July 2, 2012

Check "Kiss Willie Nelson" off my bucket list!

I can now officially scratch "See Willie Nelson" off my bucket list. But just wait, there's more.

I drove into Austin late yesterday afternoon to see my friend Emily. We kicked off our week of fun by going to see the one and only Willie Nelson. We bought our $60 tickets earlier in the week and just assumed the venue was a huge arena and we'd be far far away from the stage because that price in Lubbock will generally get you the nosebleed seats when Willie comes to town. We put the address to the Riverbend Centre for the Arts in the GPS and headed off. Us little West Texas girls aren't used to all the trees and hills and twisty roads, so when we finally found it and saw Riverbend Christian School I thought we were in the wrong place. We decided to pull in anyway and saw everyone was walking into a church. It being a Sunday evening we just assumed we were in the wrong place entirely.  I finally noticed everyone was holding the same tickets as us so we went on in and I asked an old man if we were in the right place. I felt a little awkward walking into a church and handing someone a Willie Nelson ticket, but then I remembered I was in Austin, not Lubbock and this is probably perfectly normal. He just laughed and said, "it's the church of Willie Nelson tonight!"

Emily and I found our seats and realized the deal we had snagged. We were so close! We plopped down in our pew and waited for church to start. At exactly 7:30 Willie walked out on stage with no fancy light show or introduction and started playing. I instantly recognized his son, Lukas playing guitar next to him, sister Bobbie on the piano and Ray Benson also on guitar. They played the first five or so songs without ever stopping, even when they got a standing ovation, just said thank you and kept playing. Willie finally introduced the rest of the band which was made up of at least seven people playing at a time, and a few standing around. Several of the band members would take turns playing instruments and it just seemed like a big family picking around in the backyard for fun. They were all so laid back and seemed to just go with the flow and do whatever felt right.

They look way farther away in the iPhone pic than they really were.

Lukas sang a few songs and for most of the show he and Willie were both up front singing together or taking turns. They played a mix of old and new ones from Willie's latest album, Heros, including "Cold Cold War" and "My Window Faces the South." I got chills when they did my favorites "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain," "You Were Always on My Mind" and "Crazy." Then you know how happy it made me when he said, "let's play a few for Waylon." He did "Good Hearted Woman" and a few others which were impossible for me to sit still through. The only thing I didn't like about the venue was, being in a church, I felt like I had to sit still and I would much rather have been standing up clapping and dancing the entire time.

[Lukas Nelson]

He also played a few Hank Williams songs. I've never intentionally listened to much Hank but after he started playing I felt like I was at my Aunt Penny's house (who is one of the biggest Willie fans I know) listening to Uncle Larry playing his guitar or old music growing up. Willie had everyone singing along to "Hey, Good Lookin'," "Jambalaya" and "Move It On Over." That was so much fun. Then we all sang "On The Road Again" together and gave a standing ovation.

Of course a Willie concert isn't complete without some gospel music and being in a church made it even better. "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" and "I'll Fly Away" are my two very favorite hymns and he played them together. Then Willie said there is a new gospel tune on his new album... called "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die." Isn't that me most 'Willie' thing you've ever heard? So they played that one right in between the classic hymns and closed out the show with "Amazing Grace." Jamey Johnson also showed up for those last few songs and played the guitar Lukas had played earlier, who was now playing someone elses. The rest of Willie's band and family there stood around singing or just picked up whatever instrument they could find and played.

Every few songs the lights would come down on just Willie and he would just tear up his beat up old guitar. I think it's amazing someone his age who has been playing like that for so long still even has fingers that move, but he does and he does it well. I'd always heard about his guitar playing and seen it in videos, but nothing compares to experiencing it live. He has one of the most recognizable voices and I feel like his music is the same way. Something about the sound of his guitar cannot be mistaken. I think his son Lukas favors him in many ways and I hope he keeps the family tradition going long after Willie is gone. Another son, Micah, played the drums a few times and harmonized a bit, but the real spotlight was on Lukas. Another favorite moment was when Willie asked Lukas to play "that song he wrote about honoring your father and mother." It was a really pretty song and really showed Lukas' strengths. It was truly a family ordeal and even the audience felt like we were a part of it. Several times throughout the show Willie would hand the spotlight over to his little sister on the piano, who I read he claims is the best musician in the family.

When the concert was over, Emily and I were just going to go look at the merch booth and head to a restaurant somewhere. Luckily she was paying attention to the front of the stage and saw that people were heading down there for autographs. She mentioned it to me and I brushed it off thinking those people were crazy, he is not coming out to sign autographs. Emily insisted that he was, and that I had better use my pushing skills to get us one. So we headed down there and I nearly knocked over a few grandmas and a little boy until I was close enough to see that Willie Nelson was, in fact, signing autographs and taking pictures. Who would have thought? That would definitely not have happened in Lubbock, but then again, I'm in a church with Willie Nelson. I'm NOT in Lubbock!

Are you ready for this?

Emily and I kept pushing patiently waiting our turn until we were close enough and Willie stuck out his hand to sign Emily's ticket and I snapped their picture and traded places with her. I handed him my ticket to sign and shook his hand. The only words I could muster up were "I love you!" He said "I love you, too," and kissed me on the cheek. Everyone waiting just gasped and said "awwww" and Emily said "DO IT AGAIN I HAVE TO GET A PICTURE!!!" So this time, I gave him a smooch without a second thought.

[Me and Willie]

[Emily and Willie]

We hopped up and got out before we got trampled by the rest of the crowd. I'm pretty sure we just floated to the car, high on life (or maybe it was a contact high....) and giggled the entire way to the restaurant and all through supper were just in disbelief. At least we have the pictures to prove it! It was by far the best concert experience I've ever had, even if I hadn't gotten to meet the legend that he is, this entire trip was worth it.

Willie's still got it. I don't think I'm alone when I say that I think he's immortal. Maybe it's is "recreational activities," or maybe it's just a miracle but I think he'll still be playing for many more years and I get to see him again someday.


  1. loved reading this! sounds like a very unique Willie experience. I went to his 4th of July Picnic last week and got to see several bands but unfortunately couldn't stay til evening when Willie played. Maybe one day...

    1. How sad! I've always wanted to go to his picnic. He is awesome!