Live at the Hollywood Bowl
May 5, 2023 by Nancy Evans
Growing up as a child of the ‘80s, I had incredible choices in whatever direction I wanted to go for music, but I especially loved the punk rock and new wave sound that was pounded by MTV. One day – I don’t remember the exact year, but I was in my teens – I was waiting for my ride to pick me up at school. It was like a scene out of a John Hughes movie where everyone was out front: the jocks, the stoners, the punkers, the dorks, and me (although I like to think I was the cooler than most since had on a Siouxsie and the Banshees shirt when it happened). My friend Jenna had her Walkman on and I asked what she was listening to. She gave me a listen and it was “Always on My Mind” by Willie Nelson. Ever since then, I have been a fan of the legendary Mr. Nelson.

My friends always thought I was nuts – a self-proclaimed punk rock girl who loved Willie Nelson! But Nelson has impacted so many. His friends, admirers, and influenced artists that include Tom Jones, Kris Kristofferson, Neil Young, Norah Jones, Miranda Lambert, George Strait, The Chicks, Leon Bridges, Bob Weir, Tyler Childers, Beck, Gary Clark, Jr., Jack Johnson, Ziggy Marley, and even Snoop Dogg.

Nelson just celebrated his 90th birthday and has done everything imaginable in music and beyond. It did not surprise me at all that Nelson was just inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which is indeed a very well-deserved honor.

Willie with George Straight Preparing for the Big Bash

Nelson is a living legend and I was thrilled when I heard he would play shows at the Hollywood Bowl for his 90th birthday. I was even more ecstatic that he was bringing some of his friends along for this very special event!
On night one, the stage was set, metaphorically speaking: the weather was agreeable and the music gods looked down favorably on this event. The Hollywood A-listers rolling into the Bowl were the who’s who of coolness. Some were there to introduce segments of the show, and the show had rotating emcees including Ethan Hawke, Jennifer Garner, Owen Wilson, and Helen Mirren.

Through the evening, there were performances by Billy Strings, Charley Crockett, Micah Nelson, Edie Brickell, Margo Price, Beck, Norah Jones, Warren Haynes, Kris Kristofferson & Roseanne Cash, Lukas Nelson, Gary Clark, Jr., Jack Johnson, Tyler Childers, Ziggy Marley, Tom Jones, Jamey Johnson, Bob Weir, The Chicks, The Lumineers, Nathaniel Rateliff, Sturgill Simpson, Miranda Lambert, Chris Stapleton, Neil Young & Stephen Stills. Nelson’s house band includes Don Was, Benmont Tench, and Greg Leisz.
As the sun set and the crowd settled in, Nelson kicked-off the four-hour spectacle with classics “Whiskey River,” “I Gotta Get Drunk,” and “Cowboys are Frequently Secretly Fond of Each Other.”

It turns out I was not the only punk rock girl attending Willie’s 90th bash; there were people of all ages, races, and cool, yet alarming and weird, fashion statements. We all had one thing in common, our love for Nelson’s music. When he broke into “(Die When I’m High) Halfway to Heaven,” the Bowl was singing in unison as if it was the second coming of The Beatles.
What I like most about the greats (Springsteen, Sting, and Nelson) is the way they can have a conversation with their fans from the stage, and make it feel like you are friends having a chat at a barbeque or a bar. Nelson did this often throughout the night. “Thanks for whatever we’re celebrating,” he joked. Greatness is often shrouded in humility; that is what makes a great artist a legend. Of course, with Nelson, you have an incredible life filled with accomplishments, even though it may just be another day in the life of Willie Nelson.

As the show went on, there were countless great songs that had a profound impact on concertgoers: “It Ain’t Over Yet,” “Night Life,” “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys,” “Crazy,” “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Stardust,” “Georgia (On My Mind),” and “Willie Got Me Stoned and Took All My Money.” That song understandably got a lot of smiles.
Also notable, Nelson’s long-time Farm Aid partner, Neil Young joined him onstage. This was only Young’s second performance live since the pandemic took over our lives. Young was backed by Promise of the Real, the band featuring Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah, and Stephen Stills. As you can imagine, due to their history, Young played a few extra songs: “Long May You Run,” “For What It’s Worth,” and “Are There Any More Real Cowboys?”

Fellow Texas legend George Strait also had a spotlight the crowd went bonkers over with “Pancho and Lefty” and “Sing One With Willie.”

As the show was getting close to the falling curtains, Snoop Dogg made his way to the stage. Nelson said, “Come on out here and help me roll one up,” and they sang “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.” The only thing missing for that moment was Martha Stewart and the blunts (I’m joking of course).

The evening wound down with Nelson performing “On the Road Again” and all of the night’s guests joining him for the gospel hymn “I’ll Fly Away,” and an official rendition of “Happy Birthday.” As anticipated, the sold-out crowd joined in singing Nelson a happy 90th birthday! Being the modest person he is, he seemed a little embarrassed, but in true Willie Nelson fashion, he was sincerely appreciative.
After four hours and about 40 songs, the show ended as it started – a crowd that was happy to see this larger-than-life icon. Nelson closed with “It’s Hard to be Humble” and the night could not have ended any better.
Nelson is touring with his Outlaw Fest through October, so catch this icon when he “rolls” into a town near you!



Live Photos Provided Courtesy of Essential Broadcast Media