ACL Artist Spotlight: Willie Nelson

Written by on October 6, 2016

At 83 years old Willie Nelson is one of the oldest living rock stars of our time who is still kicking it and it’s no surprise he’s going to be in Austin this weekend since he has always been a part of ACL since the beginning.




Having been born during the Great Depression in 1933, Nelson has one of the most bad ass stories. After his parents both left as a child, he was raised by his grandparents in rural Arkansas, where the only jobs available were mostly picking cotton. Instead of doing that, he began to perform at taverns and dance halls since the age of 13, just him and his guitar. Once he graduated school in 1950, he joined the Air Force for about a year, before he got married and went to Baylor University for two years before dropping out.


After that, he began to move with his family from Houston to Portland and eventually settled in Nashville in 1960. While living there he began to perform in small clubs and taverns, eventually recording some songs and marrying his second wife. Yet after ten years he was very disheartened after he did not achieve massive success and his farm burned down. After that, he moved to Austin (yep, that Austin) and his career began to freakin explode.


In May 1973 he released “Shotgun Willie”, his breakout success among reviweres but not fans. It wasn’t until 1974 with the release of his album “Phases and Stages” that he began to grow among the country fan base. That same year he starred in the first PBS episode of “Austin City Limits”




In 1975 he released his successful album “Red Headed Stranger” that included the track “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” that was his first number one hit song. In the following years he began to release more albums, including “The Sound In Your Mind”, “The Troublemaker”, “Stardust”, “The Electric Horseman”, and “Honeysuckle Rose”.


1982 brought the release of the album “Pancho & Lefty” which earned Nelson three Grammy awards. He then found himself in legal trouble with the IRS, owing more than $6 million dollars, after this he released the double album “The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories?” which that, with the help of auctions, cleared him of debt by 1993.

He released the 1998 critically acclaimed success “Teatro”, which earned him success for years to come, along with other albums such as “Moment of Forever”, “Two Men With The Blues”,  and “Heroes”.  

Just last year he released “A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop”, a single that reached number one, and his concept album “The Monsanto Years”. This shows that even if you don’t know him necessarily for his music, his activism should probably ring a bell. He has been a long time supporter for gay marriage rights and sustainable living, but perhaps is most well known for his activism for the legalization of marijuana.


If you hate him or love him, Willie Nelson is an American Icon and probably one of the biggest names in country or in general. For the past almost 50 years he has redefined a new genre of country and has numbered as either producer or performer 100 albums. If you want to catch a glimpse of the living legend, catch him at the Austin City Limits festival this weekend.



By Irina Alejandro

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