Not too many hands went up when Hadley Barrett asked who was here for their first rodeo, but I think folks were just being shy, jammed together hip to hip, toe to butt, up and down the aluminum bleachers of Rodeo Austin, all the way over to corner section UU, today’s winners of the Sonic sundae giveaway.
For the animals in the house it was a day of strange intensity, one horse diving head first into the dirt, another tumbling over the exit gate; bulls shaking off riders, barrel racers knocking over barrels. A calf who lay dazed for several awkward seconds after the rope came off its neck. Only a couple of sheep took it easy as if to insist that Sunday is a day of rest.
But it was Willie’s day to work, nevertheless, and the crowd was gathered for a homecoming.
Drummer Paul English was early to the set, taking his seat in the center of the round portable stage, waiting awhile for things to get started, then climbing down from his seat to check his iphone, maybe texting something like “hey, y’all comin?”
But the arrangements were more complicated than usual. There were two sections of seating at dirt level, which had to be set up with camping chairs, and a steel barricade to set the distance for a couple dozen stander-uppers. And since it’s a Willie homecoming, who knows how many friends and family were gypsying along to hang out around the insider section of dirt between the stage and the bucking gates.
So time flowed, but not too quickly, and soon enough everyone was on their feet to cheer Willie up the portable stairs to the portable stage where he took the front-man position next to son Lukas and the coolest looking guitar player you ever saw, a mystery man in black suit, dark glasses, and oversized hat who turned out to be flocking Johnny Depp.
Whiskey River warmed it up the way you handle a glass that’s just been served. You look into it, swirl it around, sniff it a little, and then you raise it to your lips. When Willie leads the band with Trigger, it’s like a double presence, the guitar having its quite independent interpretation of how things should sound.
Willie’s moment I thought was “Always on My Mind.” He and Trigger dug a blues groove together that made you feel deeply.
Used to be times when Willie would pick up an electric guitar for a song or two, but with Lukas standing there, he deferred to his son’s cover of “Raining Down in Texas.” And in the middle of that song there was a really cool guitar trio going on between Lukas, Johnny, and Willie. It would be nice to see that on youtube or hear an mp3. I hope they find a way.
Also a sweet duet with Lily Meola, reprising a duet she recorded with Willie, “Will You Remember Mine.” Let’s remember that one, too.
So many sing-alongs for the fans. Beer for my horses. Don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys. In love with a good timing man. May the circle be unbroken. I’ll fly away.
And finally a new sing-along. Roll me up and smoke me when I die. Willie’s got this corkscrew thing he does with his pointing finger. Smoke curling up to heaven.
Well, we usually like to hang out after the show and let the traffic beat us home, but today we’d had enough butt kicking from the big folks sitting behind us. We had to get out the door quick, just to keep the right memories in all the right places and let the wrong memories go.
Greg Moses writes about peace and Texas, but not always at the same time. He is author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. His writings are archived at gregmoses.net and he can be reached at email@example.com