A Night with Willie Nelson: Lessons from the Road

An unexpected night with Willie Nelson in Duluth revealed powerful lessons on authenticity and unity that every professional can learn from.


Jared Lukes

5/24/20242 min read

An Unexpected Journey

A friend drove me up to Duluth last night to see Willie Nelson. She had an extra ticket she bought months ago, and in the eleventh hour, I became her willing companion for the two-hour-plus road trip north to see the goat of cannabis and country. I'm not a massive Willie Nelson fan, but with an affinity for acts like Hank Senior, Johnny Cash, and June Carter, I definitely had some respect for the man. Going in, I didn't expect much, knowing he's quite up there in years. But as the night went on and a cold breeze from Lake Superior blew over the jacket-clad audience, something struck me. Willie himself, I noticed, was wearing a jacket the entire show. That's a man who's played here before on the Superior Shore, for sure.

An Odd Crowd

It's not uncommon for me, in a social situation, to scan the environment and observe while taking in the performance at key moments. Willie’s rough strumming and stinging notes captured my attention, but the crowd was what really fascinated me. It was one of the most diverse groups of white people I've encountered in a long time. I mean, REALLY diverse.

A Tapestry of Fans

Surrounded by motorcyclists, country hicks, the devout of many flavors, hippies, pot smokers, the elderly, and the young, I began to ponder. How does this happen? Sure, fame over time can draw a crowd, but Willie Nelson transcends typical fandoms. He keeps touring, relentlessly, habitually, and it's evident that even at his age, that’s how he plans to die. But how on earthly hell, I asked myself, did he attract such an amazingly diverse group of people?

Authenticity in Action

Every business and professional can learn from Willie. As you move forward, it's crucial to be authentic. If you like smoking a joint, don’t hide that. If you like wearing a bandana, don’t hide that. If you like your hair long, don’t hide that. If you like a motorcycle, don’t hide that. If you believe in God, don’t hide that. Bring along the people who want to come with you in love and don't worry about the rest. Just keep going like that, because you can't win them all.

Lessons for Professionals

If you just keep working honestly, with integrity and love, you can pull from every pocket of life and create a great song. That’s the best way to do it—knowing you're staying true to yourself. You’ll make mistakes and need to apologize sometimes. Don’t sweat the little stuff; focus on love.