Willie Nelson Art
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Willie Nelson Art
My husband loves Willie Nelson. Since we moved to Austin a few years ago, he’s grown even more fond of the country legend.
Willie is kind of a big deal here in his hometown, with a street named after him, statues around town and his famous July 4th picnic and music festival. You cannot have Willie without thinking of Austin and you certainly can’t think of Austin (famous for its live music and outlaw country) without thinking of Willie.
So when Dan asked me if I’d like to head to the Austin Rodeo and see Willie Nelson and his family perform afterwards, it was a no-brainer. Aside from quilting and teaching pole fitness, I also really enjoy live music and anything with horses.
While we were at the rodeo I got an email from the Austin Modern Quilt Guild that they would be taking submissions for a display at the Austin airport.
Hmmm, maybe I can quilt Willie and combine a few of my favorite things? And so the idea was born.
It wasn’t without difficulty though. It seemed like everything went wrong on this quilt. My sewing machine mysteriously started acting up, and I ended up breaking and entering Stephanie’s house to borrow her spare machine while she was at the hospital with her daughter Sophie (she broke her arm but is doing great now).
I kept a local quilt store open late because I ran out of the perfect shade of Aurifil thread right at closing time the night that the quilt pictures were due.
It was a race to finish before the sun went down to allow for good pictures. All in all, it was the must difficult quilt I’ve made, but it was well worth it.
There were some amazing quilts that were submitted to our guild for the exhibit, and I feel truly honored that my quilt was selected to be in the art display at the Austin Bergstrom International Airport.
It was difficult to connect the wary, but kind, voice on the phone to the Willie Nelson of my youth. In my small Montana town, Willie was a living Western movie. We’d beg our parents for quarters in dusty bars to play songs like “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboyw.” It was just a little funny and a little sad when some of us babies went off to become doctors and lawyers and such.
Similar to the love and mysticism we heap on Willie, we romanticize the hell out of agriculture, too. This isn’t to say they each haven’t earned their mythical reputations: Willie smoked pot on the roof of the White House and created an incredible body of music. Meanwhile, farmers are connected to nature and life and death in ways most of us can barely fathom from inside a cubicle.
But that romanticism only scratches at the surface of U.S. agriculture. In this series, I want to open a dialogue with the mid-size farmers who have largely been left out of the food conversation. If we continue to ignore them, our polarized ag economy will eventually force them to scale up — or off the land entirely.
I was knee-high when I went to a wheat farm auction in Eastern Montana with my farmer grandparents; I remember thinking it was going to be fun and feeling confused by the heavy mood brought on by neighbors buying up their old neighbors’ machinery.
No American farmer over the age of 40 will forget the low prices, high debt, and droughts that shook rural America in the ’80s. “In the 1930s, everyone in America suffered — urban people, the rich banker, the poor farmer. Everybody lost massively. Everybody was living close to survival. And it meant for kind of a national unity,”former Iowa Rep. Jim Leach (R) told PBS. “With the farm crisis in the ’80s, basically it was only the farmer. And this meant the farmer was alone in an island of difficulty. And that is really something that eats at the soul sometimes deeper than being part of a more general phenomenon.”
But Willie insisted on making the farm crisis a national conversation. In 1985, Nelson recognized the dire state of American agriculture, and launched Farm Aid. What was supposed to be a one-off event turned into an annual concert and a nonprofit that’s pumped millions into farm disaster relief, grants for local food groups, ag policy lobbying, factory farm resistance, and more.
To many of us in the middle of the country, Willie wasn’t just the soundtrack to farm auctions — he was out there trying to make the rest of America care.
I asked Willie how a nation bounces back from something like the sorrow of the 1980s. “That’s a tough question,” he replied. A lot of farmers didn’t want to go back after the ugliness of the ‘80s, Willie said. But “the folks who stayed in there and toughed it out, even though they may have lost their farm, they still kept their character and their good name. They had to overcome it. A lot of them have gone back into the farming business.”
Willie, similarly, has seen his share of rough times, and survived with his name intact. The red-headed stranger landed in the mud not long after his farming friends. In the early ’90s, Willie was hit with a multimillion dollar tax debt. He had mistakenly relied on a manager to pay the bills, and he followed that debt up with some bad business decisions. Then, as his estates were being auctioned off, Willie lost his oldest son.
Every cowboy knows that if a horse bucks you off, you’d better get back on. For all of the media accounts that said Willie was disgraced and done, he kept on singing, churning out albums, and releasing autobiographies. Willie dusted off his jeans and stuck a boot in the stirrup. And the fans filled the stadiums to see him.
