On Wednesday night in Los Angeles, the Grammy Producers and Engineers Wing held court at the iconic Village Studio for the 12th annual P&E honors. The kickoff to Grammy week honored Willie Nelson for his production work and other achievements.
As a tribute video before Nelson’s award pointed out, it was when he produced his seminal 1975 album, Red-Headed Stranger, that Nelson found his signature sound. Attendees from the night included “Weird Al” Yankovic, Diane Warren and Ziggy Marley, among music’s finest.
Grammy nominee Kacey Musgraves showed her appreciation of Nelson, candidly stating, “What can you say about Willie Nelson that hasn’t already been said?” she asked. “He’s been at this so long, he’s done it all, he’s seen it all.”
Four-time Grammy nominee Emily Lazar echoed those sentiments, speaking to Billboard. “Willie Nelson is freaking Willie. He’s amazing,” she said. “Ever since I was 5 years old, I’ve been dancing around my parents’ family room to Willie Nelson records.”
Apparently that sentiment of what more can you say was shared by the honoree himself, who upon accepting his award gave an acceptance speech short enough to fit on one Instagram story.
“I’d like to thank the producers and engineers over the years for making me sound as good as they could. And I’m glad they liked me, ’cause they could have really screwed me. But again thanks to all of them. Thank you,” Nelson said, then walked off the stage, leaving everyone laughing at his very short but sweet acceptance speech.
Of course there was still more to say through his preferred medium: music. As Musgraves astutely pointed out in her lovely speech, yes, there was more to say, “His songs are so iconic, so classic, they’re never gonna die and let’s get real — he’s probably not either. He’s gonna outlive us all, I swear.”
Surprise performer Dave Matthews also didn’t say much, but he did speak about what a role model Nelson has been, pointing out that all can learn from Nelson’s kindness and good nature.
“You realize there’s no reason to be a dick, ’cause look how far this guy has gotten being a fucking great guy,” Matthews said before launching into a breathtaking acoustic rendition of “Funny How Time Slips Away.”
Before an equally mesmerizing “Gravedigger,” a song Nelson has covered, Matthews spoke of the honor of the man who wrote “Crazy” and “Always on My Mind” covering his work. “One of the greatest moments in my life came when I heard Willie was going to sing a song of mine. I was like, ‘What the…?!'”
Matthews then brought out some friends, including Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah. One of the two musical highlights of the night came with Matthews and Lukas trading lead vocals on “Crazy.” The other came when Willie joined everyone onstage for “Living in the Promiseland” and the finale of “On the Road Again.”
Honoring a timeless great such as Nelson, who joined past honorees including Jack White and Nile Rodgers, creates a great reason for everyone to get together. But as Lazar told Billboard, the event is about celebrating the community of producers and engineers and after what had been a tumultuous year for both NARAS and music in general she wasn’t going to miss this gather, especially as a woman.
“I’m on the National Steering Committee for the P&E wing and I’m also the chair of the New York Chapter’s Producer & Engineer wing. And I think that being here, first of all it’s an amazing celebration of awesome true creators that are behind-the-scenes unsung heroes of albums we all love and know and treasure. And I think it’s really important we, as a community, get together, but also the world understands what we are and our role in making all this stuff happen,” she said.
“And furthermore, as a woman, I find it vital to be in the room, have a seat at this table and be able to protect what I think is necessary in the engineering field and socially protect what I think is important for women in the field.”
Given P&E has become the unofficial kickoff to Grammy week, the importance of diversity was addressed continually in remarks leading up to Nelson’s award. And in that respect, they couldn’t have found a better person to honor.
As Musgraves explained, everyone agrees on Nelson.
“He has this really unique ability to unite and really bring people together. It’s really kind of unlike any artist I can really think of. Underdogs, outliers, Republicans, rappers, presidents,” she said, drawing laughter at the republicans comment. “Everyone loves Willie. Speaking of presidents, I asked Willie one time, ‘Why don’t you just run for president?’ He goes, ‘Because I’d win.'”
Willie for president. We could see it.