Archive for the ‘News and Reviews’ Category
photo: Chris Granger
Willie Nelson enchants a sold-out New Orleans crowd Sunday
by: Chelsea Brasted
Just before showtime at the House of Blues in New Orleans on Sunday (Jan. 8), white lights came on at stage left as an 83-year-old man with long braided pigtails and a black, long-sleeved puffer jacket was escorted to a seat just in the wings.
He folded his legs over each other and waited patiently as the crew made final adjustments until, slowly, he stood and his jacket was removed. Music started, and the man found his way to the guitar at centerstage.
With hands as mottled and as marked by time finally on the near-mythical instrument he calls Trigger, Willie Nelson came to life.
For just a little more than an hour, Nelson smiled and sang and strummed that guitar with the kind of loving comfort that can only come with decades of familiarity. The songs, too, were familiar to the jovial, honky tonk-like, sold-out crowd of chattering, beer-raising fans who lent help as a motley chorus.
photo: Chris Granger
With a life spent writing, pioneering and playing music, Nelson’s appeal is as much about his role as a country music patriarch as it is about the novelty of seeing the charismatic, reefer mad octogenarian friend of Snoop Dogg. Just weeks ago, Dolly Parton, who reigns as the charming queen of country came to New Orleans for a stop at the Smoothie King Center, where she held court for more than two hours, telling stories and swapping bedazzled instruments in and out of her hands.
Not so with Nelson.
From the moment he wrapped his red, white and blue macrame guitar strap around his frame, Nelson didn’t bother with the stories. He instead let his music do the talking, and he and Trigger offered one blues-tinged solo after another, filling the space between “Whiskey River” and “Funny How Time Slips Away.” Nelson was joined in the effort by his touring band, known as the Family: Bobbie Nelson, Paul English, Billy English, Kevin Smith and harmonica player Mickey Raphael, who performed in New Orleans at in May 2016 as part of Chris Stapleton’s band.
Nelson eventually traded his bent-rim cowboy hat for the first of several red bandanas, each folded identically in a stack near his hip. He’d slip one over his braids, then tear it off after mere moments to toss to the first row or two with a smile and a blown kiss.
From the moment they set foot onstage, Nelson and his Family barely stopped, allowing nearly ever song to melt into the next. With Nelson leading charge with what’s now his nearly speaking-voice way of singing, they strolled into “If You’ve Got the Money I’ve Got the Time,” Waylon Jennings’ “Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” and Billy Joe Shaver’s “I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train.” Fans hollered and clapped and cheered and occasionally held the final vowel on Nelson’s first name as they did so, leaving him to smile some more.
In a fit-for-TV finale, Nelson welcomed openers Runaway June to add their harmonies to “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and the closing lines of “I’ll Fly Away,” which is exactly what he did.
Nelson placed Trigger back in its space, gave his final waves, blew kisses and threw bandanas before finding his way back to the darkness of the wings, to the warmth of his jacket and the satisfaction of a show well played.
photo: Andrew Nelles
by: Juli Thanki
Only Willie Nelson could announce “This is a gospel song for y’all,” then start singing “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”
For most of his 83 years, the fiercely independent Nelson has done things his way, and there’s certainly no reason to stop now.
For 75 minutes on Saturday night, the legendary country singer, who has penned some of the most enduring songs in American music history, delivered one classic after another in rapid succession onstage at the War Memorial Auditorium: “Angel Flying to Close to the Ground” followed by “On the Road Again” and “Crazy” followed by “Night Life.”
The Red Headed Stranger wasn’t much for onstage banter. When he did talk, it was short and straightforward. Introducing drummer Paul English, Nelson explained, “I wrote a song about me and Paul. I called it ‘Me and Paul.’ “
Throughout the set, Nelson and his band the Family (which included sister Bobbie Nelson and longtime harmonica player Mickey Raphael) saluted his friends, the late Waylon Jennings (“Good Hearted Woman”) and Merle Haggard (“It’s All Going to Pot”), as well as his heroes. He expertly covered Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages,” and delivered a toe-tapping Hank Williams medley that included “Move It on Over,” “Hey, Good Lookin’” and “Jambalaya.”
His creased and crinkled hands can still coax remarkable solos from his trusty guitar Trigger. The audience, which seemed to range in age from 18 to 80, cheered every guitar solo, hooted when he flung away his black cowboy hat and traded it for his trademark red bandanna, and sang along to every word of his set. Nelson will turn 84 this year, and even though he’s slowed down a bit over the years, few performers can captivate a crowd like he does.
photo: Stephen Poole
by: Sarah Gianelli
Band plays Big Sky Resort Jan. 27
JACKSON, Wyo. – Country rockers Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real had an audience of 500 out of their seats and getting down before the end of their first song, turning Jackson’s civilized Center for the Arts into a rowdy cowboy bar for the duration of their Dec. 29 performance.
They’re scheduled to bring that high energy to Big Sky Resort’s Montana Jack on Friday, Jan. 27.
The band set the tone for the night in Jackson by opening with three new rocking tracks from a yet to be titled album, scheduled for release in May 2017.
The second song, a rollicking tale called “Running Shine,” tells the story of father and son moonshiners that Nelson loosely relates to his own upbringing with father Willie Nelson.
“I’m not ‘running shine,’” he said in an interview before the show, “but I’ve immersed myself in a business that is kind of a family business; it’s kind of a circus, and my dad’s not exactly the most law abiding citizen.”
Not only did Nelson inherit a bit of his father’s rapscallion ways, iconic nasal twang and innate musicality, but also his mastery of showmanship.
Nelson and his band mates, drummer Anthony LoGerfo and bassist Corey McCormick, have no trouble filling the stage with their presence. Whether Nelson is head-banging his shaggy ‘do, picking his guitar with his teeth or doing scissor kick calisthenics with McCormick—somewhat of an athletic feat in scuffed up cowboy boots—they’re as visually engaging as they are audibly.
They’re also attuned to the fact that their audience wants to be taken for a ride, and Nelson and POTR know precisely when to bring it down a notch and insert one of Nelson’s soul-slaying ballads—especially hard-hitting for the ladies in the crowd.
Two such highlights during the Jackson show were the heart-wrenching “Sound of your Memory” and a cover of his father’s “Crazy.” The latter offered a rare chance to see Nelson take a seat at a Steinway piano and perform a duet with captivating show-opener Nicki Bluhm that, with all due respect, put Willie and Emmy Lou Harris’s version to shame.
The evening covered all the bases and hit all the right notes—from a dusty hoe-down, to sultry blues, bare bone jams, good old rock ‘n’ roll, soulful love songs and the perfectly picked and placed cover. On this night it was none other than Paul Simon’s “Graceland” hit, “Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes.”
Shannon McCormick, programming director for Jackson’s Center for the Arts, has been booking Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real for nearly a decade, and had no doubt the band would generate a sold out show.
