by: Allison Dickson
Editor’s note: Local resident Allison Dickson, who has lived with spinal muscular atrophy her entire life, had the chance to meet Willie Nelson during his recent concert at the Bell County Expo Center. Dickson was kind enough to share her story with the Telegram.
I have to confess: I was nervous! At any moment, the Texas music legend Willie Nelson would be exiting his famous tour bus and coming backstage to spend time with me! It felt like those first date jitters where all you can think is: Will he like me? Will we have anything to talk about? I hope I don’t completely embarrass myself and Central Texas.
From the moment I heard Willie Nelson was playing at the Bell County Expo Center on March 11 for the venue’s 30th Anniversary Concert Series celebration, I knew this was likely my one best shot at meeting him. Medical issues restrict my travel ability, but he would be so close — it felt like fate.
Interestingly enough, I was at the Expo Center’s very first concert 30 years ago — the Osmonds — and have a picture with Marie backstage, so it also felt like coming full circle.
After being contacted by Paula Nelson, Willie’s daughter, she and I have become fast friends and “soul sisters.”
We had an instant connection. Kindness and genuineness clearly run in the family, and I hope she recognized those qualities in me, too.
She promised to make my dream to meet Willie happen. I’d receive pictures, autographs, and a big hug from her dad along with four tickets and all-access passes to the show. Paula did not disappoint!
She and her dad both made me feel so special and like an honorary part of the family. I know Paula and I will be connected forever — in fact, we’re already planning another girls night for her and her mom to visit me in Temple.
The meeting occurred backstage at the Expo Center.
There was a private area set up with a red carpet and black curtains separating us from the general backstage action. I arrived at 7:15 and met Paula at the backstage entrance so she could get me in.
The weather was horrible — rain is not my electric wheelchair’s friend — but there was no way I was going to let that stop me after the excitement building for several months.
Willie had played a show in Mississippi the night before, and he was scheduled to perform at 9 on Saturday night. Originally the press was not going to be allowed to witness or record the moments when #AlliMeetsWillie, but when Willie arrived he gave the OK and they were allowed to stay in the curtained off room! The bus is Willie’s dressing room, so I was told he would arrive at the venue, get off the bus, come spend time with me, perform, and then get on the bus and be on the road again.
Willie could not have been nicer! Paula escorted him over to me and introduced me as her “soul sister, Allison.” He came up to me, held my hand, and kissed my forehead. I knew instantly he was a kind man with a good heart and felt at ease. I thanked him for taking the time to meet me and be there. He signed some autographs for me. He taught me how to roll…a bandana! I think my mom and I invited him to visit anytime he was in Temple, and he smiled and said thank you.
There is no set list for each night’s performance — it’s just whatever Willie feels moved to play. I told him my favorite song was “Always On My Mind,” and if he sang it that night I’d know it was for me (he did!)!
I gave him gifts and we talked about those. He chuckled at a few that related to his more infamous interests (yes I gave him a shirt with a “roach” on it!). He said he knew just where the artwork I gave him that included a lyric from his song “Healing Hands of Time” would go at his ranch, and he examined the true blue custom blown glass heart, which we said meant we loved him. Willie, Paula, and I posed for pictures and the crowd was calling for him, so he had to go.
He thanked me for the gifts and being there, and then he took the stage to a sold-out crowd and gave a fantastic performance.
After the meeting, Paula led my guests and me to sit stage left for the show in the family and friends section — front row but still backstage! The best harmonica player in the world, Mickey Raphael, was the closest band member to us, and he waved and smiled our way throughout the night.
When the show ended, Paula led us back to the backstage parking lot and we said our thank yous and goodbyes — not for good, just for the evening.
People have asked me why I wanted to meet Willie Nelson and what his music means to me. His music is relatable. It’s diverse. It’s entertainment but it also touches your heart. He sings about real life — whether it’s love, love gone wrong, or just wanting to have a little fun. There’s something that draws everyone in, and his unique voice and style have made him a legend. After meeting him, I also believe his heart and spirit have helped solidify his iconic status along the way.
This entire experience — from the initial attempts to make the meeting happen to the continued interest — has been incredible. I’m just a girl who had a dream I wasn’t willing to give up on, and with faith and perseverance that dream came true.
I also saw the kindness of others in that they shared in the excitement and were truly happy I was able to have this experience. Thank you to everyone who has shown such an outpouring of love and support. I hope I can help others realize that if they have a dream, go for it! If they’re told it’s not possible, keep trying anyway! If you have a passion, follow it! One of my mottos is, “I don’t need easy. I just need possible.”
That doesn’t apply just to hoping to meet a music icon. It applies to everything. Live life to the fullest and love one another with all you have! I hope when people think of me they realize anything is possible! Don’t let your present circumstances define you. Have a vision and do all you can to make it a reality. You never know — you just might end up meeting Willie Nelson in the process!