Lucky at the outdoor concert
Willie was in town the other day. He's doing the concert tour for his new album and, wonder of wonders, Austin is on the schedule. Actually, it shouldn't be odd that Austin is on his schedule, since he lives only a few miles away. He has a big ranch somewhere in the area, we hear, and throws big parties out there every summer, we hear. We aren't invited, but we hear. That's okay; we're not really Texans yet.
So Ms. T. hears that Willie is doing this concert next Sunday, do we want to go? Sure, why not. Willie is unfortunately past the peak of his powers as a performer, but still we should see him at least this once before he heads to that last roundup. Well Sunday comes and the rain is a-pourin' down, and this concert is outdoors. The producers delay the event for a day, and fortunately the band's schedule allows it.
So Monday evening, we hie down south and west a bit to the concert. Another guy and I go down straight from work. The ladies have gone separately. We take his red pickup, because, well, it seems more appropriate to the event than my white Pontiac Bonneville sedan. Parking, over in the south forty, is free. Downright accommodating. The venue is The Backyard, a bbq restaurant of some note out in Bee Caves, TX. Sounds like the sticks, but it's only ten-ish miles from Austin. There are a couple wood balconies and patios off the back of the restaurant overlooking the actual back yard. This is an area about seventy yards wide and maybe half as deep, sloping down away from the restaurant, both for drainage and for an improved view of the stage at the bottom of the slope. Big Woodstock-like stage with speakers mounted on the scaffolding up the sides and across the top forming a proscenium of metal pipes arranged in triangles.
On the ground, which is surprisingly and pleasantly dry after the torrents of the previous evening, are about two thousand metal folding chairs, roped together in groups of four with plastic cable ties. Even if you're not in the electronics biz, you see these things all the time on the Fox cop shows or on the news where the police and military use them instead of handcuffs. Well, here they're the modern Texas equivalent of the lasso, keep those pesky chairs from running off in all directions. Since the seating is reserved, and row and chair numbers taped on the backs of the chairs, this makes a lot of sense actually.
No food or drink can enter this place, not even water. Confiscated at the door. They sell everything inside and want to make a profit. No at all unreasonable, given the modest price of the tickets for the show. Oddly, we found out later that nothing can leave there, either. Since they sell alcohol (beer) on the premises, no container can leave the place, not even water. Confiscated at the exit. Like most Americans today, we can't drive anywhere without a bottle of water in the car, so it seemed a real waste to have to throw away a perfectly good half-bottle.
The food is not, regrettably, their full line of bbq, which is rumored to be pretty good. We haven't been there yet for a meal because it just isn't on any road from here to any there that we go to. They have sausage wraps, which are dandy, well cooked and very spicy; and little veggie egg rolls, which are boring; and water and soda and beer. On this delightful spring evening, everyone opts for beer.
The crowd we expected to be like the old, apparently very unfair joke. Q: What is it that has twelve legs and twelve teeth? A: The front row at a Willie Nelson concert. Not like that at all. Yes there were some oldies, but pretty clean. There was, particularly, a group of senior citizen ladies over in a section of special seats. All sixty-five plus, big hair, jeans and T-shirts. The T-shirts said "On the Road Again" and listed a series of cities. We speculate that this is some special fan club that follows the tour, a cavalcade of RVs, big-haired ex-truckers at the wheel, snaking down the highway at seventy miles an hour trailing Willie's bus to the next one-night stand.
The rest of the crowd is mostly yuppified. Still has some country flavor, though: many jeans, lots of boots, a few hats. Then there is the contingent of UT honeys. The University of Texas at Austin, 31,000 strong, is only ten-fifteen miles away. Many come out to see The Man. As near as I can figure it, the UT bio labs have succeeded in cloning Barbie, and they can now manufacture her in production quantities. Five seven or eight, thin, blonde, boobs, narrow hips and legs, built-in tan; cookie-cutter cheerleaders. Amazing what science has done for us. All accompanied by appropriate frat-boy swains in jeans and boots who drink too much and whoop through the music. There's a particular Yee-Haw! holler that comes out spontaneously now and then. I could never correlate it with any part of the music or lyrics or other aspects of the performance. Just excess alcohol, testosterone, lust for Barbie, and general enthusiasm bubbling over.
The seats were only about a third full when the performance started. By halfway through the concert, it was up to maybe seventy percent full. I'm sure that the concert was sold out, but a lot of people must have been screwed by the change from Sunday to Monday. We wage slaves have to work to pay for these tickets, and some of us may have been coming from other cities where Monday was a real obstacle.
So, out comes Willie, and puts on a helluva show. Two and a half hours with no breaks. Most of the time, one song followed another almost immediately, after only a few seconds. Halfway through the applause for one song, he'd start up the next one. A couple times, he actually took thirty seconds to introduce the other players. Eight backup musicians: his sister on piano, drums, other percussion (bells, chimes, tambourines, and like that) and electric keyboards, another lead guitar (flat top, round hole, semi-classical, like Willie's), yet another guitar (curved top, f-holes, Herb Ellis style), electric bass, harmonica, and trombone. Yes, trombone, and the guy was very good, too. Willie does a lot of blues, and he does it often in the jazz style where everyone gets an eight bar solo, all the way around the band, so we got to hear how good they all were. And they were all good.
He did only a few songs from his new album, The Great Divide. This is not all that odd, in retrospect, because most or all of the songs on the album are duets with other people: Kid Rock, Bonnie Raitt, and others. If that's the album concept and they're not there, then it's hard to do the duets. So he stuck with a lot of his old faves, a lot of blues numbers, some old, old standards, like Stardust, which was terrific by the way. Willie's guitar picking is a lot slower than it was a few years ago. Some old records and the HBO special some years ago in the "unplugged" style, these really show his abilities as a picker. And of course, his voice is not what it once was, either, so he tends to speak the line and then play the melody, but that's okay, too. He's better at seventy-whatever than most guys ever were.
And there's some sort of hat ritual that I haven't heard about before. He changed hats a number of times during the show, and threw the old ones into the audience. Occasionally, someone in the front row would hand him a hat to wear for a while before it, too, got exchanged with the crowd at the edge of the stage. These hats, I assume, are genuine treasures, containing real Willie-sweat, worn in public at a concert. Yee-Haw! For Tom Jones in Vegas, it is reported, they throw panties. For Willie, they throw hats. Go figure.
So we sat there on that beautiful spring evening in the open air, under the stars, grooving and bopping and clapping as that Legend played for us.
Copyright (C) 2000, 2001, 2002, Richard Ball Landau. All rights reserved.