AUSTIN (KXAN) — Willie Nelson reflected on music, marijuana and the COVID-19 pandemic during a SXSW keynote that was nearly 30 years in the making.
The 87-year-old country star and Texas icon headlined the second day of the virtual festival, touching on various subjects during a wide-ranging conversation with Andy Langer of Austin City Limits radio and Texas Monthly.
Remarkably, it was Nelson’s first ever speech at SXSW — in 1992, he was booked to deliver a keynote at 10:30 a.m., but Nelson’s tour bus didn’t arrive in time after a concert the night before.
In hindsight, Langer joked, it may not have been a good idea to book Nelson to speak at 10:30 a.m.
As a prolific musician who has written thousands of songs, Nelson said the COVID-19 pandemic has been tough as he adjusted to not performing in front of fans.
“I miss it a lot,” he said. “All the musicians miss it a lot, but I know I sure as hell do.”
In fact, Nelson misses playing live so much that “every now and then” he sits in his tour bus, which is parked outside his home, “to pretend I’m going somewhere,” he revealed.
But that doesn’t mean Nelson, who is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, is going to rush back into in-person concerts.
“I don’t know what it will feel like, because I don’t know what kind of comeback it will be,” he said, when asked how returning to the stage will feel.
“I don’t know who will be able to come to the show, and I don’t want to do a show anywhere, any time that has a danger of somebody getting sick. That’s going to have a lot to do with when I get back to work,” he added.
“It will be a challenge, and whenever we do get back it will be a sign of some sort of success.”
After decades in the business, music remains as important to Nelson as ever — and after all those years, he’s learned to trust his judgment about which songs people will like, he said.
“I know what I like, and I have to trust what I like as being good. So far that’s the way it’s been, I trust my opinion,” he said.
“We all react to the same thing. Music will move you. Period. It will make you laugh or cry, jump or clap your hands, and anything that will move you, do it.”
While music defines Nelson’s legacy, he’s also known as an avid supporter of the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana.
He noted marijuana laws across the country have “come a long way” in recent times.
“We have made a lot of progress through the years since the first time I was busted for marijuana,” he said.
“A lot of people have jumped on the bandwagon and realized marijuana is medicinal, it can help you in a lot of ways,” Nelson said. “A lot of states out there have already legalized it medicinally and also recreationally, but more states are on the way.”
Activism in general is something that is important to Nelson and his family.
“I think it’s very important that people have something that they believe in,” he explained. “Something they can live for, argue about, fight for.”
“It’s important to have those valuable things to keep you going.”
At 87, Nelson isn’t slowing down — he’s still writing songs and releasing albums at a frenetic pace.
“I try to do exercise every day, I try to do something to pay for the day,” he added.
“There’s certain things I try to do every day — I jog a little bit, walk a little bit, whatever. And I think that helps keep me going.”