LUCK, TEXAS - MARCH 17: Singer, songwriter and guitarist Willie Nelson performs live on stage at the Luck Reunion on March 17, 2022 in Luck, Texas.
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Bruce Robison, Vincent Neil Emerson Talk Willie Nelson's Influence, The Next Waltz Tribute Album


Countless tribute shows, albums and more honoring Willie Nelson have transpired over the past decades, but not many can match the celebratory nature of One Night in Texas: The Next Waltz's Tribute to The Red Headed Stranger

Recorded live at Nelson's own Luck, Texas ranch on May 1, 2022, the tribute show transformed into a live album by fellow songwriter and Texan Bruce Robison is the culmination of a life spent fascinated by Nelson's music.

"My whole life has pretty much been his music," Robison tells Wide Open Country. "It's always been a gold standard for songwriting and what real songs oughta sound like... When you live in Texas, it's hard to imagine what life would be like without Willie Nelson and his music. It's part of the fabric here. He's like a member of everyone's extended family."


Featuring performances from Ray Wylie Hubbard ("Whiskey River"), Steve Earle ("Pancho And Lefty"), Margo Price ("Shotgun Willie") and more, the set was first drawn up as a belated 89th birthday party for the songsmith and cultural icon. The show took on even more special meaning in the weeks leading up to it following the death of Nelson's sister, Bobbie, on March 10. 

It was listening back to a soundboard recording of it months later that Robison, musical director for the show, realized that it needed to be made into a record.

"I recorded it on a whim because most of the band was my close friends and other Willie Nelson freaks, and it was our first bit of normality being together again post-COVID," says Robison. "When we listened back, it sounded so much like 1975 to me, so I thought, 'Well, we've got to put this out.'"


When it came to turning the audio into an album, Robison was given full reign to whittle the over two dozen songs performed down to 14. He says the task was difficult at times, but not very time-consuming due to Nelson's deep songbook.

"You think about doing that with anyone else, and there will be challenges, but with Willie, there are so many good songs that you really can't go wrong," says Robison. "I also wanted to mix in a couple of his deep cuts that he rarely, if ever, plays live because those are some of my favorite songs. We didn't want it to be a run down of his greatest hits, but rather a reflection of his entire catalog and breadth of his songwriting prowess."

Two of those deep cuts -- "Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning" and "(How Will I Know) I'm Falling In Love Again" -- both made the album cut and were sung by Robison. The latter even contained a connection to Nelson's own band with pianist Emily Gimble, daughter of longtime Nelson fiddler Johnny Gimble, soloing. She also takes the lead on the twangy instrumental "Down Yonder," both bringing the show full circle and showcasing the deep Texas talent throughout the record.


"To me, that's such an amazing through-line because it shows how small and tight-knit our community is and how amazing all of these players are," says Robison. "Johnny also played with Bob Wills back in the swing days and is a legend in the Austin scene. Emily is very young, talented and is a mainstay in the scene too. It truly was a full circle moment having her take part in this."

Another Texan taking part was Vincent Neil Emerson, who delivered an upbeat and fiery version of "Bloody Mary Morning" for the project. Much like Robison, he says that Nelson's music has been instrumental in his life since childhood and that sharing a stage with the artist (who later performed his own set following the tribute) meant the world to him. 

"'Bloody Mary Morning' is one the funnest songs to play live. It feels laid back and fast at the same time somehow," says Emerson. "Anytime I'm feeling uninspired, I put on one of his records, and it makes me want to write. Anytime I'm not so sure about something in life or music, I ask myself, 'What would Willie Nelson do?'"


From "Bloody Mary Morning" to Phosphoresent's "The Party's Over," you can hear both the crowd and musicians' jubilation at being part of such a celebratory set. This isn't always the case for tribute shows, according to Robison, who's been a part of a few of them over the years, saying that this one stood out among the rest and that it's one he'll never forget.

"I've played a million tribute shows over the years, and some of them were lame as shit," says Robison. "This one had a very celebratory nature to it whether it was a big or smaller name artist on stage. When you hear 'I Gotta Get Drunk,' Ray Wylie singing 'Whiskey River,' or Margo belting out 'Shotgun Willie, ' it brings so much joy to me, even now. We were really celebrating ourselves and being together again. Willie was just an excuse."

One Night in Texas: The Next Waltz's Tribute to The Red Headed Stranger is out April 28 via Robison's label, The Next Waltz.

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