Willie Nelson is no stranger to benefit concerts

11:14 p.m Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017 Austin360 Home

When Willie Nelson takes the stage Friday night for the “Harvey Can’t Mess With Texas: A Benefit Concert for Hurricane Harvey Relief,” he will be in a familiar spotlight. 

Nelson is no stranger to standing up, speaking out and, yes, singing and strumming to benefit people in need.

Jason DeCrow/Associated Press
Neil Young, left, and Willie Nelson perform together at Farm Aid on Randall's Island, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2007, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow) ORG XMIT: NYJD141

Farm Aid is the obvious example. For more than three decades, Nelson, along with Neil Young, John Mellencamp and (since 2001) Dave Matthews have organized the annual benefit for family farmers, raising more than $50 million. This year’s Farm Aid was held just last Saturday in Pennsylvania, meaning at the age of 84, Nelson is playing back-to-back benefits.

But there’s many, many more examples. Yes, that’s Nelson harmonizing with Dionne Warwick on “We Are the World” as part of the USA For Africa benefit in 1985. The multi-platinum album with almost every star the ‘80s had to offer helped raise $63 million for humanitarian aid.

Here are just a few of the other benefits Nelson has been involved in …

2015: Nelson and Neil Young played the Bold Nebraska benefit concert. The gig for the environmental advocacy group opposing the Keystone XL pipeline raised about $125,000.

Jay Janner/Jay Janner/Austin American-State
Willie Nelson performs at The Backyard Live Oak Amphitheater in Austin, Texas, on Sunday April 28, 2013. The concert was an early birthday celebration for Nelson, who turns 80 on Tuesday, and it was a benefit for the volunteer fire department in West, Texas, which is nearby where Nelson grew up in Abbott, Texas. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

2013: Nelson’s 80th birthday concert at the Backyard was repurposed as a benefit for the people of West, where a huge explosion had recently killed 14 people and destroyed part of the small town. West is near Nelson’s hometown of Abbott.

2011: A month after the devastating Bastrop wildfires, Nelson and the Dixie Chicks headlined Fire Relief: The Concert for Central Texas, which all but sold out the Erwin Center.

2005: Nelson was the ringleader of the Tsunami Relief: Austin for South Asia concert that helped victims of the massive disaster. The Austin concert sold out in just six hours.

2001: Nelson sang “America the Beautiful” as part of the America: A Tribute to Heroes telethon that raised $150 million for families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks.

1996: After a drought hit farmers hard in the American Southwest, Nelson said he would donate his proceeds from that year’s Fourth of July Picnic to Farm Aid.

1993: Nelson held a benefit concert to restore the Hill County Courthouse, which had all but burned down a few months before.

1987: Nelson raised the ire of some of his conservative fans by headlining the "Cowboys for Indians and Justice for Leonard Peltier" concert. Peltier, an American Indian activist, was convicted in the killings of two FBI agents. He is serving life in prison, though some say he did not receive a fair trial.

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