Backed by harmonica player Mickey Raphael and the out-of-time swagger of his own acoustic guitar, Willie Nelson pays tribute to longtime friend and fellow Highwayman Kris Kristofferson during a new episode of Austin City Limits.
Taped October 12th and premiering this New Year Eve on PBS, the TV special shines a light not only on Kristofferson, but on 2016’s entire class of ACL Hall of Fame inductees, including Bonnie Raitt and B.B. King.
“Busted flat in Baton Rogue, headin’ for the trains,” Nelson begins, kicking off his cover of Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” with a half-sung, half-spoken verse. From there, Nelson leads his makeshift band through a rowdy, revised version of the song, with Kristofferson – recast as the group’s rhythm guitarist – strumming along and grinning from stage left.
Nelson punctuates key lines with bursts of noise from his beat-to-hell instrument, Trigger, and steals the performance with a rough-edged guitar solo that swoons one minute and sways like the town drunk the next. Purposely imperfect, the performance focuses on the chemistry between two country icons who share more than a half-century’s worth of history, with both legends tipping their hats to one another.
Hosted by Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally, the ACL Hall of Fame special includes performances by Mavis Staples, Gary Clark Jr., Rodney Crowell and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and airs December 31st at 9:00 p.m./ET on PBS.