Long Story Short: Willie Nelson 90 is misnamed.
The film – a distillation of Willie Nelson’s 90th-birthday concerts April 29-30 at the Hollywood Bowl, is so long, that in theaters it included a “4:20 break” halfway through the three-hour runtime.
Containing some 40 performances by bold-face names backed by a house band that included music director Don Was on bass, former Wolf Bro Greg Leisz on pedal steel, former Black Crowes guitarist Audley Freed, Punch Brother Gabe Witcher on fiddle, Belmont Tench and Booker T. Jones on keys, Mickey Raphael on harmonica and the McCrary Sisters on background vocals, “Long Story Short” is a veritable feast of sights and sounds. And with a band like that, a guest list that would render even the most famous person starstruck (Dave Matthews sure was) and a bunch of Nelson’s greatest songs – plus Warren Haynes singing “Midnight Rider” and Jack Johnson on the hilarious “Willie Got Me Stoned and Took All My Money” – the highlights are too many to mention.
But then there are the highest of the high, which follow in order of appearance:
Billy Strings opening the show just as Nelson would, setting the tone with “Whiskey River.”
Particle Kid – aka Micah Nelson – performing “Die When I’m High (Halfway to Heaven),” which was written from his father’s perspective, with Daniel Lanois playing pedal steel without picks. The effect was both comedic and ethereal.
Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris, Waylon Payne and Raphael collaborating on Crowell’s “It Ain’t Over Yet,” a spellbinding delivery of a song about aging gracefully in the music business.
Rosanne Cash singing “Loving Her was Easier (Than Everything I’ll Ever Do Again)” to – and with – Kris Kristofferson while changing the word her to you. At 86, Kristofferson seems older than the birthday boy, making this heartfelt performance the stuff of lumps in throats as the two stood with arms around each other and sharing friendly kisses.
Lukas Nelson channeling his father as a young man – both on guitar and at the mic – on an eerie solo performance of “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground.”
Willie singing “Stardust” while trading solos with Jones.
Norah Jones performing “Down Yonder” in memory of “little sister” Bobbie Nelson.
The Avett Brothers – sans house band – telling everyone to “Pick up the Tempo.”
Gary Clark Jr. giving a guitar clinic and sharing the spotlight with Raphael on “Texas Flood,” a dedication to both Willie and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Bob Weir singing – really singing his heart out – “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” while Strings, who looked as if he might shit himself with glee, played Willie’s parts on acoustic guitar.
Jamey Johnson proving himself an incredible crooner on “Georgia on My Mind” while Haynes chipped in slide guitar as only he plays it.
Neil Young, Stephen Stills and all three Nelson boys giving an emphatic affirmative to Young’s musical question: “Are there Any More Real Cowboys.”
Snoop Dogg with a gold mic and an unlit blunt in his hands joining Willie for “Roll Me up and Smoke Me When I Die.”
Willie giving his strongest vocal performance alongside Keith Richards – who sang better than he has in ages – on “We Had it All.” Bonus: Richards’ eye makeup was a gas, gas, gas.
The whole thing ended with all 60 performers on stage singing “On the Road Again” followed by everyone singing “Happy Birthday to You” with Willie singing along and emphasizing the word, ME.