Willie in Santa Fe

Santafe.com - September 12, 2011

" Willie Nelson is right up there with Bob Dylan: an icon, a God in the music industry"

This isn’t a great week for Lynn to be leaving town because I will be missing two special events, which I very much wanted to attend. One of them is hosted by Hutton Broadcasting, and the other is the concert of one of my very favorite musicians: Willie Nelson. He will be at the Santa Fe Opera on Saturday, September 17, when I will be taking care of one of my daughters in New York.

One of the most special musical nights of my life was when I dragged my husband, Bruce, to the UFO Conference on the 4th of July in 2004 (yes, I believe in them), and had also gotten tickets for Merle Haggard’s UFO Music Fest, where Willie Nelson was also performing. We arrived, mid-afternoon, in 102-degree heat, to see all kinds of costumed people dressed like aliens, parading the streets and having a good time.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the UFO Conference in Roswell, but it’s very colorful and the museum is pretty interesting. My main reason for going, however, was to see two musical legends, on the same stage, at the Roswell Rodeo Grounds. Not many people really knew that Willie and Merle would be singing in Roswell that night, and when Bruce and I got there, we were able to put our blanket down right in front of the grandstand – not more than two feet away from the performers.

First, Merle Haggard (The Hag), came out to perform with his longtime band ‘The Strangers, which was an enormous treat. Merle sings of the common man and of his hardscrabble life, better than anyone. I have listened to his music forever, and I have never had the opportunity to sit right up in front of a legend – so close that I could actually hear every word that Merle whispered to his group. Both Merle and Willie have those magical voices that just ooze velvet – and carry such strength and truth that you would want to follow them anywhere.

When Willie came out – with his fabulous band, and his arm in a cast from having had surgery for carpel tunnel syndrome. he talked about how he came to participate in the UFO Music Fest, about his love of New Mexico, and about how he really wanted to start out his big tour that summer with a small show in Roswell, just to “start things out right.” There was a fairly small group there that night, andmy nephew Scott told me that he saw Willie a couple of nights later in Dallas, where he had to deal with a crowd of 30,000 Willie worshipers. Boy, did I feel lucky.

The small crowd of cowboys, ranchers, UFO revelers, Roswell citizens, geeks, and lucky visitors such as myself, were in heaven listening to Merle and Willie sing their great, soulful songs. Willie played one set, then another, and then took requests from the audience. Before the concert ended, Merle Haggard and Willie sang several songs together on the stage, and I felt as if I were having some kind of divine experience.

I have been hesitant to see Willie since then -- because I knew that the experience would pale in comparison to that perfect night, on our blanket in the dirt, in Roswell. I did plan to see him at the Opera on Saturday, however, since who knows how long Willie will want to keep driving himself so hard. If you’ve looked at his concert schedule this summer and fall, you’d really question how someone his age could keep going at such a pace. He’s a marvel; but, of course, that’s what he loves.

Willie Nelson is really more than a singer, song-writer, who has written 2,500 songs, most of which are unbelievably good. I have also admired him because he is such an independent thinker, an ‘outlaw’, a person who cares about America.

In 1985, he organized the first Farm Aid Concert, raising money for ailing farmers. He started a biodiesel company called ‘BioWillie’ because he hated our dependence on foreign oil. He is well-known for his stance on the legalization of pot, and he started his “Teapot Party” which, early on, endorsed Gary Johnson for President, but I later heard that the endorsement changed, and I don’t know the story on that one.

Willie Nelson is right up there with Bob Dylan: an icon, a God in the music industry. They don’t make ‘em like Willie Nelson any more, and I sure am sorry that I’ll miss him on Saturday. You folks might be lucky enough to go.