Best Reason to Get Out of Austin: The Heartbreaker Banquet at Willie Nelson's Ranch
Here's Willie Nelson — a contemporary of James Brown, a songwriter for Patsy Cline and Roy Orbison — not just playing South by Southwest but throwing a rival ranch party so fun that it draws people 35 miles west of town on a loaded Thursday night. Openers like Nikki Lane and Hurray for the Riff Raff were superb, but the host and headliner was untouchable, playing hits, leading sing-alongs and moving nimbly across the fretboard as he jumped into a handful of aggressive acoustic guitar solos. Both his hat and his bandana ended up in the crowd — a diverse bunch that cheered for Waylon but knew more of "Beer for My Horses" than "Good Hearted Woman" — and he closed the show by packing the stage with "friends, family and neighbors" who helped him through an upbeat "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" and a smirking "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die." Still, the entire trip — the trip to Texas, even — was worth it just to hear the way the 81-year-old's voice lilts into the title line of "Always on My Mind."