“Every once in a while, it’s great to have a band come in here and punch us in the nose,” McCormick said. “Jackson loves that rootsy rock ‘n’ roll and that’s what Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real delivers.”
McCormick is such a fan that he’s road-tripping from Jackson to Big Sky to catch the Jan. 27 show at Montana Jack.
“That’s how excited I am about these guys,” McCormick said. “Get ready for a fun show because here it comes.”
Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real perform at Big Sky Resort’s Montana Jack on Friday, Jan. 27, at 9 p.m. For tickets and more information visit explorebigsky.com.
This show is being co-produced by Outlaw Partners (publisher of EBS) and Big Sky Resort.
[Thank you, Phil Weisman, for sharing this clipping about Farm Aid III.]
September 21, 1987
LINCOLN, Neb. Fleeting remarks and lasting impressions from a full day at Saturday’s Farm Aid.
Most valuable players through out the evening’s part of the program were the members of John Cougar Mellencamp’s red-hot band. After providing hard edge accompaniment for Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane,” they gave John Prine the sort of rough-hewn, roots-rock backing that he’s been missing since he quit working with Chicago’s Famous Potatoes.
The closing set by Mellencamp and band was one of the event’s most rousing. On “Small Town” and “Pink House” the accordion and fiddle of his band’s expanded lineup fit just fine with the rock n’ roll rhythm section. The two-song set, way too short for most of the crowd, provided a taste of what wil likely be one of the fall’s strongest tours.
While Willie Nelson received most of the credit throughout the day, and deservedly so, Mellencamp has also been a driving force behind Farm Aid during its three-year existence. Both Reed and the Crusados thanked him specifically for enlisting their participation.
The most inspired music that was heard by no one at home came courtesy of Neil Young. “Ain’t singing for Pepsi, ain’t singing for coke,” he sang. “Ain’t singing for nobody, it makes me look like a joke. This note’s for you.” While Young slammed corporate sponsorship, the broadcast had cut to another commercial.
David Alvin has the distinction of being the only performer to play each of the three Farm Aids, as part of a completely different band. He was with the Blasters at the first Farm Aid, a member o X at the second and the leader of his own band, the Allnighters at Farm Aid III.
The man who was formerly known as a songwriter and guitarist demonstrated that he had already become a far more confident singer than when he cut “Romen’s Escape,” his recently released debut album as a solo artist. His afternoon set, mixing country ballads and hard-rock ravers, was one of the event’s highlights.
Dennis Hopper, who was raised on a Kansas farm, introduced country singer Lynn Anderson to the crowd as an “easy rider,” who offered to share her bus with other performers who needed a ride to Lincoln.
He later told the TV audience, “Big companies are interested in big profits. Period.” an economic analysis that was sure to endear him to corporate America. “Who would you rather see own America?” he asked.
Events such as this inevitably produce a rash of Bruce Springsteen rumors. The day before the concert, the talk of the town was dominated by eyewitness accounts of Springsteen and Nelson enjoying dinner at a Lincoln country club. It never happened, according to officials at the country club.
photo: Mike Brooks
by: Rachel Williams
You’re marinating in the pre-Willie lobby of the Granada Theater. It’s buzzing with giddy anticipation. Old men, old women, young men and young women beam as they swap autobiographical Willie stories: how many times they’ve seen him live, how far they drove to get here. It hits you over the head that you haven’t seen a group of strangers this united since … actually you can’t remember the last time you saw strangers interact with this much camaraderie. Stifle that single tear you feel forming. Fine tune the ability to control yourself, you sentimental sap. You’ll need it tonight.
If you were able to buy tickets to Willie Nelson’s Tuesday or Wednesday shows at the Granada Theater, you are luckier than the 99 percent of people who desperately wished they could have shelled out $125 a pop for tickets. When they went on sale in November, they sold out immediately. Conspiracy theories began circulating. One had to be either a first degree relative of Willie’s or a unicorn to get into one of these shows.
photo: Mike Brooks
Thanks Phil Weisman, for this.
Pretend I Never Happened (thanks Waylon)
Willie Nelson Picnic at Dripping Springs, Texas
Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame
Oct. 18 Appreciation Concert
Stay All Night
Willie Nelson Homecoming, Abbot, Texas Nov. 4th
by Alex Witchel
February 23, 1995
Most men will tell you Willie Nelson is a hero. With a copy of his 1982 hit “Always on My Mind” and the phone number of a good florist, they can get away with murder. “Girl, I’m sorry I was blind,” indeed.
They learn from a master. Mr. Nelson, who is married to wife No. 4, may be most recognizable for his Pocahontas braids, but it’s those eyes that start the trouble. Even now, at 62, they are perfectly almond shaped, deep brown and, well, just deep. Look into them for too long and you may regret it.
Mr. Nelson’s misfortune in love may beÂ the reason he can wail his songs about heartbreak so well. Not to mention write them. When he went home drunk and passed out cold for the thousandth time, his first wife sewed him into the bedsheets “buck naked,” as he likes to say, and piled his clothes and the kids into the car and left. It makes you wonder whom he really wrote “Crazy” about.
These days, though, Mr. Nelson insists, he’s a cheating heart no more. His newest album, “Healing Hands of Time” (EMI Liberty), is filled with classic love songs, his and other people’s, accompanied by a 63-piece orchestra. But life can be funny for a crooning cowboy. A new album means going on the road to sell it, so he has to sing his love songs to everyone but his wife, Anne Marie, back in Spicewood, Tex., for whom they are meant.
And being on the road again means living on his bus, Honeysuckle Rose II. The previous night, he played Syracuse; this night, in early February, the United States Military Academy.
At 5 P.M. it’s not quite dark outside, but it certainly is dark in the bus. Up front, there are built-in couches along the sides, and thanks to a satellite dish, CNN is on TV. At the back is the door to Mr. Nelson’s bedroom. In the middle is a small kitchen area with a cut watermelon in the sink. Mr. Nelson sits at the table wearing a sweatshirt, sweatpants and thick white socks. Behind him is what he calls the art museum, snapshots of his two youngest sons, Lucas, 6, and Micah, 5, and a drawing with the message “Hi, Dad From Lucas” surrounded by hearts. His hair, reddish-brown and finely sifted with gray, hangs loose down his back. And his face! It is marked with so many creases, hollows and furrows it looks almost geological. He sits quietly, watching, like a cornered animal that can’t decide if he should pounce, flee or purr.
How was Syracuse? “It was cold.”
What did he do today? “Slept till noon.”
Why did he make this new album? “It seemed like the thing to do.”
How’s his back? (He fractured it baling hay as a teen-ager.) “Let me tell you a strange story,” he says, suddenly animated, as if a quarter dropped into his slot. And with the passion of pain he starts his tale of woe and redemption, which culminates in Rolfing.
“My wife recommended it highly,” he says. “I heard it was painful, but I didn’t care. The first of 10 sessions fixed it.” He rests his thick hands on the table. His wedding band looks loose on his finger. That seems right.
