Consider this most varied grouping: Barbra Streisand, Sheryl Crow, Kris Kristofferson, Tony Bennett, Bono, John Mayer, Elvis Costello, Cyndi Lauper, Steven Tyler, Paul Anka, Carlos Santana, Sharon Osbourne, Ozzy Osbourne, Emmylou Harris, Sandra Bernhard, Dan Akroyd, Brad Paisley, Iggy Pop, Steve Earle, Tom Morello, Daryl Hall , John Oates, Marky Ramone, Lemmy, Tom Kenny, Vince Gill, B.J. Thomas, Howard Stern, Billy F Gibbons, Ranger Doug.

Now what might they have in common?

Okay, I left out Snoop Lion and Cheech & Chong, because they might have given it away. Julio Iglesias definitely would have.

Call me stupid, but I also wasn’t sure if that was Britney Spears up on the screen at the Hard Rock Café New York, Times Square Thursday night, though I’m pretty sure that was also Rob Halford wishing Willie Nelson a happy 80th birthday video greeting.

And yes, that’s what they were all doing. Most of them probably came through SiriusXM, which programs the Willie’s Roadhouse channel and promoted the event with ticket giveaways. Many of the videos were clearly taped at Sirius, where the artists were likely guests on other channels and asked to wish Willie happy birthday. Others, like Snoop and Tyler, were filmed on location—and both were very funny.

I left out Willie’s harp player Mickey Raphael because that would have given it away, too, but he had the best line, that if he knew how long he’d be playing with Willie, he’d have learned how to play a real instrument. But everyone up there—and I’m sure I missed a few—were clearly touched by the occasion, and that’s really the wonder of Willie Nelson: Unlike any other artist other than fellow Highwayman Johnny Cash, Willie cuts across all boundaries, i.e., music genre, politics, age and any other population demographic.

He looks the same as he has for the last 40 years at least. Sounds the same. Does the same set. He likes farmers. He used the Hard Rock to raise money for the Animal Welfare Institute and the Biodiesel Alliance.

Most of all he likes “playing music with my friends.” What better can be said about anyone?

The event, by the way, brought four generations of Nelson’s together under the heading The Family Nelson & Willie, namely, the Paula Nelson Band (led by Willie’s daughter), the Raelyn Nelson Band (led by his granddaughter), Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real featuring Willie Nelson (Lukas is Willie’s son), Insects Vs Robots (featuring Willie’s son Micah Nelson), Folk Uke (with his daughter Amy Nelson) and Lechuza (with his granddaughter Martha Jewelle Fowler).

All did their patriarch proud.

Jim Bessman

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