For the first time ever, four generations of the Nelson family performed on one stage at New York City’s Hard Rock Cafe earlier this month (June 6). The occasion was Willie Nelson‘s birthday, and the event served to benefit two organizations close to Willie’s heart: the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance and the Animal Welfare Institute.
The lineup included Folk Uke (featuring daughter Amy Nelson), the Raelyn Nelson Band (Willie’s granddaughter), Lechuza (featuring Martha Jewell Fowler, his granddaughter and his great-grandson), the Paula Nelson Band (Willie’s daughter), Insects Vs. Robots (featuring Willie’s son Micah Nelson) and Lukas Nelson & the Promise of the Real, who were joined by the birthday guy himself. The lineup also included Toad The Wet Sprocket and Robert Randolph. Willie joined Lukas’ band towards the end of the night for a short set that included a cover of Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe” (which the two covered as a duo on Willie’s last album, 2012′s Heroes) and blues classic “Texas Flood.”
At 80, Nelson shows no signs of slowing down, having just released Lets Face The Music And Dance, one of his many post-2000 albums. And, the business of his party behind him, he’s back on the road (again): get his full list of upcoming dates at his official website.
Folk Uke (say it out loud) started off the night on a funny note, with songs like “Knock Me Up” and “S*** Makes The Flowers Grow.” They were joined during their set by Amy’s brother Micah.
Paula Nelson is well known to fans of Willie’s more recent material; she sings a lovely duet with her dad on “Be That As It May” from his underrated 2004 classic album, It Will Always Be. (Read more about Willie’s post-2000 albums here.) A highlight of her set was her cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?” During her set, she got onstage visits from siblings Lukas and Amy.
The first non-Nelson to take the stage was Robert Randolph, but he sort of kept it in the family: he was joined by two harmonica players during his set, one of whom was Mickey Raphael, Willie’s longtime bandmate. The other was Danny Clinch – a solid harmonica player, but he is probably more well known as one of music’s most in demand photographers, who has shot Johnny Cash, Eddie Vedder, Dave Matthews and Willie. The highlight of their set was a blazing version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.”
’90s alt pop group Toad The Wet Sprocket played next, and if they seemed a bit out of place, no one could deny how some of their songs had held up. Whether or not anyone in the audience owned the group’s albums, everyone seemed to know “All I Want,” “Fall Down” and “Walk On The Ocean,” the latter of which featured Amy Nelson and Mickey Raphael sitting in with the band.
If Toad seemed a bit out of place, Insects Vs. Robots seemed incredibly out of place: Micah Nelson’s band seemed to be a cross between early Jethro Tull and early King Crimson, but made a glorious racket (albeit one with little connection to country music… or any of the other genres Willie has tackled over the years).
When you hear Lukas Nelson sing, it’s easy to hear that he is his father’s son. But when he plays his electric guitar, he sounds like the spawn of another Texas legend: Stevie Ray Vaughan. His super-charged blues playing (not to mention his shoulder length hair and wide brimmed hat) seems more SRV than Willie, particularly on his song “Forever Is A Four Letter Word.” Lukas’s set was the most well-recieved of the night, but the moment the crowd was waiting (for hours) for came about twenty minutes into his set, when he was joined by the birthday guy. They did a couple of duets, including their cover of Pearl Jam’s “Breathe” (from Willie’s 2012 album Heroes, and a song made famous by Stevie Ray Vaughan, “Texas Flood.”
Nelson didn’t spend too much time resting after the show: as one of his more famous songs says, he’s “on the road again.” But it’s good to know that after he retires (if he ever does), there’s more generations of Nelsons who will still be playing music for years to come.
– Brian Ives, Radio.com