If you were wondering when you would get a chance to see these tributes concerts, this will be your chance. So make up an appointment or program up the DVR, because this will be your opportunity.
April 12, 2020 @ 11:32 am
Jesus Christ, Trigger. This headline gave me a heart attack.
April 12, 2020 @ 12:44 pm
Jack Johnson has been singing that song at Farm Aids long before it was fashionable to sing silly songs about Willie.
April 12, 2020 @ 5:41 pm
We should just go ahead and call him “American Institution.”
Willie is a monument, and his record “And Then I Wrote” is about the best-sounding barroom record in the history of country music.
Country music can’t be said to “evolve” when it leaves benchmarks of quality like Willie behind.
April 12, 2020 @ 7:16 pm
I’m not a golfer, but I imagine playing a round with Jamey Johnson would be fun.
This looks good, thanks for the heads up.
April 12, 2020 @ 7:52 pm
What was the name of the song Nathaniel Rateliff sang?
April 12, 2020 @ 8:22 pm
Song for You.
April 13, 2020 @ 9:56 am
Totally enjoyed this tribute
April 12, 2020 @ 7:48 pm
“Amanda Shires’ Side Boob Show” is more like it. I wish she dress more age appropriate.
April 12, 2020 @ 8:17 pm
Dude, I was going to say something about this in the review, but didn’t want to be misunderstood and get tongue lashed for being sexist. There was a camera straight up affixed on her side boob, and the tape editors were not afraid to feature it.
April 12, 2020 @ 8:21 pm
I have noticed that they don’t really do any close up shots while she solos.
I’m neither judging or criticizing, just making an observation.
Richard K Edwards
April 14, 2020 @ 6:36 pm
Pete’s sake she’s only 38!
April 15, 2020 @ 2:46 am
You can’t just whip out a 40 year old titty that’s your man’s titty. That is your man’s titty 40 year old titty your man’s titty. 20 year old titty community titty. That’s for all to see.
Chris Rock (Janet Jackson titty bowl)
Jerry Clower's Ghost
April 12, 2020 @ 7:49 pm
Does Blackbird Presents get its name from the Beatles TV special back in the ’90s?
April 12, 2020 @ 8:28 pm
May just be me, but sure seems like he’s relying on the teleprompter a lot.
Again, just an observation, not criticism.
April 12, 2020 @ 8:36 pm
It’s because they forced these songs into collaborations. I’m sure he’s checking when to sing and when to yield the floor. There were some close moments with him and Crow running red lights and one microphone.
April 13, 2020 @ 10:01 am
If I’m just upright and sentient at his age, I’ll be happy.
April 12, 2020 @ 8:46 pm
April 13, 2020 @ 12:09 am
Just very happy to see and hear the respect given by the artists to obe of my heroes!
April 13, 2020 @ 6:01 am
Wish they’d stream it for a ppv – I’d do that in a heart beat.
April 13, 2020 @ 6:50 am
As a huge Willie fan, I thought it was ok…. it kept me up way past my bed time for being sober. Some very strange song choices (After the Fire is Gone, Your Song). It was messy and too loud (the obese band and it’s wall of sound drowned out Willie’s voice). I wouldn’t pay to watch it.
April 13, 2020 @ 6:04 am
I don’t think, in my life time, there has been a person as revered as Willie- he is going to be missed by the entire world. Thank goodness his music will live.
April 13, 2020 @ 7:54 am
I have third row seats and backstage passes for the Emmylou concert in LaGrange GA on May 8th. Hoping against hope it isn’t cancelled but not feeling good about it. Never seen her in concert but been a fan since her days with Gram. God I hate this damn corona crap…..
April 13, 2020 @ 7:59 am
“performances from Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price, and Steve Earle didn’t make the cut.” Really? I guess you’d have to see the show to understand how that makes sense.
April 13, 2020 @ 10:03 am
I obviously understand why these programs are usually network broadcast only, but does this stuff go on YouTube or stream anywhere? Would love to watch all of them (still catching up on the PBS/Burns County Music thing too) but man, who has the time to watch a two-three hour TV show that starts when I’m making diner?
April 13, 2020 @ 10:05 am
Willie Nelson is an American Intuition hands down. Not only do you hear his music, you can feel it and see it. Since Willie started his music career I have been a huge fan. Always will be. Big fan of his side business as well.
April 13, 2020 @ 5:29 pm
Who was the keyboardist?
April 13, 2020 @ 5:50 pm
Willie is a legend of all time. I’ve seen him preform numerous times. Once he an Bob Dylan did a show, an before it started Willie an I talked for 20 minutes an he autographed a couple things, outside his bus. Super Down To Earth Person. His legend an music will live for ever. We’re all getting older, an I hope him many more years. Thanks for the Memories!?
April 14, 2020 @ 5:42 am
I was at the concert last January – they left a lot of great performances out of the broadcast. Alison Krauss sang an acoustic “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” where you could have heard a pin drop – she mesmerized everyone there. Willie and Kris Kristofferson sang “Me and Bobby McGee” which was one of those pairings I thought I’d never get a chance to see – a once in a lifetime memory for me. Rodney Crowell, Jimmy Buffett, plus those mentioned above – a number of great performances were cut. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have seen it in person.
April 14, 2020 @ 5:02 pm
What was the songs that Willie’s sons sung they were great
April 14, 2020 @ 6:21 pm
What? The two by Lukas were from the greatest album ever … Red Headed Stranger! I think Micah sang “I thought about you Lord” from another essential Nelson album Spirit.
April 16, 2020 @ 2:55 pm
Enjoyed the special. Great to see for first time Willie and George Strait perform together !! Good song that King George wrote for Willie too 🙂
May 2, 2020 @ 10:17 am
Will this concert ever be released on DVD.