But meanwhile, the U.S. continued to lose farms. And while the food movement has had real success with galvanizing eaters and reconnecting Americans to what’s on the local, free-range, organic plate, it remains to be seen whether we can truly care about and understand the people and places behind the food.
When I asked Willie who his favorite food writers are, he responded, “I was raised up with farmers and I have a lot of friends who were and are farmers. I think that’s where you go to get advice about what’s going on out there: You go ask a farmer.”
After three decades of farm advocacy work, how do things look to Willie? “There is a lot of organic farming going on these days and it’s helped out the small family farmer. The farm-to-table markets are doing well,” he said. “People have learned to buy locally and sustainably, and it’s turning into a better situation than it was, but it’s not perfect. There are still a lot of farmers out there in trouble.”
Willie has seen some successes in his other passion: legalizing marijuana. “They’ve already found out that it don’t kill you and it don’t make you go crazy and berserk, running around biting yourself,” he said. And now that the business types have seen the money in it, according to Willie, it’s only going to spread.
I asked Willie if he thinks U.S. agriculture as a whole could have a Willie-like rebound and he laughed at the comparison. “Well, that would be wonderful if they did,” he said. “It’d be another miracle.”
This fall, Farm Aid will celebrate its 30th anniversary. “Helping put out the word is about all we can do,” Willie said, adding that the musicians are just “trying to bring people’s attention to an old problem.”
But Willie has always managed to do more than just bring our attention to the problem of vanishing farms. He has also kept that image, however romantic and outdated, of the cowboy on America’s mind.
Willie and his preferred genre are the distillation of old longing we attach to red dirt roads. “Country music is born when the country becomes a nostalgic ideal,” music anthropoligist Aaron Fox explained in a Radiolab segment. The crying steel guitars and vocalizations, Fox said, conjure up memories of migration and feelings of regret.
I listened to a lot of Willie’s music while writing this piece. When his recording of the old classic Red-Headed Stranger came on, my boyfriend turned to me and asked, “Where is Blue Rock, Montana?”
It’s not a real place, I told him, “but it sure sounds nice, doesn’t it?”
So, how do you end an interview with Willie Nelson? I didn’t ask him if he would play at my father’s funeral (glad you’re still kicking, dad!). Instead, I told him a joke. “What’s the difference between beer nuts and deer nuts?” I asked. “Beer nuts are $1.49 and deer nuts are always under a buck.”
Willie gave a good, long, raspy laugh and whatever hurried tension was there dissolved. Who can blame him? It is a pretty good joke, and he’s only human, after all.
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“Peace in the Valley”, with the art of Robert MacDonald
Promised Land Music is re-releasing Willie Nelson Peace in the Value album, originally released in 1994. Visit their website for great photos and more stories about Willie Nelson, and his music.
Dreaming of a Little Cabin
You Can’t Have Your Hate and Jesus Too
My Body’s Just a Suitcase For My Soul
I saw the Light
In God’s Eyes
A Beautiful LIfe
Kneel at the Feet of Jesus
Peace in the Valley.
Willie’s Deep Gospel Roots
Willie’s roots in gospel music go back to his childhood. In fact, his first public performance was delivering a short poem at a Methodist gospel picnic at age four in his home town of Abbott, Texas.
“I don’t ever remember not playing and singing gospel music,” Willie recalls. “My grandparents were music teachers and they were gospel singers. The first music that I heard was gospel music, so it’s not that unusual that I would be so much into it.”
Born in Abbott, Texas, in 1933, Willie was raised in a rich musical setting. Besides learning gospel music from his grandparents, he learned blues from local black farm workers, and pop, country, and jazz on the radio.
Original PEACE IN THE VALLEY
The PEACE IN THE VALLEY album got its start in 1987, as a Billy Nelson project. Billy loved gospel music and wanted to be a gospel singer. He wasn’t aspiring to be a superstar. He just wanted to do his music.
At a gospel music concert that year in Dayton, Ohio, Billy joined his dad on stage for a couple of songs, including Family Bible.
From there, the gospel album evolved slowly. Billy recorded two songs, Family Bible and In God’s Eyes, and Willie became more involved with the project, eventually recording enough songs for three albums.
“I was doing an album with Billy, my son, in Nashville. We didn’t know how it was going to turn out and really what we were going to do with it when we got through, but the guys sounded so great,” he says, of the musicians and singers whose voices are an integral part of the album’s full gospel sound – especially on the a Capella tracks like “Dreaming of A Little Cabin,” “A Beautiful Life,” and the Hank Williams classic “I Saw The Light.”
“I hadn’t heard a group of singers that close to traditional gospel harmony in so many years that I was very impressed and still am very impressed with those guys,” Willie says. “It just turned out so well.”