It’s hot in here. Navy velvet curtains hang over the windows, and the dark brown paneling and dark carpet seem to soak up light. “It’s kind of like living in a submarine,” Mr. Nelson acknowledges, showing a small smile. “But I’m happy on the bus. Home is where you’re happy. It can be anywhere, out there playing music, wherever I’m at. I refuse to stay where I’m not happy, and if I can’t change it, because of bad vibes or whatever, there’s no reason to stay.”
“A lot of people get tired of the road,” he continues. “But as much as I enjoy being at home with the toys I have there, I still need to leave that and go play music. I have the best of two worlds, though it’s hard to balance them. They’re both fragile. There’s the desire to be where you are plus the desire to go back where you were.”
The phone rings. It’s his eldest daughter, Lana, 41.
“Hey, nothing. What do you know?” Mr. Nelson asks affectionately. “Oh, we’re traveling to the gig. West Point. Yes, the West Point. As opposed to the east point. I don’t know what we’re doing. We’re playing for the folks.”
He speaks so quietly, barely above a whisper, that it’s hard to conjure visions of his legendary temper. Does he still have one? “If I said I didn’t I’d be lying,” he says. “I don’t show it every time. At least I hope I don’t. People say about me, ‘He’s a tough old bird.’ I must be or I wouldn’t be here.”
He says he doesn’t know exactly how many albums he’s made. “Somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 to 100 legitimate albums, but there’s also bootleg.” From which he doesn’t make money, of course.
Money has been a loaded issue for Mr. Nelson since 1990, when the Internal Revenue Service seized his house and all his assets for nonpayment of $16.7 million in taxes. What happened, he says, was that he owed $2 million in taxes, and on advice of his accountants, Price Waterhouse, was told to borrow $12 million to invest in tax shelters so he wouldn’t have to pay the $2 million. The only problem, he says, was that, after the fact, the shelters were disallowed.
But the story has ended happily. He settled out of court with Price Waterhouse and paid back the Government. When his house was auctioned, a group of farmers bought it for him, grateful for the singer’s Farm Aid concerts, which have raised $12 million, so now he has it back. “There’s a lot of good people out there,” Mr. Nelson says simply.
So, why bother touring, especially if his debts are paid? “Well, I don’t know,” he says. “I seem to be happier when I’m working. I tend to get into trouble with too much time on my hands.”
“Like you name it,” he shoots back.
He started working by the age of 5, picking cotton in Abbott, Tex. (When he was a toddler, his mother, a dancer, and his father, a musician, left him and his older sister, Bobbie, who plays keyboards in his band, to be raised by their grandparents.) He played his first professional date at 8, and as an adult sold vacuum cleaners door to door. After working as a disk jockey, he moved in the early 1960’s to Nashville, where he sold his songs and despaired of becoming a singer. The fact that he didn’t sound like anyone else was not an advantage at the time. Now, of course, his idiosyncratic phrasing and nasal twang could be copyrighted.
“I never pretended to have a great voice,” he says. “It works and I can carry a tune. If you have a good song, that’s about all that’s required.”
The new album has lots of good songs. “EMI Liberty, my new record label, said I should do an album of standards. Like ‘Crazy.’ ” He smiles. “I hadn’t been looking at those as standards.”
As a writer, Mr. Nelson has slowed down in recent years, though it’s hard to blame him. He says that between the mid-1950’s and mid-1970’s, he wrote about 2,000 songs.
“I went into the studio last week with my original band and a new songbook of mine,” he says. “We started on the first page, and in two days we did 11 segments. I want to do that with all my songs, the way I hear them and feel them now. People wouldn’t know but one or two of ’em.”
In this, his 54th year of performing, does he worry about the show-biz adage “No one is on top forever”? “That’s not my plan,” he says. “There’s a saying I could never decide was mine or Roger Miller’s. I decided I’d take credit for it: ‘I didn’t come here and I’m not leaving.’ ”
Very wise. Does that wisdom extend to fatherhood? He has had seven children in all, yet he has traveled his entire life, leaving home for vast stretches of time. His eldest son, Billy, who had been treated for alcohol abuse, committed suicide three Christmases ago. Should he have done anything differently?
“Well, you have all those guilts and regrets, but you can run yourself crazy,” he says quietly. “You’re not the same person now you were then, so why take responsibility for something you didn’t do?” When he lifts his eyes, the anguish in his face belies the slickness of the words.
The bus has parked, and he goes inside the Eisenhower Hall Theater for a rehearsal. He starts to sing, and his familiar voice lifts, the cry of an old soul who’s seen more than he’s wanted to. He is completely fallible, which is his charm. A frog prince who’d rather stay a frog.
A few cadets peer at him from the wings, while Larry Gorham, a former Hell’s Angel who is Mr. Nelson’s bodyguard, glares. “Be all that you can be,” he grumbles not-so-under his breath.
“Be nice,” Mr. Nelson calls out.
It’s only 7 P.M. Rehearsal is over, and the show’s not until 8. Mr. Nelson heads toward the bus. What’s he going to do now? He smiles.
“I’m gonna roll me up a big joint and smoke it.” Then he eats a plate of vegetables and settles back with some of the band to watch videos of himself, including one from Howard Stern’s cable-television show, in which he handily wins a joint-rolling contest. Everyone laughs. The feeling is easy, relaxed. You would never know that, a few yards away, 4,400 people are growing restless.
Toward the end of the tape, he goes into his bedroom and comes out with his hair braided (he does it himself). At 8:10 P.M. he walks backstage and picks up his guitar with no noticeable increase in energy. He keeps his world small, parking his living room just outside and walking in here now to play. He could be anywhere. On the other side of the curtain are howls and whoops as the lights go down. One member of the band asks, “Should we open with ‘Anchors Aweigh’?”
When the curtain rises and the flag of Texas unfurls behind them, though, they launch into “Whisky River,” their customary opening number. They’re all so used to each other, they’re like fingers on a hand. They just stand and play, with no videos or special effects.
But when Mr. Nelson launches into “Always on My Mind” the yelling accelerates. “My favorite song!” a man screams from the balcony. As Mr. Nelson sings, his energy is intense. He invests the words with all kinds of feeling, every bit he can muster. When he sings “Give me one more chance to keep you satisfied,”the meaning seems to switch and he’s no longer pleading with a woman but with the audience. He’s not young, he’s not pretty, he doesn’t have a fancy headset or smoke machines. He holds Trigger, his old, beaten guitar with a hole in it, and sings his heart. And it goes, the sound, the feeling, the plea, and hits the cadets and the rest full force, and they scream and holler and clap.
And then he asks, “Everybody doing all right out there?” And they roar, “Yeah,” back at him, and someone tosses a cadet’s hat onto the stage, which he puts on — a real sight with those braids.
And when he says, “Good night, everybody,” and the roar intensifies, they somehow find their way backstage, and they’re lining up outside near the bus, and everywhere he goes there are arms and hands and people shouting, “Willie!”
