Thursday night Willie 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. The brilliant Mickey Rapheal, made the harp sound like a sax one minute and a clarinet the next as Willie's 80-year-old fingers nimbly 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 a neck thick enough he might consider applying for a job on Willie's security team. He stands up between every song and screams,
"I love you Willie!"
We all love Willie. 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 pushing 50 -- who dances in the aisle doing hippie-hippie dippy dancing. You know the kind of gal I mean. The one girl at every concert you've ever been to who can't seem to 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 sexy moves.
For me, Willie Nelson's extensive songbook cuts across 40 years of memory. Back to the days when I was touring as a performer when I navigated back roads through pouring rain and hair pin turns on my way to some gig in obscurity. Willie and the Highwaymen sang on the tape deck. The Willie 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 eyeing 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 toward Massey Hall 40 years later. Precious memories over-flooded my soul last Thursday making me 15 and 55 at the same time. Willie's music is the collective psyche and when he passes his songs will be heard in the night sky.
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