Willie Nelson makes surprise appearance at SXSW after several canceled shows

Music fans who skipped out on Ray Benson’s birthday party on Tuesday during SXSW are now kicking themselves for missing a surprise appearance from Willie Nelson.

Nelson took the stage unannounced around 9:30PM at the showcase in Austin, Texas, after an already impressive set by both the Avett Brothers and Asleep at the Wheel. According to Austin360, Nelson played close to a dozen songs including “Whiskey River” and “On the Road Again” as well as “Still Not Dead” from his upcoming album God’s Problem Child, due out this spring. Highlights included a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho & Lefty” with Benson — which you can watch in the video above — and “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”

Benson’s 66th birthday party featured performances from the Avett Brothers, Randy Rogers, Sunny Sweeney, Wade Bowen and more. Last year, George Strait made a surprise appearance during the event while in 2015 Gary Clark Jr. attended.

Benson’s birthday concert is an annual SXSW staple, and the show raises money for the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM). According to Billboard, since 2005 the event has raised $4.9 million to help provide health care for more than 4,400 musicians.

Nelson recently canceled several concerts due to illness, and his appearance on Tuesday showed the country legend in good spirits while holding his own on stage. The singer is set to release his forthcoming album on April 28. The album includes 13 new songs, and according to a press release, God’s Problem Child “reflects on mortality while marveling at the beauty and absurdity of it all.”

Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Essential Broadcast Media

See Willie Nelson, Avett Brothers Jam at Ray Benson Birthday Bash

Asleep at the Wheel bandleader Ray Benson's annual birthday bash kept the special surprise guests coming until late in the evening Tuesday night, getting the legendary Willie Nelson on the road again after he was briefly sidelined by illness last month.

Staged in the backyard of advertising firm GSD&M, and coinciding with Austin's annual South by Southwest event, the all-star jam offered homegrown entertainment from the Lone Star State and beyond, with Benson joined by fellow Texans Sunny Sweeney, Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers, among several others. Austin360.com notes that Benson's 66th birthday celebration also included North Carolina's Avett Brothers joining Benson and his acclaimed Western swing band for a short Bob Wills-inspired set as well as the Avetts paying tribute to Merle Haggard with their version of "Mama Tried."

Striding onstage at 9:30 p.m. to the delight of the crowd, Nelson opened his set with "Whiskey River," teamed with Benson on the Townes van Zandt classic, "Pancho & Lefty," which Nelson famously recorded with Merle Haggard, and even offered a track from his upcoming God's Problem Child LP, the wryly observed "Still Not Dead." The 83-year-old closed with the ubiquitous "On the Road Again," which is fitting given the week he has planned. On Thursday, he's at his "Luck, Texas" ranch in Spicewood for the Luck Reunion concert featuring Margo Price, Brent Cobb and more. The following night, he's in Thackerville, Oklahoma, and on Saturday, March 18th is slated to play RodeoHouston.

Willie Nelson approves of Nick and Nate Diaz's new medicinal marijuana brands

You can count martial arts enthusiast Willie Nelson amongst the many fans of Nick and Nate Diaz's foray into the world of medicinal marijuana products.

Nate Diaz made major headlines (and started a USADA investigation) after smoking from a vape pen full of medicinal marijuana CBD oil at the post fight press conference following his second fight with Conor McGregor. That happened to be a company he was sponsored by, but since then the Diaz brothers have gotten deeper into the game, releasing Nate Diaz Energy and Nick Diaz Recovery brand marijuana cigarettes through California Finest. And apparently Willie Nelson is a fan. He posted this up on his Instagram recently touting the new Diaz branded smokes.

It should be no surprise that Willie is down with what his friends from the 209 are putting out. He's just the latest famous stoner to join Nick and Nate on their groovy weed trip. In addition to Nelson, that posse now includes Snoop Dog and Tommy Chong, a veritable Mount Rushmore of marijuana activists. The new product from the Diaz brothers is being marketed as a post-workout recovery strain for athletes, although we're sure it has more than just CBDs in it, the non-psychoactive cannabidiol extract.

Maybe this is why Nick and Nate are too busy to step back into the Octagon ... they must be making some pretty decent money travelling to smoke shops, smoking ridiculous joints, and pushing a growing line of products. Good for them!

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