Willie Nelson performs at George McGovern Rally

Willie Nelson, performing at a benefit rally for presidential candidate George McGovern, in Zilker Park, in Austin, in June, 1972.

“A young Arkansas Democrat named Bill Clinton was in charge of organizing events for McGovern in Texas, and the idea of a fundraising concert in the park was pure Austin.  Many local bands performed earlier in the day, including Greezy Wheels, Conqueroo, Storm, with a young Jimmy Vaughn, Lea Ann & the Bizarros and others, along with a weary but committed Phil Ochs. 

But near the end of the show, Nelson came onstage with only bassist Bee Spears, drummer Paul English, and Greezy Wheels’ fiddler Mary Eagan behind him and started his set with “Crazy.”  Then, “Hello Walls.”  Then “Me and Paul.”  And then “Night Life.’  For the first song or two, the audience wasn’t quite sure what to make of the country singer.  After all, this was a rock ‘n roll show, and the audience was 80 percent long haired hppies, with the other 20 percent died-in-the-wool Democrats doing their damnedest to try and stave off an impending Richard Nixon landslide.  It didn’t take long for all the listeners there to get into the simple and serious country music they were hearing, and completely give themselves over to the singer in the black cowboy hat.  As for Nelson himelf, his open and trusting eyes made it clear that he was also discoverying that a brand-new audience was just waiting for his style of country music to come in and turn these Austinites right on their ear.

That day in the park was ground zero for the bag bang theory of what came to be called, for better or worse, “redneck rock,” where the counterculture rock crowd discovered how soulful a fit one of country music’s all-time greats was for them, and vice versa.  The plate was prepared for Nelson to take that vibration all around the United states and beyond.”

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Willie Nelson
The COmplete Atlantic Sessions

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