And he talks to each of them, one at a time, in no particular rush now to climb back on the bus and drive into the night. He’d like to stay awhile.
Willie Nelson’s Love Affair With Weed Made Him An Outlaw And A Country Music Revolutionary
by: Christian Long
Few artists are as readily associated with marijuana as country crooner Willie Nelson. In terms of identifiable pieces of the man, Nelson’s love of weed is right up there with the song “On The Road Again,” his long, braided locks, and his old, beat-up guitar, Trigger. But Nelson’s pro-pot advocacy wasn’t always something he pinned to his sleeve. Instead, his public affair with marijuana came about much like his career in the spotlight: Entirely on his own terms.
When Nelson first started out, the world of country music was drilled down deep into the center of Nashville, Tennessee and mired in tradition. The audience was largely conservative, and as a result, Nelson went along to get along, presenting himself as a buttoned-down Western crooner with a knack for writing songs that had peculiar phrasing, which gave him a signature sound but not a standout look or personality. Eventually, Nelson wouldn’t so much find his niche as make it himself, writing songs that took a new and confident approach to the long-standing traditions of country music. As far as his personal habits, he was a known smoker for many years — and he has the arrest record to prove it — but over time Nelson would become one of the most renowned and outspoken advocates for marijuana legalization.
Here’s a look at how Willie Nelson ended up transforming, not just the sound of country music, but the culture as well.
Even back in Nelson’s crisp white shirt days, he’d always fancied himself a smoker. Growing up in the small town of Abbott, Texas, he told GQ that there was nothing to do there but “f*ck, fight, and throw rocks.” To alleviate the boredom, Nelson took to smoking “anything you could roll up,” which included everything from lawn clippings to tree bark. He first tried pot when he was 11 or 12 while hanging out with his cousin. “He had asthma, and the doctors gave him a cigarette to smoke. An asthma cigarette. And he offered me a puff off it, and I didn’t particularly care for it so I handed it back to him.”
A decade went by before he first tried pot again, this time when starting out as a country singer in the early 1950s. He told Cannabist that he was playing at a club in Fort Worth, Texas, and, like many of us, simply “ran into a guy who smoked pot.” Nelson, already a veteran smoker by then, started to incorporate pot into his routine, but admits that he went a “long time without getting high — for months I would smoke and smoke and I wasn’t getting high, and I couldn’t figure out why.” He eventually blamed the poor state of his lungs for keeping the true bliss of this fresh relationship at bay. Nelson stuck with it, though, and eventually had his eureka moment.
In his 2015 memoir It’s A Long Story, Nelson admits that he dealt with a bit of a stigma as a marijuana user in the clean-cut world of country music, but never opted to quit outright, explaining that he “couldn’t betray marijuana any more than I could betray a family member or lifelong friend.”
Nelson, it turns out, was used to being an outsider. He moved to Nashville in 1960 where he soon got a job as a songwriter and famously penned hits like Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” and Ray Price’s “Night Life.” But while the chord progressions he’d write out on the page would deviate from convention, his style on stage was practically abstract art. He’d sing just off the beat, either a little ahead or a little behind, which proved to be too off-putting to country music fans, most of whom were steeped in decades of tradition.
As the mecca of traditional country music, the Nashville sound was (and is) categorized by slick-sounding productions delivered in a more conventional style. Between his musical leanings and casual marijuana use, Nelson didn’t feel like Nashville was a natural fit and returned to his home state of Texas in 1970. Despite having his song “I’m A Memory” crack the top 30 the following year, Nelson was frustrated to the point that he quit music altogether.
Finding His Voice, His Audience, And His Home
It wasn’t until 1972, when he discovered Austin — at the time, a sleepy college town known for its laid-back attitude and low-key party atmosphere — that he felt right. There, he didn’t feel the creative limitations that Nashville tried to force down his throat and he soon found an audience for his unique brand of country music that was tinged with jazz, blues, and gospel. It was there that he was able to come into his own by putting out some of the most memorable songs of his career; a period that would lay the foundation for the birth of outlaw country.
As Nelson explained to the The Guardian in 2012, he saw Austin as a place to write and perform the songs he wanted to. Finally, he would be able to do it all his own way.
“I saw hippies and rednecks drinking beer together and smoking dope together and having a good time together and I knew it was possible to get all groups of people together — long hair, short hair, no hair — and music would bring them together.”
By 1974, Nelson had his first No. 1 hit with “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain.” He’d also grown out his shaggy hair and beard and kept up his outlaw persona, racking up his first marijuana arrest when he was busted for possession in Dallas — first of many he’d experience over the years.
Nelson’s arrest in Dallas began what would become a very public reputation with marijuana, one that even followed him to the White House back in 1976 when he was invited by then-President Jimmy Carter to thank him for all the work on his campaign. Nelson later revealed that he smoked a joint on the White House roof that night, but for years he remained coy about who he smoked it with. Turns out he’s mostly certain that it was Chip Carter, Jimmy Carter’s middle child.
Sill, marijuana had become far more than a way to collect wild anecdotes, as Nelson has flatly stated that he “would have been dead if it hadn’t been for pot.” He always had a bad temper, something he blames on his red hair, but he explained that drinking always made it worse. “When I was out in the bars drinking and fighting I was a little bit less of a peacemaker than I would be if I’d had a couple hits of a joint and gone and laid down somewhere. I’d have less bumps on my head, that’s for sure.”
While he’ll still take a drink on occasion, Nelson replaced booze with pot, something he’d eventually do with cigarettes after his lung collapsed while he was swimming in Hawaii back in 1981. After he was hospitalized, he knew that he had to quit one or the other, and told NPR in 2012 that he simply “took a pack of Chesterfields and took all the Chesterfields out, rolled up 20 big fat ones and put [them] in there, and I haven’t smoked a cigarette since then.”
Before long, all of Nelson’s vices were replaced with marijuana, writing in his memoir that “unlike booze, it had never made me nasty or violent. Unlike cocaine, it never sped me up or fired up my ego.” He refers to his use of the drug as something that started as a “love affair” and eventually “turned into a long-term marriage.”
Advocacy And Influence
Nelson’s relationship with marijuana has become more than a running gag for the last several years. As an outspoken advocate of its legalization, he became one of the first celebrities to publicly address it.
As Nelson states early on in the above clip from 2010, he saw the legalization of weed as an inevitability, albeit one that would take not only patience but the right combination of circumstances. That same year, nearly a dozen states had already legalized the drug for medicinal use, and with each passing year, more and more states have changed their laws. In 2012, Colorado and Washington both voted to legalize its use recreationally, without a medical prerequisite, which would’ve been unthinkable a few years earlier.
While no one can single-handedly spark up a movement, it’s clear that the cultural acceptance gained by Nelson’s free embrace (despite the occasional legal dustup) had an effect on a burgeoning movement to legalize or at least decriminalize marijuana across the country. One that has turned conservative bastions like Nelson’s home state of Texas into a place where medicinal weed is now legal and there is talk about going even further in the future.
