In 2006, Willie Nelson’s tour bus, which included Willie, was stopped by the law in St. Martin Parish, Louisiana. Police found more than guitars on board. There were 1.5 pounds of marijuana and three pounds of hallucinogenic mushrooms. Nelson, his manager and his sister were all arrested. He would receive six months of probation.
During that time, there was also a nationwide recall of bagged spinach, which was alleged to contain harmful bacteria. Because he was a big name, Nelson was asked for a comment. “It’s a good thing I was carrying a bag of marijuana and not spinach,” he said. “We might all be dead.”
That story brought to mind the time when I saw Nelson in the company of a lawman, also in 2006. It was at the Bacchus Rendezvous. He was the featured performer along with a special guest, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee. The sheriff did not fit stereotypes very well. He was a Chinese-American with a penchant for wearing cowboy hats and who liked, and sang, country music. Though no one seemed to notice the irony, Bacchus delivered something not likely seen before, a sheriff and a proud pot-user performing together, more or less in tune, to a black tie crowd. The dance floor was full.
When Nelson performs, he frequently opens with the song “Whiskey River” a commentary to the hooch that he says might have killed him as a young man had he not been diverted to weed. This past Sunday at the Jazz Fest the river ran dry. Nelson had to cancel because of a COVID-19 presence in his band. That brought to mind another song. In his early days as a straight-cut songwriter, Nelson had a hit called “The Party’s Over”, a lament about a relationship ending. It is a good song with a lively beat that became extra popular in the early days of the ABC Network’s Monday Night Football. One of the color announcers was Don Meredith, a former Dallas Cowboy quarterback who knew a couple of country music tunes. Whenever there was a big play that would put the game out of reach Meredith would sing the refrain, “Turn out the lights, the party’s over, they say that all good things must end.” A whole nation got to know the song best from Meredith’s fragment.
Nevertheless, for Willie Nelson the party has never seemed to be over. He has remained universal in his appeal; liked by conservatives and liberals; ugly people and pretty people; country music fans and non-fans; sheriffs and inhalers.
For the sake of his fan base, we hope his bus is never stopped for COVID. Maybe eating spinach would help.
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