Friends Wish Willie 'Happy Birthday'
It was nearly one o'clock this morning (April 10) when Shania Twain and Toby Keith wheeled a guitar-shaped cake onstage to lead a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday" in country music legend Willie NIt was nearly one o'clock this morning (April 10) when Shania Twain and Toby Keith wheeled a guitar-shaped cake onstage to lead a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday" in country music legend Willie Nelson's honor. Also crowding the stage at New York's Beacon Theatre's for the sing-along were Lyle Lovett, Sheryl Crow, John Mellencamp, Kris Kristofferson, Kenny Chesney, Elvis Costello, Diana Krall, Leon Russell, Norah Jones, Steven Tyler, and Paul Shaffer.
The occasion was the taping of USA Networks "Willie Nelson & Friends" 70th birthday tribute concert, which will air on the U.S. Memorial Day holiday (May 26). The cable outlet is also planning encore broadcasts at 11:00 p.m. ET that same night, May 31 at 2 a.m. ET, and June 1 at 9 a.m. ET.
Among the highlights of the nearly five-hour show, which will be whittled down to two hours for the USA broadcast, was a duet between Nelson and Eric Clapton on the song "Night Life." The seasoned guitarist's trademark blues style fit well with Nelson's homespun delivery, and the pairing was easily the crowd's favorite of the night.
Other peaks included Nelson and Paul Simon's rendition of "Homeward Bound," Nelson, Ray Charles, and Russell performing the latter's "A Song for You," and Krall and Costello teaming with Nelson on "Crazy." Nelson surprised the audience with the introduction of fellow country veteran Ray Price and the pair sang his "Run That By Me One More Time" before being joined by Lovett to perform Bob Wills' "San Antonio Girl." ZZ Top and Wyclef Jean also performed, while expected appearances by Merle Haggard and Jerry Lee Lewis never materialized.
The night's guest list also included actors Robert DeNiro, Ethan Hawke, Whoopi Goldberg, and Ali McGraw, and former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who introduced various performances.
Visit Billboard.com's Reviews section later today for a full review of the concert.