Country Throwback: Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Kacey Musgraves Join in for Gospel Medley in 2017

by Suzanne Halliburton

Two eras meeting in the middle. Remember that time Willie Nelson and friends took us to church?

Well, he took the folks who showed up at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in August 2017, for his concert to the best place this side of the pulpit. In the middle of his concert, Nelson surprised his audience by inviting some friends on stage, including fellow Texans Kris Kristofferson and Kacey Musgraves, for a gospel break.

Nelson and company sang three gospel songs. Each had a very decided Willie imprint as he adapted them to his distinct sound. Musgraves, who opened for Nelson, shared a microphone with Kristofferson, while Nelson took front and center.

Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Kacey Musgraves Joined Right In With Three Songs

First up for Willie Nelson and friends was the country gospel song “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” You probably recognize it with some other words. The Carter Family made it popular during the Great Depression. Mother Maybelle Carter performed it with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1972.

Carl Perkins borrowed from the original hymn, which was meant to be sung to close a funeral. Perkins called it “Daddy Sang Bass” and made it a hopeful, revival kind of song for Johnny Cash. He’s Mother Maybelle Carter’s son-in-law. Two of the Statler Brothers joined right in there, cause we know singing’ helps the troubled soul.

The next song in the Willie Nelson gospel sojourn was “I’ll Fly Away.” It’s another great hymn that’ll get any congregation clapping and singing with the choir. It’s the most recorded gospel song of all time. Dust off your “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” movie soundtrack. It’s there, too. Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch sang the version.

“I Saw the Light” was the third song in the Willie gospel break. It’s a country gospel standard, written by Hank Williams Sr. Williams wrote it in January, 1947, a few months after he’d been turned down by the Grand Ole Opry. A conversation with his mother-in-law inspired the song. Williams recorded the song with one other during his first MGM Records session that April. The song wasn’t a commercial success for Williams, but so many folks know it now. It’s also a perfect revival tune since it’s theme offers a backslider more chances to find Jesus.

Nelson and Kristofferson are long-time friends and members of the super-group “The Highwaymen.” Musgraves was a relatively new Nelson friend. Her band also joined in the gospel session.

Nelson sandwiched his standards around the gospel break. The set list included “Whiskey River” and “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.” He also played “Crazy” and “On The Road Again.”

Concert goers were entertained, surprised and blessed by Jesus, all in one show. That’s some high-dollar value.