The following is an excerpt from my book "Playin' on the Tracks" Have fun remembering with me!
I don’t know about you, but I love a good picnic. Growing up, my family enjoyed these outdoor feasts on a regular basis. However, when I arrived in Texas for Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July event, I knew it wasn’t exactly going to be a Yogi Bear and Boo Boo with their pic-a-nic baskets kind of day.
We were a few months into that first year of the “Outlaw” tour, and the shine was still shiny. I was in one of the hottest bands in the country, singing for thousands of people every night, and now we were going to be sharing the bill with some of my favorite artists.
Waylon and the rest of the band were pumped and prepared. Pumped because they were looking forward to hangin’ out with old friends and doing music; prepared because they’d been to this dance before and knew it would most likely turn into a marathon. Most of the time Waylon insisted on Willie closing. He knew his friend’s penchant for losing track of time while on stage and preferred rather to get on, get off, get on the bus, and get to the next town. Pacing one’s self was an art form born out of experience, and extremely necessary if you planned to stay on your feet. You had to go with the flow, which is easier to do when your vice is of a slower nature. If you’re on the other end of the spectrum, it becomes a bit more challenging.
I spent extra time getting myself all dolled-up for the big concert. I had bought a brand new pair of cloth wedge shoes that laced up my leg kind of sexy-like. I wanted to look good, and I was giving it my best shot. This was going to be one of the most exciting career moments so far. I was ready to embrace the moment and the opportunity to make a little history. Boy, was I green.
The leave time for the buses must have been set back at least four or five times before we headed out to the country to have ourselves a big time. I’d never seen anything quite like that before. There was an ocean of people. Everywhere you looked there were drunk, high, sunburned bodies dancing and giving themselves over to the music. As cool as the perception of it all was, I was glad I was on our bus headed for the backstage area. However, backstage had its own brand of crazy, and my capacity for integration into these kinds of rock-n-roll festivals was about to be expanded.
I believe it was late afternoon by the time we arrived. We were like children jumping off the bus at summer camp. We walked from bus to bus soaking in the music of our friends, not wandering off too far because we might be up next and had to stay ready. This held its own unique set of obstacles. We all needed to stay straight enough to do the show but loose enough to enjoy the moment.
Our individual methods seemed to work for a while, but after several hours of preparing to take the stage and then having someone else go on, our fun wasn’t so fun anymore. It kind of felt like being strapped to some wicked carnival teeter-totter that wouldn’t let us off: up and down, up and down.
In the wee hours of the morning, after multiple rain delays had caused a serious setback in the artist line-up, the hurry-up-and-wait routine came to a halt. Waylon drew a line in the red Texas mud and insisted that we either go on next or we were goin’ to the house. They’d been holding us off because they wanted to keep their biggest acts until the end. There was an estimated 80,000 fans out front waiting for us, and all hell was going to break loose if we left. Waylon won and once again we suited up to do our show.
Leon Russell was on stage, rockin’ it with his big white grand piano under the cover of a huge tarp, when the rain decided to make another appearance. This was no slight drizzle either. It came down in “everything’s big in Texas” size buckets. He was completely wrapped up in the music and unaware of the seriousness of the storm. Just as ol’ Leon was puttin’ it all together and bringin’ it home, that big stage tarp gave way to the weight of the water that had been accumulating for a few days and dumped a lake full right in the middle of his beautiful piano.
Miraculously, no one was electrocuted, but that pretty much ended the picnic. We all went back to the hotel like “gutted snowbirds” as Waylon used to say, having never played or sung a note. That was my first Willie picnic.