Thursday night Willi Nelson and I spent the night together. He was on stage and I was in Row 13 at Massey Hall- Actually he brought along the band that included his 82 year-old sister, Bobby Lee whose fingers have been flying up and down the chords of the upright piano for over 65 years. And brilliant Mickey Rapheal made the harp sound like a sax one minute then a clarinet the next. All the while Willi’s 80 year-old fingers plucked flamenco sounds from an ancient acoustic guitar.
From where I sat, I could see the opening act sitting in the wings with their hands underneath their chins, admiring genius.
There was a young buck sitting in front of me, with shoulders wide enough he should be part of Willi’s security team, who stands up between every song and screams,
“I love you Willi.”
We all love Willi. The audience gave him a standing ovation before he even played a note.
People were hooting and hollering so much. If we were all drinking there would be a brawl. It was that kind of night.
There is a younger gal, and in this crowd a younger gal is at least 50, who dances in the aisle doing hippie- hippie dippy dancing. You know who I mean. The one girl at every concert you’ve ever been to who can’t contain herself . The music makes her get up, her legs move in all directions, her hair falls front of her face, head down, lost in her own mind.
For me, Willi Nelson’s extensive songbook cuts across forty years of memory. Back to the days touring as a performer when I navigated back roads through pouring rain and hair pin turns on my way to some gig in obscurity. Willi and the Highwaymen sang on the tape. deck. The Willi and Kris and Waylon and Johnny cassette got worn out.
I remember being at the Beaver Lake pavilion where as a seventeen year old I stood outside the dance hall passing a mickey of lemon gin back and forth while white-haired relatives, men with short-sleeve white shirts and women with tight perms with curls that sat on their heads like snails, glided across the wooden dance floor to Georgia on my Mind.
Minutes later, my crew and I would swagger in pumped up on liquid courage sporting my signature halter top and lip- reader jeans. I pull the cute Toronto boy I’d been eying up to the floor and and let my hair fall in my eyes, and as I do the same kind wild dancing -sing out in full voice in Okie from Muksokie- First, second and once-removed cousins dance beside me in packs –I’m sure that young Scarbrough-ite was impressed by the a tribe of extremely white people stomping out a beat with our clogs .
The whoops and yeehaws of nights like that skip across the lake, with no ripples, toward Massey Hall forty years later. Precious memories over flood my soul making me 15 and 55 at the same time. Will’s music is the collective consciousness and when he passes his songs will fill up the night sky.
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