When it comes to country music artists, they don’t come much more iconic than Willie Nelson. Over the last sixty-five years, Willie has grown from a struggling songwriter into an international superstar.
In fact, you don’t have to be a country music fan to know about The Red Headed Stranger. His laid-back demeanor, witty sense of humor, philosophy on life, and legendary love of the Devil’s lettuce are enough to make people from all walks of life love him. On the other hand, if you are a country fan, you know Willie Nelson has either written or recorded some of the biggest songs in the history of the genre.
Willie Nelson is also the driving force behind some of country music’s coolest events. Farm Aid? Willie helped to organize the first event. His fingerprints are still on it. There’s also his annual Fourth of July Picnic. That one doesn’t need much explanation. Then, there’s Austin City Limits.
Willie Nelson and Austin City Limits
Willie Nelson didn’t start Austin City Limits nor was he part of organizing it. However, he was the first artist to be featured on the show.
The first installment of Austin City Limits aired in March of 1975 according to the ACL website. It was part of that year’s PBS pledge drive. By that time, Willie Nelson had left Nashville, returned to Texas, and was coming into his own as an artist. He released Shotgun Willie in 1973. Then, he dropped Phases and Stages in 1974. On October 17, of that year, Willie Nelson and his family band took the ACL stage. That inaugural episode was a hit. In fact, it was the highest-rated show on any PBS station that year. This helped to cement the show as an ongoing series.
Austin City Limits established its own Hall of Fame in 2014 as part of its fortieth-anniversary celebration. That year, they inducted several performers. They inducted five acts that first year. Bluesman Stevie Ray Vaugh and his band Double Trouble, the show’s founder Bill Arhos, University of Texas head coach Darrell Royal, record producer and country music artist Lloyd Maines, and Willie Nelson made up the class of 2014.
Over the years, Willie Nelson has appeared on Austin City Limits sixteen times. He has headlined the show six times and had seven songwriters specials. He has also made guest appearances on the show. He played alongside Johnny Rodriguez, Roger Miller, and Asleep at the Wheel. The Red Headed Stranger has been one of the most frequent guests on Austin City Limits.