updated 04/28/2014 AT 11:00 AM ET
•originally published 04/29/2014 AT 11:45 AM ET
The ceremony marked the 40th anniversary of the show and brought out recent Oscar winner and hometown favorite Matthew McConaughey, who told the crowd, “There would be no Austin City Limits without Willie Nelson.”
“He’s been called Saint Willie,” McConaughey continued. “There’s a statue of him in the middle of downtown Austin on a street called Willie Nelson Boulevard. He’s always been larger than life, a living legend. He’s an icon, an inspiration to many.”
Nelson, who turns 81 on Tuesday, was the very first musician to perform on Austin City Limits in 1974.
“It’s really exciting,” Nelson told PEOPLE exclusively of the accolade just before the show began. “Everything is good right now. It is a great honor.”
Nelson said that Austin City Limits has always been a great place to play.
“Music is done very well there,” he shared. “There was a time when television shows weren’t the best for doing the music. They could do the pictures fine but they hadn’t got the sound down. These guys had the sound right from the beginning and I think that’s why they had so many artists jumping up and down to be on their show. They had people there who knew music.”
And the city of Austin has embraced musicians, he said.