Of course, this isn’t just about the embrace of pot as an artistic or lifestyle choice, it’s about the cold feel of a law pushing down on something it doesn’t understand, despite the proven benefits that range from helping with anxiety to enriching the lives of those suffering from cancer (and that’s to say nothing of the possible economic effect). Even Nelson himself, who is in large part the face of legalization, has admitted for years that he uses marijuana to simply help him deal with stress, and that if more people followed his lead, “It would make us get along better — all over the world.”
As the laws continue to loosen across the country, including full recreational legalization and sentence re-negotiation for marijuana-related crimes in California, Nelson announced his own strain of marijuana earlier this year, named Willie’s Reserve. Bearing the tagline “Indulge with Confidence,” he announced via press release that he’s “smoked enough and wants to give back.” As a longtime environmental advocate, Nelson was “committed to have our crops farmed in an environmentally responsible way; to revitalize small farms and to grow it as clean as possible.”
In years past, the weed he smoked was met with the highest acclaim from fellow musicians like Norah Jones and Toby Keith (who said he couldn’t function after smoking with Nelson and later wrote a song about it). So when Nelson eventually got around to putting his name on a strain of his own, it came as no surprise that it was met with high acclaim from connoisseurs.
Of course, for all the earnestness in his advocacy, Nelson still finds time to poke fun at himself and his 420-friendly persona, showing up in movies like Half Baked and The Dukes of Hazard, and cultivating a close friendship with fellow weed enthusiast, Snoop Dogg. In fact, Nelson and weed have become so inseparable that earlier this year when Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe grabbed a quick photo opp with him on his tour bus, there was weed right there on the table. There was also a general lack of public outcry over the matter, proving that the times have, indeed, changed.
Nelson’s influence is still found all throughout the fringes of country music. Back in the ’70s, he brought along the likes of Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, and Hank Williams Jr. with him into the uncharted territory of outlaw country. Suddenly, the polished arrangements and family-friendly Nashville standards were tossed aside, and each artist brought their own unique voice to the burgeoning genre, deepening the genre while bringing new listeners into the fold.
The resonating influence of outlaw country can still be heard today, from Cross Canadian Ragweed and Reckless Kelly, who bring the same carefree arrangments and good-time spirit to their music that Nelson does. Hank Williams III, whose pro-party anthems bridge the gap between traditional country and hardcore punk, can also count Nelson as an influence. While Nashville’s still alive and well, the longstanding countermovement of bands wanting to explore the whiskey-soaked, smoke-stained side of country music can all be traced back to Nelson as well.
Beyond any creative benefits and assists to the construction of Nelson’s image, the iconic crooner also believes that the drug has a spiritual precedent, readily explaining that “it’s in The Bible,” before citing Ezekiel 34:29, “where Jesus is talking about seeds and he said, ‘I bring you a seed of renown for the miseries of humanity.” But above all that, Nelson believes that “it’s medicine, and it’s already been proven to be medicine. End of story.”
Throughout Nelson’s very public relationship with marijuana, it’s remained a facet of his personality instead of what defines it. A country crooner who’s spent his career redefining the rules as he goes, as the national attitude on weed continues to become more relaxed, Nelson’s been able to incorporate his true feelings for marijuana in a country song, something that would’ve simply been out of the question when he bumped into a stranger at a club in Ft. Worth all those years ago.
by: Amy McCarthy
There are few individuals on this planet capable of inspiring more camaraderie, beer drinking and generally upbeat vibes than Willie Nelson. In his more than 50 years in the music business, the “Red Headed Stranger” has evolved from a Nashville nobody into one of country music’s most iconic figureheads. And if you’ve ever seen him live — once or 10 times — you know exactly why that happened.
On Saturday night (Nov. 12) in Fort Worth, Texas, to celebrate the 35th anniversary of iconic Texas honky-tonk Billy Bob’s, Nelson proved that he is still one of country music’s finest showmen. Before he even took to the stage, thousands of fans packed into the sold-out showroom, angling for a glimpse of their braided-pigtailed hero. In Texas, Nelson is a bona fide legend, the face of country music — and the harbinger of one hell of a good time.
Nelson’s set was the culmination of a weekend of celebratory performances for Billy Bob’s 35th anniversary, and there was really no one better to say “happy birthday” than Nelson. The country legend’s relationship with the world’s largest honky-tonk is well-established: Throughout its years, the venue has hosted Nelson a whopping 53 times; for four years, he hosted his legendary Fourth of July Picnic at Billy Bob’s, before moving it back closer to his ranch in Austin.
Willie & the Family took to the stage unceremoniously at 10:30PM, kicking off the night with a raucous rendition of “Whiskey River.“ At this point in Nelson’s touring career, crowds almost expect that tune to come up first because it sets a tone: As soon as you hear those first few chords, it’s impossible to mistake that you’re in the presence of a man who deserves a great deal of credit for country music’s best tunes.
At 84 years old, Nelson is certainly looking frail. In light of the losses of Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell in the last week alone, you’re almost tempted to snatch him off the stage, wrap him up in bubble wrap and send him back to his home in Maui to rest. But in seeing Nelson play, it’s clear that his vibrancy — and his still-entirely-on-point guitar-picking skills — has not diminished since his start in the early 1960s.
You have to imagine that it’s been a tough year for Nelson: He’s lost a number of his contemporaries, most notably his longtime collaborator and fellow outlaw country legend Merle Haggard. Throughout the night, Nelson used song to pay tribute to his peers and his heroes — Waylon Jennings, “the Hag” and Hank Williams — with tracks like “Jambalaya (on the Bayou),” “Good Hearted Woman” and an impeccably played rendition of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Texas Flood.”
Nelson’s band has always been one of the best in country music, but the Family now boasts plenty of young talent in the form of Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah. They’ve both toured with Neil Young, played in their own bands and released great music in their own right, but being able to hone their skills onstage with dear ol’ Dad has undoubtedly given them quite the leg up. Whether singing harmony on Nelson’s own classics or throwing down a searing guitar solo on “Texas Flood,” it’s clear that both men inherited a whole lot of talent.
In his just-over-an-hour set, Nelson worked his way through all the hits that any casual fan or obsessive would want to hear: “It’s All Going to Pot,” from Django & Jimmie, Nelson’s 2015 collaboration with Haggard, provided some much-needed laughs to an election-weary crowd (press play below to watch a snippet of the performance). Then came “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” which seemed almost a little too prescient; despite the natural levity of that song, it presents a fact that none of us are willing to consider just yet.
As the night drew to an end, Nelson wrapped up his set with a medley of Southern gospel classics that brilliantly weaved together “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” “I’ll Fly Away” and “I Saw the Light,” and there was really no more fitting way to close it all down. The medley itself was brilliantly arranged and a sort of natural joy-inducer, but seeing Nelson and his sons sing it together with their beaming smiles was the real treat.
