Happy Birthday Willie Nelson: Performing With Phish At Farm Aid 1998
Today is Willie Nelson’s 88th birthday. The beloved singer-songwriter and guitarist was born on April 29, 1933 in Abbot, Texas. While Willie is one of the greatest songwriters and performers of all time on his own, his amazing career has seen countless, genre bridging collaborations over the years with contemporaries like Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton and Ray Charles to more recent team-ups with Norah Jones, Snoop Dogg and many more. All in all, out of Willie’s whopping 70 studio albums, 25 of them have been collaborative LPs.
Nelson’s numerous collaborations have naturally spilled into the live music sphere. Festivals are always sit-in hotbeds and Willie presides over events like his annual 4th of July Picnic and Farm Aid. Furthermore, the tireless performer usually sits in with every artist at those events. Farm Aid 1998 featured one of those memorable collabs when Nelson teamed up with Phish on October 3 at New World Music Theatre in Tinley Park, Illinois.
During a solo acoustic concert at Nashville’s legendary Ryman Auditorium on October 27, 2019, Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio noted the Ryman’s storied past, spurred on by seeing photos of country music legends backstage. He then told a story about Phish’s appearance at Farm Aid in 1998, which saw him hanging out with Willie on his bus. Along with his faithful guitar Trigger, Wille’s bus is almost as storied as the man himself. Trey partook in the pre-show rituals that the bus is famous for and where he and Willie decided to fittingly perform “Moonlight In Vermont.”
The unofficial song of the Green Mountain State, a number of famed artists have recorded “Moonlight In Vermont” over the years including Frank Sinatra, whom Willie has paid homage to with a pair of tribute LPs, the most recent being That’s Life. Willie also included “Moonlight In Vermont” on his 1978 album, Stardust.
Despite being “crippled” from being on Willie’s bus, Trey made it through Phish’s set — which also included a memorable, impromptu version of Neil Young’s jam vehicle “Down By The River” with Young — followed by Phish and others backing Willie on “Moonlight In Vermont,” featuring Willie’s golden voice floating through the song like breeze in the pines. As Phish closed down the benefit festival that year, the Vermont quartet then backed Willie and others on a rollicking version of longtime festival closer “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” which saw Willie delivering a rocking solo on Trigger. The closing medley also included “Amazing Grace” and Willie’s “Uncloudy Day.”
To celebrate Willie Nelson’s birthday, watch his performance with Phish and more at Farm Aid in 1998 below via the JamBase Live Video Archive: