My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys

“Cowboys like smokey old pool rooms and clear mountain mornings, little warm puppies, and children, and girls of the night. And them that don’t know him won’t like him, and them that do sometimes won’t know how to take him. He ain’t wrong. He’s just different. But his pride won’t let him do things to make you think he’s right.”

Willie Nelson, “Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys”
Heavy Petting took the night off last night, in light of Virginia Belle preparing to move this weekend and myself having a previous engagement. Instead of trivia, I went to the Township Auditorium with my father. For Christmas, I gave him a pair of tickets to see one of his lifelong heroes, Willie Nelson. Originally, I was under the impression that he and Mom would go. But he called me Sunday night and asked me if I wanted to get food before we went to the show, so I guess Mom wasn’t going.
First, let me talk about the Township. If I had it my way, every concert in Columbia would be held here. The acoustics of this place are awesome. There’s not a single seat with a bad view. It’s small enough that crowd interaction is obvious, and that always fires the performer up and leads to a better show. Finally, it’s just an old building that maintains a historic feel. They’re talking about rennovating the place, but I really hope that doesn’t mean modernizing it. The Township is the best damn venue we have in Columbia.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, Willie Nelson. Growing up, I sat between my parents on the front seat of a pick-em-up truck during every road trip. The radio of that truck had each pre-set button (remember the old hard-to-push buttons that makes a Ca-CHUNK sound when you used them?) set to a different country station for each region of the state. It was my job, during these trips, to push these buttons when one station faded out so that we would pick up another. My childhood had a lot of Willie Nelson in it.
The Red-Headed Stranger was the first album I could identify from hearing about three notes of any of the songs, and my father played it around the house a lot, and almost every time he insisted that “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” be played as his funeral/memorial service. (And if I can maintain my composure, I’ll probably be the one to sing it.) My dad, in the 80s, grew his hair out about the same time I did. While I would like to think he was trying to be cool like his son, I’m pretty sure he was emulating Willie.
But I’m here to talk about the concert, aren’t I? I can some it up in one sentence. Willie still has it. He walked onto the stage and the crowd went crazy. He struck the first chord of the night and both my father and me said, “Whiskey River.” The second chord was the same, as was the third, and, sure enough, he broke into “Whiskey River”. As with any show, the sound was off-kilter for the first song, but it was quickly fixed. Even with the too-loud guitar and the too-soft vocals, there was no mistaking the country twang of both. Willie Nelson had taken the stage.
Prior to last night, if I had to rate the Top Five concerts I’ve ever seen, they would be:
5) The Root Doctors – Characters (Remember Characters?)
4) Cowboy Mouth – Three Rivers Music Fest (The first one)
3) Dave Matthews Band – Blockbuster Pavillion (or whatever it’s called now)
2) Nine Inch Nails, The Downward Spiral – Carolina Coliseum
1) An Evening with Godsmack – Township Auditorium
After last night, Willie takes first place. (Sorry, Walter, but you get knocked out of the Top Five by a white redneck.) While the music was good, and he played a TON of old favorites, it’s not the reason this concert becomes number one. I’m going to remember last night until I die because my father had a great time with me.
Every song, he was bobbing his head, clapping, tapping his feet, humming along… I couldn’t look over at him without seeing a smile on his face. That’s what I’m going to remember forever, and that’s why Willie Nelson takes the lead. Thank you, Willie, for bringing that smile to Dad’s face.

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