Once Nelson sang his final notes, he signed posters, bandannas even a skateboard deck for the folks in the first few rows, shaking hands and cementing his status as a true man of the people — and then he walked offstage, as unceremoniously as he came. Judging by the crowd’s immediate outpouring of love as he left, Nelson gave them all a little solace after a tough week of nasty politics, loss and bad news.
Watch Willie Nelson Sing “It’s All Going to Pot”
by Jason Mitchell
TORONTO: He’s clad in his trademark red bandanna, black vest and beat up blue jeans. His beard is almost white now. And in his best running shoes, Willie Nelson still looks a little larger than life on stage.
Once an outlaw, the country version of Jessie James with pigtails, in 1985 the 52-year-old performer is something of a father figure, a keeper of country and westerner’s most cherished traditions.Â Nelson and company’s 3 1/2-hour-show at the CNE Grandstand Monday night, was an on-the-road-again version of the Willie Nelson annual Fourth of July picnic with nothing less than a guided tour through country music history.
Despite some of his recent forays into pop and jazz, this was a vintage country show that’s had a little for everyone, from the grandmas to the bikers. And if it lacked a little in the way of surprises, the smallish CNE Grandstand crowd didn’t seem to mind.
Jessi Colter, Waylon’s Jennings’ diminutive wife, once again had the job of opening the show. George Strait was supposed to do the honors, but the fine folks at immigration apparently had other ideas. And Colter provided equal to the task — displaying a convincing range in moving easily from throaty stomper to pretty ballad. By the time she got the motors revving, she had to turn the stage and the band over to Waylon.
Jennings was something of an enigma. He has always cultivated a brooding, even menacing sort of persona, but Monday night he seemed especially sombee, running through half a dozen songs without stopping or saying as much as hello. Perhaps he was just trying a little too hard to play his role, or perhaps he was just bored. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t until half way through his set, when his wife returned to sing a couple of duets, that Jennings shook off his lethargy and showed some signs of life.
But it took Willie Nelson to bring the whole show together, and he did so effortlessly, offering a pleasant tour through country music history and a pretty generous overview of his own career in the process. In comparison to Jennings’ rather dark tones, Nelson was up form the first note.
While he showed some jazzy flourishes with the guitar, it is still his singing that makes him magic. His stop-start, talk-sing is a uniquely personal style and enables him, in some way, to get to the truth, the essence of any song he chooses to sing. His rendition of Always on My Mind was especially pretty.
Nelson’s musical tour wound its way from a gospelish version of the spiritual Amazing Grace and Fred Rose’s 1945 composition Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain, to Nightlife (a song he wrote in 1959 and sold the rights two years’ later for $150), On the Road Again and Good Hearted Woman. He sang just about every major song he had to offer, and covered all the bases from whoopers to ballads.
It was about as much as any fan could reasonably want, and a good example of why Nelson’s appeal transcends so many of the usual boundaries of country music.
photo: Cambria Harkey
by: Nathan McVay
As Austin returns back to normal following the 15th annual Austin City Limits Festival, we reflect on our favourite performances of the second weekend of the event. The two-weekender festival continues to stand out as one of the best in the world (read our official recap) and while there were many highlights, here are our top five.
#1 Willie Nelson
I am just as surprised as anyone that this was my favorite set of the festival. Country and bluegrass is not necessarily my bag of music. I haven’t spent nearly enough nights at Saloons and country western bars to be able to say that I am a fan of Willie Nelson music but there was something truly special about Willie’s show Sunday evening.
Willie is perhaps Austin’s favorite son and there isn’t a better representative of this town and everything it stands for than Willie Nelson. So the fact he was slated to play the festival’s biggest stage was hugely appropriate and something many people anticipated all weekend. Before the show the festival ran a video package of several of the bands playing the festival thanking Willie for everything he has done. This automatically gave you an idea of the scope of the significance of this show.
At 83 years old, it is an incredible feat that Willie can play one song live, let alone an entire one hour set. But there WIllie was, standing front and center as the only guitarist and strumming and singing like it was back in the 1950s. He hit on so many of his hits like “On The Road Again”, and “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”, and other covers and tributes to his fallen friends.
What made this such an amazing show to be at was realizing the moment and observing the crowd around. Just where I was standing there were kids in their teens singing along with men and women in their 60s and 70s. Looking on the side of the stage, you saw the VIPs and other bands of the festival gathered to take a glimpse of a living legend. Matthew McConaughey, along with his family, stood gleaming and taking pictures the entire show. Members of Mumford and Sons stood watching along with many others. This turned out to be just as seminal and important moment for them as it may have been for Willie himself. This was his home. There were his fans that have supported him for so many decades and there he was at 83, bringing so many people together.
As his show closed, he was joined on stage by probably 40 people including friends, bands and crew members. In this moment it was clear this wasn’t just a concert, it was a celebration of his life and everything he has done. It became clear that this may have meant to him as much as it meant to everyone else. As he wrapped his show, Nelson took several moments to look into the crowd and wave and thank the 100,000 plus in attendance.
The sincerity and the many thanks he was throwing out showed that this meant the world to him as well. Will it be his last time he ever plays ACL? Only time will tell. But for everyone in the crowd and on that stage that Sunday afternoon it was a show they will never forget.
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
by: Brooke Carter
Willie Nelson is an American country singer who is best known for hits Stardust and Red Headed Stranger. One of the most renowned recording artists in the genre, Nelson had an early interest for music and wrote his first song at the age of seven. After joining and singing for a number of bands, he eventually signed a recording deal with Liberty Records during the early 1960’s. Nelson subsequently released his debut album, …And Then I Wrote in 1962. Following the success of his first studio album, he soon secured a contract with RCA Victor and became a part of the Grand Ole Opry in 1965. Throughout his multiple decade-long career, the country singer has recorded over sixty full-length albums and well over a hundred singles!
A veteran and house hold name, Nelson has garnered quite a collection of awards and titles over the years. Since first entering the entertainment industry back in the 60’s, he has received eleven Grammy Awards, seven American Music Awards, nine CMA Awards, five Academy of Country Music Awards, two Music City News Awards, and a couple of others. A distinguished member of the music world, Nelson also had an award instituted in 2012 by the CMA after himself, termed the “Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award”?an award given to those who have attained the greatest level of recognition in country music (it’s also no surprise that Nelson himself was the first recipient!). In 2008, he was also listed as “One of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time” by the Rolling Stone Magazine.
In addition to being a famed musician, Nelson is also an established actor who has dipped quite frequently into acting. He made his television debut in 1978 when he guest starred in the crime series, The Rockford Files. Some of his other acting projects include The Electric Horseman (1979), Coming Out of the Ice (1982), The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James (1986), Once Upon a Texas Train (1988), Adventures in Wonderland (1994), Nash Bridges (1997), The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning (2007), amongst countless others. On top of those appearances, Nelson has also been featured as a musical performer on dozens of American talk shows such as The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (2008), The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson (2010), Jimmy Kimmel Live! (2014)and Late Show with David Letterman (2014), to name a few.
