Willie Nelson set to appear for world premiere of his film on Maui‘Long Story Short: Willie Nelson 90’ captures concert celebrating his 90th birthday
June 9, 2023
Willie Nelson plays alongside son Lukas Nelson on April 29. RANDALL MICHELSON
For Willie Nelson’s 90th birthday, a star-studded lineup of guests put on a two-day concert at the Hollywood Bowl in April — a tribute that his son called “a fantastic gift.”
“It was a very moving experience,” recalled Lukas Nelson. “It just made me feel great that people were celebrating dad and everybody was so generous giving their time, and the outpouring of love towards him made me well up with pride. It was a fantastic gift for my father to see how much people love him.”
The concert was captured in a documentary, “Long Story Short: Willie Nelson 90
,” which will make its world premiere at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center on Saturday. The evening will include a question-and-answer session with the country legend before the screening.
The film of his 90th birthday shows at the Hollywood Bowl on April 29 and 30 features such stars as Keith Richards, Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Dave Matthews, George Strait, Norah Jones, Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash, Sheryl Crow, Miranda Lambert, Chris Stapleton, Jack Johnson, Ziggy Marley and Snoop Dogg.
Maui was well represented at the historic event with former as well as full- and part-time residents, including Kris Kristofferson, Woody Harrelson, Owen Wilson, Lukas and Micah Nelson, Lily Meola and the country icon himself.
“This is our home too,” Willie Nelson said about why he wanted to premiere the film on Maui. “We have an extended tribe, and part of that is on Maui. People weren’t able to fly to Los Angeles to come to the shows, so we wanted to bring it to them.”
The shows were widely praised. Variety hailed it “a momentous event in pop culture,” while USA Today proclaimed it was one for “the concert history books.” A reviewer in Texas Monthly declared it was “the finest concert event I’ve ever attended.”
“I definitely teared up more than once at the love and profound respect manifested that weekend,” said son Micah Nelson. “To see his deep history honored in such a way was powerful.”
For Maui’s Meola, “being surrounded by such incredible talent, people that I’ve looked up to for my entire life was kind of like an out-of-body experience.” She performed “Will You Remember Mine,” with Willie Nelson, from the album “To All The Girls,” and joined all the performers for the closing gospel medley “Will the Circle Be Unbroken/I’ll Fly Away.”Some of the epic moments over the two nights included Rolling Stone Richards performing “We Had It All” and “Live Forever,” with the country icon, backed by his sons on guitars.
“He and my dad singing ‘Live Forever’ was a like a plot point in the universe,” marveled Micah Nelson. “I loved playing and connecting with Keith. We got to hang for a while before the show, played some guitar and talked. Something about his energy relaxed me deep down, like my soul exhaled and I don’t think I ever came back from it.”
Variety cited Lukas Nelson’s solo “interpretation of dad’s ‘Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground’ as a knockout.”
“I just went up there with an acoustic (guitar) like I’m used to playing it,” said Lukas Nelson. “It’s one of my favorite songs of all time. It’s hard to mess that one up. It’s one of the great songs ever written.”
“Everything got totally silent,” Micah Nelson said about his brother’s performance. “You could hear a whisper. The massive Hollywood Bowl momentarily turned into an intimate living room and you could hear every nuance. It was so minimal and soulful.”
Billboard reported “the most inspired ensemble of the night” on April 30, saw a tribute to the country supergroup The Highwaymen, which had featured Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kristofferson, with “the offspring of the original group, Lukas and Micah Nelson, Shooter Jennings and Rosanne Cash” performing the song “The Highwayman.”
“I grew up on the Highwaymen family tours as a young kid hearing those songs every night,” Micah Nelson recalled. “It was very nostalgic for me. I’ve always loved that song. I hope I did Kris justice. I thought everyone did great. It turned out to be a highlight.”
For Meola, “the coolest part was seeing all these incredible people come out to honor him. There were people that I grew up listening to like Norah Jones and Sheryl Crow. Lukas always just takes everyone’s breath away and Micah has got such great energy and a unique sound.”
At the close of the epic two-nighter, Micah Nelson thanked everyone for honoring his dad and keeping the music alive.
“If my dad couldn’t play music for people, he wouldn’t have a reason to stick around,” he explained. “The audience that continues to buy his records and show up night after night and sing and dance and bask in his magic… they feed his soul. They have such a deep respect for him because they know he has a deep respect for his audience. The people who work hard to save money to buy tickets to see the artists sing the songs they love, they keep us alive physically, mentally, emotionally.”
The closing finale, he said, “was like a wild lucid flash snapshot dream sequence. A tornado of celebratory rapturous energy. It was almost too much, a lot like a dream. The whole gathering was a refreshing reminder of the valuable things in life, especially during such weird, scary, divisive times. To unify around such a beautiful, uplifting thing. To recognize the power of songs and the legacy of someone with such compassion and integrity and unique fearless talent. There were spirits everywhere, smiling and remembering. We love him so much. I’m so happy he’s still here, and we got to honor him and thank him in such a big way.”
“Long Story Short: Willie Nelson 90
,” is presented on Saturday at the MACC’s A&B Amphitheater and Yokouchi Pavilion. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. Gail Swanson and friends will perform before the question-and-answer session with Nelson, which will be followed by the screening. Tickets are $40 plus applicable fees, with price increases the day of the show. All tickets are general admission. Ticket buyers should bring blankets, mats or low-back beach chairs. Proceeds will benefit the Maui Food Bank.