Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Willie Nelson Inrtoduced by... Dan-freaking-Rather?!

The following account is true: It is not "fake but accurate."

Gates at the Gallego Center opened at 6:00 this evening, but I didn't expect that Willie would start playing until after 7:00 PM, so I was in no hurry to wait around. My afternoon nap ended itself at 5:45, so it was about perfect: I brushed my teeth while I nuked some leftover coffee, checked my e-mail while sipping the stale brew, showered, shaved, and was out the door by 6:45. Since I know the Sul Ross campus well, I went in entrance four off of the loop (The most remote side entrance), parked up at the top of the hill by the Fine Arts building, and walked the rest of the way. Beautiful evening with a rising full moon. Probably about 55 degrees.

Down on the floor, I found my seat and checked my watch: 7:10. This guy came on stage at about 7:15 - he was not introduced, or I didn't hear any introduction, anyway - and he started talking about the usual things I would expect at a benefit for a new Public Radio station: How much work it was, how much money it cost, the selfless dedication of the people involved. Yadda, yadda, yadda; blah, blah, blah. I was mostly checking out the chicks and saying "hi" to friends. It struck me as odd that this fellow - who looked like he had just walked out of a Banana Republic with all of his new pseudo-safari duds on - had cultivated an accent just like Dan Rather's. Then I had one of those thunderous ear-ringing rushes as I realized that it was Dan Rather! In Alpine? At Sul Ross State University?! At a Willie Nelson concert?!

Of course, my attention shifted from the skirts to the stage instantly, and I started listening more closely. Syntax? What's syntax? And Bush gets bashed for that? He made a series of amusing plural versus singular blunders that I didn't expect to hear coming from the former anchor of see-BS News. But hey, he was actually quite charming and it was a nice thing he did for Marfa's new radio station. If he had been any other guy performing that function, I would have thought he did fine, and so he did. No axes to grind here, only axes to play.

The only time he really irritated me was when he said, "This radio station will bring the world closer to you, and you closer to the world." Wha?... He really just doesn't get it, does he? I mean, there is this thing called the internet, and even us poor knuckle-dragging cow-pokes (Or guitar-pokes) out here in far west Texas have access to it. And why is "the world" always somewhere else, anyway? We don't qualify as "the world" out here? Humpf. It is no wonder to me that the paleo-media is now just a desiccated exoskeleton of the globe-encircling information-spider that it used to be. How the mighty have fallen... behind. Anyway...


Dan's comments were appropriately brief - thankfully - and Willie hit the stage at... about 7:30, just as I had predicted. About a year ago Willie got quite ill and had to take a doctor-ordered four months off, during which time he wasn't even supposed to speak unnecessarily, so I was a bit worried about how the concert would go. That worry was unnecessary, as worry always is, and Willie was in fine voice and high spirits. He sounded just like he did twenty years ago, and was quite highly animated during the show. Not bad for a man of seventy-three years. Not bad at all. The high part of his range had that plaintiveness we all know and love, but the lows were as solid as a brick shithouse you could crash-test semi tractors against; yet with a rich, velvety quality. I never noticed that in his voice before.

I was sitting - literally - right beside the sound man and his mixer, so I had the best seat in the house. The SPL's weren't to high, and the set was fabulously diverse, as Willie's always are. A bunch of his stuff, of course, but also a series of hat tips to Waylon, Hank Sr. and others, and even a great rendition of Django Reinhardt's Nuages! The sidemen (and woman) were all quite competent, if not exactly awe inspiring, and the set lasted about an hour and a half. Willie said he could only do two encores, so - of course - he did... four.

Willie has gotten to the point - for me anyway - that his performances are so poignant as to give me the occasional case of goose-flesh. I even welled up a few times (Which means less than nothing: I cry watching Lassie and Flipper, for Christ's sake). I sit through countless performances of classical music without ever experiencing any of that. Not surprisingly, some late-career performances by the late Johnny Cash affected me in the same way. Though it's a difficult phenomenon to identify, much less quantify, I know it has everything to do with expressive nuance, and nothing whatsoever to do with pure technical ability (Though technical ability is obviously omnipresent in these cases, it is somehow effortlessly transcended). I once heard Winton Marsalis say, "The ultimate expression of technique isn't velocity, it's nuance" and that's it exactly. Plus, when an artist with the depth of a Willie or Johnny reaches a profound state of maturity, that nuance expresses an understanding of the life-experience that, well, makes the hair follicles on the back of my neck snap to attention (Since I shave my noggin, there's no there there, or "hair there").

All in all, a wonderful experience that I'll remember forever. Especially "On the Road Again," which filled me with an ominous sense of foreboding.

I love "kicker chicks."


Blogger Unknown said...

Yeah, his recording "Stardust" is poignant. Hey, stop by and check out this weeks "Friday Movie Suggestion" feature. I believe you will be familiar with him.

12:08 AM  
Blogger John said...

Nuance, yup. That's the ticket.

Willie is a national treasure.

10:38 PM  
Blogger Cowtown Pattie said...

Yay! I found a Big Bend Blogger! And one that appreciates Willie as much as I do!

I know everyone in Texas must have a Willie Nelson story, but both my husband and I truly do:

My aunt and uncle owned a bar near West, Texas and Willie played there quite often - when he wasn't in jail. My uncle has paid to get Willie's guitar out of hock a couple of times way back in the late '50's.

My husband (my readers know him as Kman) was at an outdoor Willie concert and standing right behind the stage with a friend when some of the local off-duty cops moonlighting as security pushed them up on stage close to Willie with instructions to keep drunks (like Kman and friend were totally sober *grin*) from climbing up, and they were to be sure to escort Willie out to his limo afterward.

'Course, it helps that Kman was 6'3" and nearing 250 pounds. He even had to punch one overeager fan's lights out before Willie made it to the limo that night.

8:59 PM  

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