The Night I Didn’t Get to See Willie Nelson

My friend Crady held occasional concerts at his Hill on the Moon venue about three miles back up the road from my house. He typically booked local bands that played for free or cheap or by passing the hat; usually he tried to collect at least a token admission.This one particular night in 1972, it was rumored that a new-in-Austin professional named Willie Nelson would be playing along with the house band Wildfire, who actually lived in the big house up the hill from the stage and concert area. I’d heard the name Willie Nelson before, but I’m embarrassed to admit I thought he was a black R&B singer. I mean, “Willie,” right?

So anyway, parking up at the hill was limited and chancy. A prominent deputy sheriff had a small ranch on the other side of the road, had known Crady since he was a kid, definitely didn’t approve of the shenanigans going on across the road, and caused problems whenever and however he could. The Sheriff’s Department was known to call in a bunch of wreckers and tow away vehicles that weren’t parked completely off the right of way.

That’s one reason I’d only been to a few concerts at the hill. But I wanted to go to this one, a lot of friends would be there, so I decided to ride my horse Honey up there and not have to worry about parking.

Honey was a sweet horse. I usually rode her with just a hackamore and a saddle blanket with a piece of green pickle bucket folded inside to cushion my butt from her spine.

I put a six-pack of Lone Star and some ice in one gunny sack and a small bag of oats for Honey in another, tied their necks together, slung them across her withers, climbed on, and off we went.

There used to be a back way into our place from the road that cut about nearly a mile of pavement off the trip. It’s impassable now, covered in 40-year-old cedar trees. So through the woods to the road, then up the road to Crady’s. I was down to five Lone Stars by the time I got there.

I rode Honey down the ledges into the concert grounds: gray-brown caliche dirt, rocks of all sizes, not a speck of grass. Located my friends, tied Honey with one rein to a medium sized rock so she could move around, and poured her out some oats on a flat rock.

I joined my friends, acquaintances, and other strangers around one of many small campfires and cracked my next longneck. Wildfire was playing on stage and we hung out, doing what people do at rock concerts. Rumor was that Willie was running late but would be there eventually.

The band took a break and some of the members came over to visit. Time passed, the guys returned to the stage, and I discovered I was out of beer. Folks were passing around a bottle of Annie Greensprings Apple Wine and I took a couple of nips to clear my throat. As I took my third swig someone nudged me and said, “you know that’s electric, don’t you?”  I should’ve suspected that, but I hadn’t.

I decided it was time to kick back a bit, just lying there listening to my friends and watching the band.  Didn’t feel any more out of it than I would have otherwise, all things considered. Comfortable.

Folks were saying Willie was on his way. Time passed. Looking at the band, I realized that at some point they’d all turned to 20-foot-high flames, many colors but mostly red and yellow. Probably from the stage lighting. Looking around the concert ground, there was some pretty weird stuff going on, mostly to do with crawling colors.

By that time it was after midnight, out of beer, and the band had turned to flames. Time to go home. Not worth it for a black R&B singer named Willie. I slung on the gunnysacks full of empties and the rest of Honey’s oats, arranged the saddle blanket/pickle bucket on her back, untied the rein and crawled on board. Said “let’s go home, Honey.”

As my trusty steed carried me out (I didn’t have much to do with it), I saw a small motorhome slowly rocking its way down the steep, limestone-ledged, barely passable Jeep trail to the stage. Apparently Willie had finally arrived, but too late, I was going home.

Once Honey got us out of the crowd and moving down the road I tied the reins together and let them hang on her neck, and laid back flat with my head on her rump. I could still hear music from up the road. The stars were interesting. Honey clip-clopped along, I listened to the music and watched the stars. With no moon, the silhouette of the black trees against the starry sky made me feel like I was travelling on an upside-down river.

Eventually we turned off the road on to the shortcut through the woods. Too dark to see my hand in front of my face (I tried). I just let Honey have her head, and she brought me home in the pitch dark without missing a clop. When we got to my house I took off the hackamore and saddle blanket, gave Honey the rest of her oats, and went straight to bed. As I lay there I could still hear music from up the road, and went to sleep to the sound of (presumably) Willie Nelson.

I never did get to see Willie. He turned out to be wildly popular and his concerts got to be too big a deal for introverted me. I don’t really like crowds.

I heard they had to get two wreckers in there the next day to get that motorhome back up the hill.

If you don’t believe me here’s a picture of the horse.




This story is by Lee Webb, a dear friend. I met him in the ’70’s when I lived in Austin, Texas. He still lives on the old homestead that has been in his family for three generations, out West of Austin, which, amazingly, is still a wonderfully peaceful and secluded place. He gave me permission to share his writing; I hope to share more from him with you who read this “blog.”



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