Willie Nelson to Deliver Keynote at SXSW Online 2021

Willie Nelson
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Willie Nelson performs onstage during the 53rd annual CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on Nov. 13, 2019 in Nashville.

Willie Nelson is (virtually) on the road again. The country music legend is today (Jan. 13) announced as a keynote speaker for South by Southwest 2021, along with an initial wave of more than 50 featured speakers.

The annual music festival and conference canceled its March 2020 edition due to the coronavirus pandemic, a move that signaled the very start of an industry-wide touring shutdown.

The health crisis is still with us. So this spring, SXSW returns in a virtual format, as SXSW Online, featuring more than 230 conference sessions, music showcases, film festival screenings, networking and more, with Nelson top of the bill.

“No individual has had the cultural impact on, or been more synonymous with the creative vibrancy of Austin than Willie Nelson, and we are incredibly honored to have him as a SXSW Online 2021 keynote,” comments Hugh Forrest, chief programming officer.

The celebrated artist, author, actor, entrepreneur and activist is in record-breaking form. Now aged 87, Nelson last year became the first artist with top 10s in every decade – seven, in total – since Billboard’s Country Albums chart launched in January 1964.

The 2021 SXSW conference lineup is taking shape, with Samantha Bee, Richard Branson, Nicholas Britell, Dave Burd (aka Lil Dicky), The Chainsmokers, Chiquis and Laurieann Gibson among the speakers.

Other confirmed participants include Taraji P. Henson, Barry Jenkins, Jim McKelvey, Michael Lewis, Matthew McConaughey, Alexi Pappas, Queen Latifah, LL Cool J, Brian Grazer and Cynthia Erivo.

SXSW Online programming sessions are arranged by themes, organizers say. They include “A New Urgency,” “Challenging Tech's Path Forward,” “Cultural Resilience in the Arts,” “The Rebirth Of Business,” “Transforming the Entertainment Landscape,” “Connection in Disconnection” and “An Uncharted Future.”

This year’s event will be held March 16–20. To register, visit And for more information, go to