happy birthday, willie nelson.

Today is Willie Nelson’s 80th birthday. It goes without saying Willie is an American music legend in addition to being an activist and voice of social change. But first and foremost, he’s an American music legend.

My brother and I grew up on Willie’s music, thanks to my dad. Perhaps my mind has constructed a composite memory, but I have vivid images in my head of walking downstairs in my childhood home on a warm summer Saturday—the front door and windows open, letting in the fresh air—and Willie Nelson was blaring from my dad’s stereo.

Red Headed Stranger. Pancho and Lefty. Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain. Good Hearted Woman. City Of New Orleans. Whiskey River. I’d Have To Be Crazy.

Those songs left deep, indelible imprints on my childhood that carried well into adulthood.

When my dad died in 2000, we played Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain at his funeral. Listening to Willie’s music is the one way my family stays connected to my dad.

Ten years ago, I had the opportunity to see Willie in concert in a venue of about 3,000 in Indianapolis. It was as close to a honkeytonk show as you can get in Indianapolis’ Broad Ripple Village. Truth be told, I don’t remember the exact setlist from this show, other than he played several familiar songs, including a new one, Beer For My Horses. It was a fun, raucous environment. Even though I couldn’t share the experience with my dad, I felt connected to him just by being at that show.

To this day, hearing Pancho And Lefty live is one of my favorite concert moments.

Happy Birthday, Willie Don’t you ever die.

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