Celebrate country music icon Willie Nelson, who’s turning 90

Country legend Willie Nelson finishes his set at Outlaws & Legends Music Festival, April 1, 2023. Credit: Ronald W. Erdrich/Reporter-News / USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Connect.

Willie Nelson is coming to the Hollywood Bowl this weekend to celebrate his 90th birthday starting April 29. During the two-night concert, he’ll be joined by his friends such as Neil Young, Snoop Dog, Kacey Musgraves, and more who will perform tributes to his long career. 

“He just poured his heart and soul into this music for so long that he's just got life figured out,” says KCRW DJ Jeremy Sole. 

It’s hard to say when Nelson became a full-fledged star, Sole admits, because he dedicated his life to the craft and always lived on the road. 

“He was always a favorite in local areas where he was. … He's always been a cult classic, so he's always been overlooked and underlooked sometimes, but always remained there nonetheless.”

That staying power is evident in the number of musicians that Nelson has inspired. That’s all due to, as Sole describes, the kind of musician and person Nelson embodies.

“You can feel whether you resonate with them just by who they are in the public sphere as well as who they are on record. … He's so authentic in everything he does — both on recordings and in interviews. And even … the way his eyes smile just makes you feel like you know and like this guy.” 

In celebration of Nelson’s 90th birthday bash at the Hollywood Bowl, check out some of Sole’s favorite tracks: 

“Wake Me When It’s Over” (1961)

Sole says when this song came out, Nelson was trying to break through as a songwriter and recording artist. 

“He had all the trappings of a perfect Nashville sound in that era, but was still trying to find his way. And I think maybe that longing made his songs just that much more potent and strong.”

“Permanently Lonely” (1982)

This blues track was part of Nelson’s earlier demo tapes. Like other tunes, it details the pain and sadness that comes with the healing process.

“It’s the rawness. It’s the vulnerability of that. And I think that just like when you rip a Band-Aid off and it hurts at first. … He's like, ‘You know what? I'm gonna go ahead. I'm gonna go right through this pain right now because I know my heart's in the right place, and I'm gonna end up okay.’”

“Hello Walls” (1961)

“Hello Walls” is more upbeat than Nelson’s other melancholic tracks, and it’s full of emotion. 

“[It’s] just like the leather skin of your heart after it gets worn. … Once in a while, you settle into all the ways that you could possibly feel, and hurt and happy sometimes go hand in hand, and he can write a happy song and still put a lot of heavy feelings in there.”