But what has the country legend been up to these last few years? What has he been spending his time on lately? What happened to Willie Nelson? Where is he now in 2016?
Willie Nelson’s Early Life and Gravitation Towards Music
Born on April 29, 1933, in Abbott, Texas, Willie Hugh Nelson is the child of Myrle Marie and Ira Doyle Nelson. Growing up during the Great Depression, Nelson was raised alongside his older sister, Bobbie majorly by his grandparents. As a young boy, he was first exposed to music when his grandmother took him and Bobbie to a small Methodist Church; it was there that be first learnt to appreciate the tunes from the hymn books. Both musicians themselves, his grandparents often encouraged Nelson to pursue and play music; it wasn’t long before he received his first guitar, when he was six years old. Taking quickly to the instrument, Nelson soon wrote and composed his very own song by the time he was seven.
During his teen years, Nelson was involved with a handful of bands including the Bohemian Polka, where he took on the role of being the lead vocalist; together with his bandmates, he toured and performed locally during the late 1940’s. Shortly after graduating from high school, Nelson made the decision to join the Military’s Air Force but was ultimately sent back due to back issues. Upon his return, he went to Baylor University in Waco, Texas before dropping out to chase his dreams of becoming a musician. Wanting to close the distance between himself and the opportunities available in music, he eventually moved to the city of Vancouver in Washington, where he found work as a singer and as a disk jockey at a radio station. After much perseverance, he ultimately secured a major recording contract with Liberty Records in 1962.
Willie Nelson’s Budding Musical Career in the 1960’s
Nelson made his mark in the country music world when he released his debut album, …And Then I Wrote in September 1962. Recorded during August and September of that year, the album featured twelve tracks; six on each side of the disc, all of which were Nelson’s own pieces of work. Although …And Then I Wrote did not chart upon its release, it later gave rise to the singles The Part Where I Cry and Touch Me; the latter would go on to peak at number seven on the Billboard Hot Singles Chart in the US. Warmly received by critics, the single received a four star rating form Allstar and was praised for its “interesting country style sounds” by Billboard.
After signing with a new recording label in 1964, Nelson released his first charting album, Country Willie – His Own Songs in 1965. Produced by Chet Atkins, the album consisted of twelve songs including One Day at a Time, Mr. Record Man, My Own Peculiar Way and several others. Met with greater success compared to his earlier projects, Country Willie – His Own Songs eventually peaked at number fourteen on the US Top Country Albums Chart?making it his first record to chart in the United States. Later that same year, he would also become a member of the Grand Ole Opry.
Throughout the rest of the 60’s, Nelson recorded and released six more full-length albums; of the six, five would go on to chart in the US. Most noteworthy is his fifth studio album, Make Way For Willie Nelson, which peaked at number seven.
Willie Nelson’s Continued Career as a Singer in the Later Years
Following over half a dozen of album releases during the early 1970’s, Nelson got his breakthrough in the country music scene with his album entitled, Red Headed Stranger. Released in in May 1975, the album was also his first produced under Columbia Records. Largely a concept album, the album centred around a fugitive who was on the run after unlawfully killing his wife and lover. Quickly becoming a best-seller, the album topped the Top Country Albums Chart and stayed at the number twenty-eighth position on the Top LPs and Tapes Album for a total of 43 weeks. Given nothing but glowing reviews, Red Headed Stranger was significant in propelling Nelson into celebrity stardom during the 1970’s. Soon spawning two singles, the album has since received 2x Platinum Certification in the US after selling over 2,000,000 copies in the country.
The next year, Nelson released his nineteenth studio album entitled, The Sound in Your Mindin 1976. His second under Columbia Records, the album contained nine songs, all of which were composed by the singer himself. Peaking at the number one position on the Top Country Chart in the US, it later also made its way up to the number forty-eighth position on the Bill board 200. Hailed for its inspiring arrangements and mix of sounds, the album has since sold over one million units in the United States, earning it Platinum status.
After over a decade of making a name for himself, the country singer released his best-selling album to date, Stardust in April 1978. Containing a blend of jazz and pop music sounds, the album was met with immediate positive attention upon its release, charting at the top of the Top Country Albums Chart in the US and at number thirty on the Billboard 200. Named as the “Top Country Album of the Year for 1978”, Stardust later garnered the singer a prestigious Grammy Award for the category of “Best Male Country Vocal Performance” for the track, Georgia on My Mind. Showered with nothing but praises, the album earned over two million dollars for the artist as of 1984 and has also since received 3x Platinum status from the RIAA.
Carrying on with his music career into the 80’s, Nelson released his next bit hit, Always on My Mind in 1982. Dubbed as the “number one country album of 1982”, it stayed at the top of the Top Country Chart for a staggering 22 weeks and also spent a total of 99 weeks on the US Billboard 200 Chart. Internationally, it was also a success in a handful of other countries including Germany, Australia and Canada. A huge sensation, Always on My Mind received much positive feedback from critics and have since been certified 4x Platinum for achieving over 4,000,000 sales.
Over the next decades, Nelson has released over forty albums including Without a Song (1983), City of New Orleans (1984), Across the Borderline (1993), Spirit (1996), Songbird (2006), Heroes (2012), and many, many others; all of which have successfully charted in the US.
What’s Willie Nelson Doing Now in 2016- Recent Updates
In February of this year, Nelson released a new studio album entitled, Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin. Recorded after being honoured with the Gershwin Prize, the album contained eleven tracks including the duets Embraceable You with Sheryl Crow and Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off with fellow musician, Cyndi Lauper. Debuting at the number one position on the Top Jazz Albums Chart, Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin quickly sold over 13,000 copies in the country during the initial week of release; it later climbed to the fortieth position on the billboard 200 Chart.
Not long after the release of the Gershwin album, Nelson released yet another entitled, For The Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price in September 2016. Showcasing twelve countrypolitan and honky tonk tunes, the album was recorded as a means of paying tribute to one of the country’s most legendary musicians, Ray Price, who was also a personal long-time friend of Nelson’s. After its release, the album successfully charted at number five on the US Top Country Albums Chart and at number eighty-four on the Billboard 200.
On top of his work as a recording artist, he has also been busy behind the camera for a variety of different television productions including the documentary, Revolution: The Legacy of the Sixties. Still in the filming stage, the film will explore the western cultural revolution of the 1960’s, according to the primitive summary posted on its IMdb page. Besides this project, Nelson was also involved with The Best Democracy Money Can Buy (which has since been released), Also Starring Austin and Lovey: King of the Roadies?which are both currently in the post-production process. It should be fair to assume that they will be released sometime within the next year.
