Bob Dylan turned 80 on Monday, but he didn’t publicly mark the occasion in any way beyond posts on his Instagram and Facebook pages promoting his Heaven’s Gate Whiskey. The rest of the world, however, was happy to fill in the gaps and tributes poured in from all quarters.
Meanwhile, his longtime buddy Willie Nelson rolled out dates for his first post-pandemic tour on the same day. It’s another edition of his Outlaw Music Festival and it kicks off August 10th in Lincoln, Nebraska. Guests at various dates include the Avett Brothers, Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, Lucinda Williams, Gov’t Mule, and Margo Price.
Bob Dylan isn’t a part of this one, but he did briefly join the tour in 2017 for shows in Detroit and Milwaukee. It’s part of his long history with Willie Nelson that goes all the way back to a 1976 stop on the Rolling Thunder Revue where they played “Gotta Travel On” together. In 1984, Dylan began performing Nelson’s song “Why Do I Have to Choose?” onstage. And the next year Nelson founded Farm Aid based on impromptu remarks Dylan made onstage at Live Aid about the plight of American farmers.
In 2004, they finally combined their Never Ending Tours into one and hit Minor League Baseball stadiums across America. Dylan rarely brings opening acts onto his stage, but his respect for Nelson runs deep and he welcomed him out many nights for “Heartland,” a song they wrote together in 1993.
Shortly before the tour started, Nelson held a special concert at the Wiltern in Los Angeles featuring guest appearances by the likes of Carole King, Keith Richards Al Green, Kid Rock, Toots Hibbert, and Merle Haggard. One of the highlights was a duet with Bob Dylan on the Hank Williams classic “You Win Again,” which you can see right here.
The pandemic forced Dylan to cancel all of his 2020 tour plans, making it the first year since 1977 that he didn’t make a single appearance on a concert stage. He kept a very low profile the entire time, but paparazzi did manage to capture him walking through Santa Monica earlier this month. He’s announced no tour dates thus far and it’s easy to fear that the Never Ending Tour might actually end now that he’s in his eighties. But his buddy Willie is 88 and still going strong. If Dylan follows his lead, he’ll be out on the road until at least 2029.
Nelson will be 96 at that point, but if he’s standing upright he’ll likely still be booking gigs. Let’s hope Dylan continues to have that same attitude and the Never Ending Tour still has many chapters yet to come.