Willie Nelson’s Birthday Bash: 10 Reasons He’s Even More Awesome Than You Thought

Ain't it funny how time slips away? In honor of the touring legend's 80th birthday, here are some surprising things we bet you didn't know about Willie Nelson, America's beloved king of the road.

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He rocks for a really good cause.

He rocks for a really good cause.Paul Natkin / Photo Reserve, Inc.
In 1985, Willie Nelson partnered with Neil Young and John Mellencamp to throw the first Farm Aid concert to promote awareness about the loss of family farms in America and to raise funds to keep farm families on their land. The inaugural Farm Aid was held on September 22, 1985, before an audience of 78,000 in Champaign, Illinois. Fifty-four artists played on the Farm Aid stage, beginning at 10 a.m and playing well through the night. The cost of a ticket? $17.50. To date, Farm Aid has organized 26 concerts and raised over $43 million to keep family farmers on the land.  Visit FarmAid.org to see how you can help in your own community or get involved.

He still signs every check for farmers.

He still signs every check for farmers.
Every year, Farm Aid makes grants to rural and farm organizations across the country, and Willie's passion for the cause is obvious: He signs every last check. 

And he even gets out on the haylift with them.

And he even gets out on the haylift with them.
When droughts hit, Willie Nelson and Farm Aid have organized haylifts to deliver hay to farmers who have lost their crops and cannot feed their animals (the picture here comes from a 1996 farmer-to-farmer haylift for those in Texas suffering from drought). Willie is so hands-on, that he even helps load and unload hay from the trucks  – no small feat for someone pushing 80!

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He changes the law, too!

He changes the law, too!
What's more, in 1987, Willie and John (Mellencamp, of course) traveled to Capitol Hill to testify before Congress (pictured here) about the farm crisis. As a result of the efforts of Farm Aid and family farm leaders, Congress passed the Agricultural Credit Act, saving countless farms from foreclosure. 

He wrote this book.

He wrote this book.
Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die is Willie's hilarious and poignant memoir that might just convince you to finally head out on that road trip you've been itching to take.

And he signs his book like this...

And he signs his book like this...
Gotta love the signature pigtail braids!

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Fancy hotels? Pffft.

Fancy hotels? Pffft.
Willie'd rather spend his time on his customized tour bus. This past fall, I had the honor of hanging out with him on the legendary ride (the guy to his left is my boyfriend, not his bodyguard!). The coolest thing of all? "Biowillie," a biodiesel fuel composed of soybeans and vegetable oils keeps these wheels rolling.

Dozens of musicians build on his genius.

Dozens of musicians build on his genius.Paul Natkin / Photo Reserve
Many artists' success, have gotten a boost by the laid back rocker (Not to mention the countless musicians who have covered his songs,"Ain't It Funny How Time Slips Away?" for instance, has recorded versions by everyone from Elvis to Lyle Lovett). In 1962, Patsy Cline's version of Willie's "Crazy" hit #2 country song on the charts. Twenty-something years later, fellow Farm Aid  board member Dave Matthews' Grammy-nominated "Crush" partially owes its success to the master lyricist, too:  Once, when he was chatting with Willie about "Crazy,” which originally went, “I’m stupid, stupid for feeling so lonely,” (before producers butted in),  Dave agreed that the word swap sounded better, and stole it for his song." Somehow "Stupid, how it feels tonight," just didn't have the same ring for a love song as "Crazy, how it feels tonight..."

He's more than just a musician.

He's more than just a musician.Ebet Roberts
Willie is a true Renaissance man. Over the course of his life, he's done everything from a stint in the US Air Force to selling encyclopedias door to door!


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He's turning his 80th birthday bash concert into a benefit for victims of the Texas explosion.

He's turning his 80th birthday bash concert into a benefit for victims of the Texas explosion.Courtesy tribaL216 via Reddit
Willie, who has a house just miles away from West, Texas, decided to turn his scheduled birthday-celebration concert on April 28 into a benefit for members of the Texas community devastated by the April 17 fertilizer-plant explosion. "Our hearts and prayers go out to the people of West," Willie stated,"There are a lot of our friends and loved ones and neighbors down there. We talked to some of them and some of them made it out OK, and some of them didn't. But they're strong and they'll be back. It's one of those things you don't get over. But you will get through it."

Got your own birthday wishes for Willie's 80th? Share your own birthday message for Willie and join the fun at HappyBirthdayWillie.org, and see videos from Willie's friends like John Mellencamp, Kenny Chesney, Sting, Bonnie Raitt and more!

Sources: Jennifer Fahy, Communications Director of FarmAid;Biography.com; Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die; Billboard.com.

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