Gal Holiday and her Honk Tonk Review were performing in the Kids Tent at Jazz Fest when, between songs, she heard the melody from a distant stage. “Sounds like Willie Nelson is singing,” she told the crowd which by that time was thinning for that very reason. “He’s my hero,” she added.

In terms of pipes and beauty Holiday has every advantages over Nelson, but there is something about the old hippie cowboy that draws a crowd.  He is popular with young and old, liberals and conservatives, potheads and fundamentalists, those who like country music and those who despise it. Unlike most performers he does not survive because of his looks, youth or agility on stage, instead he is just a country crooner with a sound unlike anyone else. His rendition of a classic is not necessarily always the best, as when he sang “Bobbie Magee” creating a longing for the Janis Joplin version, but there is a style that is exclusively his.

Nelson could have quit country music back in 1961 and already had achieved immortality as a songwriter by penning “Crazy.” Patsy Cline’s recording of the song is one of the great contributions to American music.

As a singer, Nelson redefined himself by moving to Austin, letting his hair grow long and, along with Waylon Jennings, becoming part of the so called “Outlaw” movement. The term fit, both on and off the stage.

Several years ago there was a nationwide recall of fresh grown spinach, which, it was feared, had been sprayed with a dangerous chemical. During that time Nelson was arrested near Lake Charles by the Calcasieu Parish sheriff’s office when, after a traffic stop, it was discovered that he was carrying a bag of marijuana. Once released Wilson quipped, “It is a good think I wasn’t carrying a bag of spinach instead, I might be dead by now.”

While Wilson ran afoul of one Louisiana Sheriff he had long befriended another one–the late Harry Lee of Jefferson Parish. Lee was better at law enforcement than singing but that did not stop him from the latter. On several occasions when Nelson was in town, including once at the Bacchus ball, the sheriff joined the platinum level recording artist in a duet. Vocally they were okay; visually, the site of the gray haired Nelson with long braids dangling over each shoulder and Lee, the stout Chinese American dressed like a cowboy was a spectacle in itself best witnessed late night after a few glasses of champagne.

Nelson has summed up his enigmatic career long ago. It is just crazy.

Krewe: The Early New Orleans Carnival- Comus to Zulu is available at all area bookstores. Books can also be ordered via E- mail at or (504- 895-2266)