The Red-Headed Stranger Roll Me Up and Smoke Me Shotgun Willie came a’callin’ — and y’all just sat there
People of Davis, California, we need to have a little chat. It’s time to loosen up. Clearly, you fear your bodies, and what they might do, as if one tapping toe might lead to uncontrollably twerking the person next to you. It’s like you’re doing Irish step-dancing arms from the waist down too.
Case in point: Willie Nelson’s show at the Mondavi Center last week. Those people shrieking and hollering, waving their arms, cheering and singing along — badly and at the top of our lungs? That was us. And some folks in front of us. The rest of you? As that creepy little kid whispered to Bruce Willis, “I see dead people.”
LOTS of dead people.
People! This was Willie Freakin’ Nelson! Right there in your own town! Red-Headed Stranger Roll Me Up and Smoke Me Shotgun Willie! On the road again, and stopping in Davis! And you all just sat there politely, like you were listening to the Respectable Christian Ladies String Symphony performing a 90-minute set of Brahms.
What are they putting in the water down there on Far East Grant Avenue? Valium?
Now, given, the elegant Mondavi Center isn’t the perfect venue for a Willie Nelson and Family concert. In a perfect world, we’d be in an open-air stadium, dancing and singing under the blue sky, everyone’s beer cup would runneth over, and the air would have a certain faint deliciously skunky smell. Nothing but a sea of smiles and good times. Does it get any closer to heaven than that? No. That’s why Willie always sings “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” so lively and bright, like a camp song. If heaven isn’t a never-ending Willie Nelson concert, it should be.
But, meanwhile, until we find out, we’re all still here, we all woke up this morning (many people didn’t), so why not celebrate that fact? Bounce your booty, clap along… sing the lyrics even if you don’t know all the words and you couldn’t hold a tune with a handle on it, because — why not? What is life for, if not to enjoy it? In particular, that very moment, because that’s the only thing you can have any certainty about.
I think Willie was reemphasizing that point when he segued from his cheerful, snappy rendition of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” — and noticed the audience just sitting there — into a few bouncy rounds of “I’ll Fly Away.”
Nothin’. Just crickets. Except for the rowdies in Row U.
Let’s roll it up, roadies — this group’s hopeless. I’ll toss ’em a couple more red bandanas and sign some autographs, and we’ll hit the road.
Davis. You embarrassed me. Stillness and silence isn’t how we receive the greatest country singer/guitarist/songwriter in history. Don’t you people know how to behave at a concert? Were you raised by wolves or something? Come on. I’ve seen more emotion from people ordering sandwiches at the Co-op.
Willie opened with his traditional “Whiskey River,” and the people in at least four seats in Row U were hootin’ and hollerin’, wigglin’ and a-jigglin’. Just below us were two young couples, making a respectable ruckus of their own. As the song ended to thunderous applause (at least Davis folks know how and when to clap, so I suspect you can be taught), one of them turned around and asked me with wide, bewildered eyes, “What’s the matter with these people?”
In unison, we all said, “It’s Davis.”
Turns out, these young folks drove all the way from Rocklin to see Willie play, and were longtime fans (now, that’s all relative, because I have cowboy boots that I wore to my first Willie Nelson concert that are older than all of them), and were accustomed to audiences somewhat livelier than a crowd that’s in a collective medically induced coma.
We all just shrugged, as if to say, “Oh well, they can just sit there — we’re gonna party!” And we did. Yes, we got the familiar sideways glances of annoyance and death wishes, but come on, people! Have you really forgotten how to go to a concert? Moreover, do you think you’ve got plenty of time to whoop it up with Willie? He’s 81 years old, for chrissakes! True, he sounds as good as ever, but at some point, he’s gonna find out if that circle is unbroken, and what will you have to show for yourselves? That you just sat in the chair like zombies on Ambien and didn’t show him any love at all?
Have none of you been on a stage in your entire lives? Do you not understand how wrenching it feels to belt your soul out, and get no response? It’s like singing for cats — they have a short attention span and wander off, and you never get any applause because their tiny, padded paws are bad for clapping. If you’ve never experienced “stage death,” let me enlighten you: It pinches. True, it was only a karaoke stage, but it’s still a crushing blow when you warble your best heart-melting rendition of “Blue Kentucky Girl” and nobody even turns around at the bar.
Don’t make me sing “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails, people. Show me some love now, or trust me, you’ll regret it soon enough, next time I get the microphone.
I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again.
People who’ve heard me sing are clapping wildly right now as a preventative measure.
But this wasn’t me on karaoke night. This was Willie Nelson. Mere clapping’s not enough. Davis, if you’re lucky enough for an encore performance, get with it and liven up a little! Clap along, for starters. Hum some. Tap a toe. And for the love of God, when he does “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” sing along!
You don’t know the words? It’s on iTunes now. You have no excuse. I only hope you have another chance.
(Those of you needing to get up to Willie speed canstart here — Willie and Family Live. Which, by the way, I purchased in Davis, California, at the corner record store – on vinyl, in my boots and cutoffs… way back in 1979. I’ve seen Willie play every decade since.)