Mark Rothbaum, Willie Nelson's manager, tells a story about a guy in Austin, Texas, who set his caller ID up under the name Willie Nelson. It wasn't long before he started to hear from folks all over the country, thinking they were talking to the Willie Nelson. The calls he got on his voicemail were from devoted fans, folks looking for Willie's help, people who were ill, farmers who were losing their farms, inmates at the county jail, people who just felt a connection with him. Over three years, he got more than 500 messages. When Willie got word that this was happening, he called the so-called Willie Nelson, curious whether they truly shared a name. Since they did not, Willie asked the man to change his caller ID. He said, "These are my friends. They think they're telling their stories to me. These are personal messages, and they're important to me. Please stop."
The messages on that voicemail are the kinds of messages that we hear so often at Farm Aid -- calls for help, of love, with appreciation for standing up for family farmers, with very personal stories -- because folks truly feel that Willie is their friend. And he is. Willie Nelson is a friend to all of us.
On the occasion of Willie's 80th birthday, we wanted to give everyone the chance to share their personal message with Willie. This video is a compilation of the many submissions we received, from artists, music fans, farmers, farm groups -- all kinds of people. It's our way of saying Happy Birthday, Willie. You are a living legend, a true artist, a gifted communicator, a champion of the family farmer, an inspiration and friend to all of us. Thank you, Willie; we love you.
To watch more birthday wishes for Willie Nelson, visit happybirthdaywillie.org.