In fall 2011, the Avett Brothers were in El Paso, Texas, when their friend Ray Benson from the country group Asleep at the Wheel called them with an offer that was too good to pass up.
“‘Come up from El Paso to Austin, Texas … we’re doing this forest fire benefit for these terrible forest fires that have been happening in Texas and we’re going to put on a big concert for, like, 16-18,000 people,'” Scott Avett recalls Benson telling him. “We’ll have Lyle Lovett, George Strait, the Dixie Chicks, Willie Nelson, with Asleep at the Wheel as the house band, and we would love for you to come up and do a couple of songs with Willie Nelson.”
Scott and his brother and bandmate Seth immediately said yes. “We’d never met Willie Nelson in person,” he explains. “Obviously, Willie Nelson, for us as songwriters, is just top of the world. … We’ve been listening to his songs since we were children and have been inspired by his songs forever.”
So the two sibling musicians took a detour to Austin for the benefit show, dubbed Fire Relief: The Concert for Central Texas, and joined their childhood hero onstage, where they played two songs with him, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “On the Road Again.” They didn’t get to rehearse with or even meet Nelson beforehand, but as Scott remembers the experience in the animated video above – the latest installment of Rolling Stone’s “Had to Be There” series – it was magical nonetheless.
“It changed me forever,” he says. “It was an amazing interaction. This amazing story we have with this icon, you know, this country legend icon. Incredible. It was completely incredible.”