“Any good song to me is a gospel. ‘Stardust is a gospel tune as far as I’m concerned, and so is Amazing Grace,” he says, “The melody and the words are there and they reach across all the boundaries.”
It was during this time that Mae Axton encountered another Willie Nelson, Willie Nelson, Jr. (Billy). Billy had heard a song she wrote entitled My Body’s Just a Suitcase for My Soul, and fell in love with it. Axton wrote the song after an emotional visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. “I just picked up a pad and started writing. It was almost as quick as Heartbreak Hotel. I just wrote my thoughts.” The song is written from the perspective of a surviving Vietnam veteran. “I didn’t want him to be dead. I wanted someone to live and to cope, and to say something about this.”
Although her initial desire was for Willie to sing the song , Axton was thrilled to hear Billy’s voice bring her words to life. She was in the studio when Billy recorded it, and got emotional when talking about the first video of the song, “Seeing Billy and how beautiful he did it, half talking and half singing, and the scenes that were put with it. It was the vision I had when I wrote it.”
The original music video for My Body’s Just a Suitcase for My Soul is being reedited and updated for a May 2015 release. It features concert footage of Willie and Billy performing together, as well as video shot in the studio of Billy recording the song. The performance and recording video footage is edited with Vietnam War archival footage and other scenes filmed to meaningfully express the song’s deep message.
By 1991, the Family Bible Project (as it was then being called) had grown into a mix of gospel standards and newer songs written by Willie and others – enough songs for nearly three albums. Tragically, Billy died on Christmas Eve 1991.
Seeing the Light
PEACE IN THE VALLEY might have seen the light of day earlier, had the Internal Revenue Service not confiscated most of Willie’s earthly possessions back in 1991 during Willie’s well-known tax troubles.
By the fall of 1992, however, Willie was making amends with the IRS, and they began returning his possessions, among them the Family Bible Project tapes.
Robert MacDonald, Jr., Willie Nelson, Grant Boatwright
In 1993, at Willie’s request, producers Robert MacDonald, Jr. and Grant Boatwright met with Willie in Texas to discuss the potential future of the project. After several more meetings and kicking around various ideas, Promised Land Music was established in Nashville as the label for the album. MacDonald and Boatwright selected 10 songs and began mixing and then mastering the album.
The album was release in 1994 receiving much praise and positive reviews. It also was awarded Gospel Album of The Year by the ICMGA.
My latest: Paula Nelson
Another beautiful painting by Nate Vandenbos. Beautiful! He has painted hundreds of portraits, on plywood. And he doesn’t use a brush!
“He doesn’t use a brush. He paints with his fingers. Each canvas starts with a coat of black paint and VandenBos uses a white pencil to draw the face. “I’ve freed myself from conventional techniques; I use my fingers and rags – not brushes – to apply paint, and I prefer plywood to canvas. I draw inspiration from the emotions I feel when I’m listening to music.” And, he adds, a picture with half the face in shadow can take him about half the time to complete as a full face image. And since he paints every day, producing about 100 portraits a year, quicker can be better. His love for music keeps him motivated. ”
— Interview with Nate VandenBos, with Michalis Limnios
Read more about Nate and his art, and hear the interview with him here:
The Round Rock Express recently announced its 2015 promotional and events calendar, which includes a Willie Nelson bobblehead giveaway, five post-game concerts, Friday night fireworks displays and the team’s second Hall of Fame induction.
The team begins promotions on Opening Day (April 17), with a 2015 schedule magnet giveaway. Other promotions continue throughout Opening Day Weekend, including a post-game concert by Bob Schneider on April 18.
The Express will induct former infielder Morgan Ensberg into the team’s Hall of Fame on Aug. 1. Ensberg played for the Houston Astros after his stint with the Express.
The team will wear special jerseys on several nights, including May 25 (Military Appreciation Night). Jerseys that evening will include the names of members of the military and veterans.
Other promotions include:
- Bark in the Park: April 20
- Star Wars Night: May 1
- Nolan Ryan bobblehead giveaway: May 23
- Willie Nelson bobblehead giveaway: June 18
- Strike Out ALS Night: June 19
- Express Alumni Weekend: July 31-Aug. 2
- Fan Appreciation Night: Sept. 6
– Round Rock Leader staff
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“I had to go with red white and blue when creating this acoustic license plate guitar art to pay tribute to Willie Nelson. He’s an American country singer/song writer who stands up for the little guy. He was born in Texas during the Great Depression, and is best known for his song, On the Road Again.
This one’s for you, Willie.” — Peter Geiger
You can get yours here for $890.00