This summer 2003 I found that Willie Nelson would be playing at Big sky
Montana on my big 55 birthday. My good buddy Oliver English who just
happens to be a brother of Willies drummer for the last fifty some
years said he could get us back stage passes. A group of us left Great
Falls at 6 AM. Three cars in a caravan. Oliver junior had car trouble
just out of town and alas had to turn back after transferring the
doctors lovely daughters to Clides car. We met Paul and Billy English
at a very swank hotel at about 10:00. From there we were invited aboard
the tour bus where we met Bee Speers "Bass" Mickey Raphiel "harmonica"
and Pooty "stage manager". After a short ride we arrived at the stage
where the road crew was already setting up. There we were given
Back on the bus Paul brought in burgers chips etc. and made sure we all
got fed. It sure was a thrill to be waited on by the rich and famous.
There was plenty of southern hospitality and the whole group gave us
the royal treatment. It was a lovely day with a few sprinkles of rain,
The first we had seen in weeks.
I didn't have a camera but stole these from willienelson.com
One unexpected treat was a short performance by Three guys
from three bands behind the stage. The mandolin player with open road,
Jody from willie's band and the steel player from Ray Price's band got
together and started playing blue grass. They did a great job as if
they had worked together for years. A bass fiddle player joined in to
round things out. Shortly after that we were picked up in a van and
taken to a nearby restaurant for a sit down dinner. While we were
eating we were joined by Steve, another of Oliver's students who had
just got there. When we finished it was about show time.
The show started with Open road who did some real
fine blue grass followed by Ray price. When Willie was ready to join
him for a couple of songs and again when he went back to his bus the
security people moved us back behind the yellow rope. Just before the
main event Paul moved us from behind the stage onto the side of the
stage and said they wouldn't bother us there. Just as the band was
coming on Bee,bass guitar, came over to Oliver and said "My hand
hurts. Can you fill in for me?" No doubt he could have as he had broken
him in for Willie some years ago. When Willie came on the crowd went
wild. The yelling whistling etc. was so loud you could hardly hear the
music. The sprinkles turned into a pretty good downpour. While the
paying customers were getting soaked we were high and dry under the
tent. This last picture stolen from Willie's site is very close to the
view we had.
show we got back on the bus to visit a while before the long drive
home. Billy said that this was the second loudest crowd they had ever
played for. To quote "I thought Texans knew how to party loud".Before
we left Billy gave us each a Willie Nelson guitar pick for a souvenir.
It was after 3 AM when we got back to town and brought a memorable day
to a close. And since this was the first birthday in a lot of years
that I didn't get drunk I do remember it.