If you’d like to know more about or stay up to date with the country legend, you can follow him on social media?Willie Nelson is often active on Twitter under his handle, @willienelson. Alternatively, you can also visit his official Facebook page, or visit his website for more of the star’s latest news!
by: Turk Pipkin
A few years ago, when Willie and I were writing our book The Tao of Willie, I felt that many people would be referring back to the book over the coming years to get a fresh dose of Willie’s Baptists/Buddhist outlook on life (“Bootist” as Willie called it). But I’m not sure I realized that I’d be one of those readers, coming back again and again to Willie’s words in our book during my own times of need.
First the concert. Sunday was a beautiful day at Zilker Park. As I looked out from the stage at 75,000 fans and blue skies smiling at me, Matthew McConnaughey came onstage to intro Willie, and the roar from the crowd was the loudest I’ve ever heard at an Austin show, at least until the roar for Willie one minute later. I have no idea how many Willie shows I’ve seen – a couple of hundred or more – and somehow every show still ends up being fresh and amazing in wonderful ways.
Matthew McConnaughey introduces Willie to 70,000 at ACL Fest in Austin
Last night was much more than that. The joy and connections Willie puts out from the stage are always palpable but for his first ACL fest show in years, 83-year-old Willie was in fine voice (as good as I’ve heard in a very long time), in beautiful spirit (practically shining) and playing Trigger like the true rock-n-roll/country/blues/jazz Zen master than he is. Eight (?) years ago at Willie’s last ACL fest appearance, I stood next to the late, great Willie road manager Poodie Locke, and Poodie and I talked about the magic of Willie and how it all comes together when it needs to.
Last night, I thought about Poodie’s spirit floating around that stage, about the spirit and love of Bee Spears and other Willie family band members that have moved on, and I thought how their spirits are part of what makes the ongoing family band so wonderful and strong and full of love. Consider Sister Bobby, still sounding great and looking beautiful at her giant grand piano, despite the fact that she and her little brother Booger Red, aka Willie, have been playing music together for nearly 80 years.
I was particularly taken with Willie’s ACL version of “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground”, and thought of all the people I’ve met for whom this song has great meeting (if you have any biker friends, ask them what Hell’s Angels think the song is about).
“I make it a point not to disagree with any of the interpretations,” said Willie in our little book, “as long as you’re not trying to sell your junk food or your god or your war with my song. It’s not up to me to tell you what my songs mean. The meaning is already in the song. And the song is the meaning.”
Later in the book, we came back to “Angels”, a little like how Willie keeps coming back to “On the Road Again” in his concert. Here’s a clip of Willie’s ACL version:
“Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” IS the Tao of Willie,” he wrote (or we wrote, anyway this is all from the book.) “It and a whole bunch of other songs I’ve written are the reflection of what I’ve learned on a really great ride on the merry go round called Earth.”
I felt blessed to experience the ACL show from the sound board, with a great view and surrounded by a huge audience that was soaking up the love, and I was moved to tears as I watched how Willie soaked it all in.
Here’s another passage from our little book, in Willie’s voice, as is the entire book except for my short introduction.
“Sometimes in my concerts, I find that I’ve slipped outside of myself to the same place that I find in meditation. Like the audience, I can see myself on stage. I can see my band behind me and all around me. I can see Poodie and David Anderson in the wings, and Budrocks and Bobby Lemmons, Josh the sound guy on the light and sound boards. All of us are connected to each other and to the audience, and whether we’re all caught up in “Angel Flying to Close to the Ground, or just rocking through “Whiskey River” for the third time of the night, that’s the kind of moment that keeps me coming back on the road again and again. In that moment, I see myself, my family band, and the audience — all of us are a part of one joyful whole.
It’s like the eye of a hurricane, I’m connected to everything.”
Towards the end of his set, I saw Willie pause a little longer than usual between songs and watched him look from face to face in the front rows then lift his gaze up and up to the crowd that seemed to stretch all the way to the sun setting in the beautiful hills he calls home. There was a long history of music and musicians in Austin before Willie, but much of what is great about this city’s love of music and film and arts flows stems from forty-plus years ago when Willie decided he didn’t want to be what Nashville wanted him to be, he wanted to come home to Texas and be himself.
Looking out at the crowd at Zilker, Willie didn’t seem to want to end his set at all. If Mumford and Sons hadn’t been coming up later, he might still be playing.
“I didn’t come here,” Willie is fond of saying, “And I ain’t leaving.”
I’ve known Willie for much of the time he’s been in Austin. In the 70s, I was fortunate to be his opening act on Auditorium Shores not far from Zilker Park, and Christy was a producer at the 1990 Willie picnic in Zilker Park, one of those 105 degree marathon concert days when you wish you were dead and thank God that you’re alive to see it all. We made some movies together and played a lot of golf and poker, all times that I loved and still love, but what I cherish most is the way Willie helped open my heart to the world, and how Willie (and Annie who is a great, and tireless rock of support and inspiration as well) enabled Christy and I to do more with our lives by believing in us and supporting out idea that individuals and couples who want to change the world and are willing to work for their vision can have great impact. There are countless others out there like Christy and me.
If nothing else, Willie helps us know who we are.
So once more from The Tao of Willie, this time from end of the book, Willie’s words again, taken from my journals and scraps of paper where I had noted things Willie said to me over the years.
“Since we know so little of the whole, it’s all the more important to know yourself. That brings us to the last question, the question that will best start your day, possibly every day, of your life.
The question is, “Who am I?”
Within the answer to that question is the thing we call happiness.
As for myself, I am just a troubadour going down the road, learning my lessons in this life so I will know better next time. I believe the lessons are out there waiting to be found, and waiting inside me to be found as well.
As the miles and miles of miles and miles roll by, I try to listen to the voice inside me as it offers advice, tells tales and whispers the melody to what will be my next song.
Depending on the time of day, and what’s been bouncing around in my life, those voices may not always be in my best interest. If an inner voice says, “Tell Gator to stop the bus on the next overpass so I can determine whether I can fly or not,” then I’ll probably have a cup of coffee and choose to listen to some other voice.
I like it when the other voice reminds me that I am the luckiest man on earth, that I am surrounded by a very large family of people I love and whom I love, and that as long as my body and this bus will carry me, I can step on stage and lift my heart in song that will carry me and my audience through the worst that life has to offer.
Knowing this may not spare me from the sorrows of life and the troubles of the world, but together — myself, my family and my friends and fans — we use that common song in our hearts to carry on.
In the end, all of us are just angels flying close to the ground.
Returning to the words of Kahil Gibran that I first read so many years ago, I am reminded that in our quest to return to God, each of us, in our heart, carries a map to that quest, a map that is made of love.
Love is what I live on. Love is what keeps me going.
So all I can say to you is what I’ve said to myself a thousand times.
“Open your heart, Willie, and give love a try. You’ll be amazed at what happens.”
So far, it’s worked pretty well.”
Thank you Willie. In this crazy election year, I think we could all use a little move love. And a lot more people voting.