Friday, April 14, 2006

Willie, My Momma, and Me

I love Willie Nelson. My mom loves Willie Nelson. Back when I was a scrawny teenage whippersnapper, we heard that he was going to play at the West Virginia State Fair. We bought tickets.

The day arrived. We drove the multi-hour trip across the state line. We rambled around the fair for the remainder of the hot afternoon. Then the sun went down, and it was show time.

We found our seats high up in the bleachers. The band took the stage. And it was fantastic. I've seen Willie multiple times now, and they were all great, but let me tell you there's nothing like seeing him perform outdoors on a warm night at a state fair in front of several thousand delirious rednecks. The band was going full throttle, giving it their all. Willie sounded great. And the crowd knew the whole schtick. They threw hats and bandanas on stage. He would wear one for a song and then throw it back out into the crowd where they madly clamored for his sweaty castoff. He would put on another and do it all over again, smiling the whole time. He played the fast songs and the slow songs and the medleys. It was beautiful.

After a while, I got kind of jumpy sitting up in our seats and told my mother I was going for a walk. I ambled down the stairs, eventually meandering out on to the ground level and up the aisle. There were people crouched right down at the edge of the stage, mere feet from the man himself. And there was a space. "Hell," I thought. "That's for me."

I ducked in and crouched at his feet. I thought the show had been great before, but it was nothing like seeing it from that vantage point, the sheer visceral excitement of being that close to the band, feeling the music. I stayed, transfixed, for the rest of the show and through the foot-stomping encore. We were all giddy. Willie came down to the far right corner of the stage and shook someone's hand. Then he shook the hand of the next person. And then the next, working his way down, smiling at and shaking the hand of every single person at the stage's edge. Then he got to me, and I shook Willie Nelson's very sweaty hand (and smelled his very pungent B.O.) Damn!

Finally the stage was empty. The crowd started to disperse. I worked my way up to the bleachers. "Mom, it was incredible! I got right down by the stage, and saw everything and I shook his hand. It was so cool! And..." Oh, no. I saw her look of broken-hearted disappointment. Let me repeat. I love Willie Nelson. My mom loves Willie Nelson. How could I have left her like that? Why didn't I bring her with me or go back and get her? Oh, I felt so terrible - deeply, abysmally terrible.

And to this day I still feel a cringing discomfort every time I think of that moment. Someday, Mom, we're going to back and see him, and I'm going to get you to the edge of that stage even if I have to elbow a thousand honky-tonkin' hellions to get you there, and you too are going to shake his hand (and you too are going to smell his pungent B.O.). Then all will be right.


  1. When I spell-checked this post, it didn't recognize "whippersnapper" and, and as an alternative recommended "hyperkinetic." Hmm.

  2. weird. I love that story, by the way.

  3. made me happy until it made me sad...

  4. Sorry, KP. I seem to have a knack for depressing you recently.

  5. Anonymous8:41 PM

    I forgave you a long time ago. But someday we will go to see him together again and I will get to shake his hand!

  6. Aside from loving your's my Willie story.

    Went to the Pedernales Fire Department Fish Fry many years ago to see Adolph Hoffner and his band (a great, ancient Texas Swing legend.)

    As we sat there, eating fried catfish, drinking cold Shiner Bock, and enjoying the very elderly Mr. Hoffner, Willie Nelson's tour bus trundled up the little country road.

    The people at the fish fry all started yelling "Willie!! Willie!!!"

    The bus slowed, then stopped. Willie got out (in a thick cloud of wacky tobbacky), and after telling us Adolph was one of the people who gave him his start, proceeded to jam with Mr. Hoffner.

    Willie was so, er, um, "relaxed" he forgot the words to Blue Eyes Cryin' in the Rain and we all sang it to him as he strummed along.

  7. Anonymous8:39 PM

    Oh! I forgot- someday I will get to shake Willie's hand -and smell his BO-and then truly everthing will be alright.