"Well I’m wild and I’m mean and I’m creatin’ a scene I’m goin’ crazy.
Well I’m good and I’m bad and I’m happy and I’m sad and I’m lazy.
I’m quiet and I’m loud and I’m gatherin’ a crowd and I like gravy.
About half off the wall but I learned it all in the Navy."
Willie Nelson’s timing couldn’t have been better. At a time when cultures were clashing all over the joint, along came this Texas troubadour with wry humor and love on his mind and before you could say "if you’re feeling salty, I’m your tequila," dog-eared copies of Walt Whitman were turning up in saddlebags.
Willie, of course, didn’t actually beget this cross-pollination of lifestyles — the evolution had been underway for quite some time and a not-small nucleus of "hipster rednecks" with ecumenical tribal leanings large enough to accommodate Dylan and Jimi and Hank and Lefty were already in place. It’s just that he would fertilize the already cultivated artistic topsoil.
His lyrics immediately appealed to rough-shod poets and prophets and pilgrims alike, while his "gut-string" guitar tones with their Grady Martin meets Django Reinhardt sensibility roped-in any holdouts. Back in the very early 1970s, Willie and the horse he rode in on were the "buzz" of Park City’s Main Street cognoscenti .
Ski-bum longhairs used his records as a means of accessing the lexicon of "twang" while their younger home-grown counterparts exploited them as a means to demonstrate to their parents that they were still "country" and hadn’t totally succumbed to the communist drug culture the hippies had brought to town.
Park City’s street scene, by this time, was also in the process of finally recognizing the "art" of Merle Haggard — if not his sociopolitical agenda. And it would be a "Hag" concert down at the old Salt Palace that would first energize Park City’s frothing-at-the-mouth, neo-cowpoke sector.
After herding-up a mess of stray tickets, they chartered a bus. It would pick them up and drop them off and, just in case those particular "high-jinks" that often followed mountain folk around in those days became manifest, bring them back. This approach facilitated what Hemingway might have called a "moveable feast" on the way down the still-evolving interstate to the scene of the crime.
Now, while all these changes were taking place in the social paradigm, a coalescing of forces had been transpiring among Willie and some longtime posse mates. It would become known as the "outlaw movement" and would feature Waylon Jennings, Billy Joe Shaver, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, and many others tired of kowtowing to the Nashville scene.
By the time the album "Wanted — The Outlaws," appeared on local turntables during the summer of 1976, Willie and Waylon were all over the airwaves and, for the most part, household names. As is oftentimes the case, the underground was becoming mainstream.
Waylon had already been playing the Mr. Lucky Club over on Redwood Road and the Terrace Ballroom down on Main Street for a couple of years but Willie had yet to show his musical face. The arrival of the "Outlaw" album, and the tour put together to promote it, would change all that.
When word hit town that the tour would kick-off in Salt Lake City at the Salt Palace, it was greeted with much ballyhoo and whatever organizational skills a herd of somewhat dysfunctional roper-doper rodeo types could bring to bear. Willie and Waylon were coming! Together! Along with Tompall Glaser and Waylon’s wife Jesse Colter who also appeared on the album.
The bar at the Utah Coal and Lumber restaurant became ground zero for what would no doubt be a somewhat larger logistical effort than the Hag show had required. Word spread pronto and aficionados lined-up to sign up and pay up for their seats on the bus — which quickly became two buses — and a place to plop their saddle-sores at the show.
Renegade desperados in search of love and validation are what they were. Two busloads worth! Seventy-five strong! Others traveled by car, foot and thumb. And when they poured out of the bus and gathered up the strays, they had a group-grope, photo op upon the sidewalk in front of the Salt Palace.
Copies of the resultant image appeared within days on post office walls throughout the West. A local wag reporting for a local rag saw the throng as being "the largest collection of outlaws ever assembled in one town with the possible exception of the ‘OK Corral’ incident back in Tombstone or the ’72 Republican Convention in Miami." Such talk!
While the custom concert poster from the wall at the Utah Coal and Lumber bar was being passed around for autographs in dressing rooms backstage, The Park City revelers straggled arm-in-arm to their front-and-center zone of engagement. Over the years, it has been said that, quite possibly, they may have peaked a bit early.
Although Waylon would later come to regret excesses in his lifestyle during this period, he was in most fine voice and full of laughs as he and the Waylors worked the kinks out for the tour. And Willie, well, even though he was last on and his set was cut short due to time constraints, he just smiled and radiated rapture. That concert, which took place almost 30 years ago to the day, became part of Park City’s street scene folklore.
Willie and the band would return to Utah for an outdoor benefit show up at Sundance a couple of years later. As a marketing ploy to reduce parking hassles, they charged something like 10 bucks a vehicle. It, too, became the stuff of legend when 10,000 fans crowded the hillside. They hadn’t counted on haytrucks and flatbeds full of Willie-folk.
And now, when many think we need him most, Willie Nelson is bringing his quite eclectic and Zen-like shtick to the hills of Deer Valley this Miner’s Day evening. Some who bounced along on that back-in-the-day bus will find themselves eagerly trekking the hillside come Monday to once again become a-wash in his half-off-the-wall self. His timing couldn’t be better.
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