If it weren’t for the lyric about dreaming up a world without religion, John Lennon’s “Imagine” could almost be a gospel song, thanks to a simple, hymn-like melody that seems to invite entire congregations to sing along.
That’s exactly what happened at this month’s John Lennon 75th Birthday Concert in New York City, where Willie Nelson performed Lennon’s universally known solo single with help from a beefed-up house band — including Leland Sklar on bass and longtime partner Mickey Raphael on harmonica — and an arena full of Lennon fans. When Nelson’s vocal wobble prevented him from singing the “yoo-hooo” line in the song’s chorus, the audience chipped in, turning the Madison Square Garden concert into a celebration not of the musicians onstage, but of the night’s late honoree.
Sandwiched between mini-sets by Spoon and Brandon Flowers, Nelson’s performance was loose and limber, with the Red Headed Stranger taking liberties with the song’s phrasing before launching into a guitar solo full of blue notes. Other performers at the tribute show included Chris Stapleton and Kris Kristofferson, who teamed up with Nelson for “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.”