By Joel Francis
I’d love to discuss tonight’s Willie Nelson concert, but what I really want to tell you about is the crowd at the Willie Nelson show. You see, the good folks in Marshall, Mo. decided to host Willie and throw a concert in their city park. Now normally when a park contains a large hill, as the Indian Foothills Park does, one would place the stage at the bottom of the hill. Not the folks in Marshall, no sir. They put that stage right in the middle of the hill and made all of us watch it at a 15 degree angle.
Knowing what I do about angles and intoxication, I knew I would be in for some laughs, but I had no idea how big. The fun started before the show when the two white trash couples decided to punctuate their beers with some weed. The foursome passed a very small roach around for about 20 minutes before a Gatorade bottle was produced, which contained, I am very sure, not Gatorade. After a few swigs of whatever magic potion this bottle contained everyone seemed to be feeling a lot better. Coincidentally this is when Willie took the stage. So as the man in the Alan Jackson t-shirt put down the not-Gatorade and proceeded to line dance to the opening strains of “Whiskey River” he drew the ire of the crowd behind him. They needn’t of worried; it was the only time he was on his feet for the rest of the night.
You see, there was something in this wonderful concoction of weed and magic juice that when combined with the aforementioned 15 degree slope made it impossible to maintain a center of gravity. Not that our inebriated, high friend didn’t try. After tumbling too the ground he’d gingerly right himself by clinging to the lighting scaffolding. He’d tepidly place himself in his camping chair, but damn if that slope didn’t get him every time. Why if he could stay in that chair for more than 30 seconds without tumbling out and hitting his head on his scaffolding his wife was impressed.
The recumbent wife was not only not impressed – she was a little upset, too. Once, after her husband managed to place himself in his chair – and this was not an easy process for him – she started yelling at him. Expecting praise for completing such a difficult task, he started yelling back. Eventually the yelling got so intense that her chair toppled onto his, knocking both of them clean onto the ground. The Three Stooges would have been proud. Charlie Chaplain would have sued.
After much of the falling-down-bracing-on-the-scaffolding-sitting-in-the-chair-falling-down shenanigans (and they didn’t always happen in this order), the man decided all might be better if he just laid down for the remainder of the evening. This is pretty much what he did, except when the pesky police got involved. It seemed they didn’t believe a man could just lie unconscious of his own volution at a Willie Nelson concert. After shining a light in his eyes and lightly slapping his face, the boys in blue decided the best course of action would be to place him safely in his chair. I was silently praying they would, because I knew he would inevitably topple out and likely hit his head. Willie was churning through the hits – “Crazy,” “Night Life,” “Always on My Mind,” “All of Me” – but there was no way he could compete with this.
Of course as we all expected, the man in the Alan Jackson t-shirt promptly tumbled to the ground, nearly taking an officer with him. I would have felt guilty at laughing at all this had I not witnessed these people gleefully bringing themselves to this state. Using his classic deductive police logic, one of the officers inquired of the other white trash couple if they may have any idea what could have happened to this stupefied stranger. Despite supplying the marijuana and not-Gatorade, they had no ideas. Unfortunately they also had no balance. As the shirtless, white trash supplier leaned in to spill his guts to the officer (the guilty are very willing to be helpful, up until the point they know they have implicated themselves), he started to fall, nearly taking yet another officer with him. Luckily our public servant remained upright, but the man did not fare so well, falling not only down, but over the milk crate that was doubling as his seat. Our topless sage wisely decided this was the safest position for him and remained doubled over the crate for the duration of the evening. Meanwhile, the unconscious blot was left upright in his chair by the police, who decided since he couldn’t hurt anyone, let alone move, they would leave him be. On cue, once their backs were turned, the man rolled out of the chair and sprawled on the ground leaving passers-by to fend for themselves to maneuver around his carcass.
You might think this would be the end. You might think that, but you would be wrong. You see, there were a couple thousand people at this concert, hundreds of gallons of alcohol consumed and still that pesky 15 degree incline.
A few yards past all this excitement, a woman in her late 50s was gleefully imbibing and dancing to the strains of “Seven Spanish Angels,” and “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” that were now filling the air. To say this woman was of generous girth would be an understatement, but this did not prevent her from flailing around like Greta Garbo. Fortunately this also did not prevent gravity from taking her on several sideways caterwauls. After several near-falls, the plump peasant managed to rapidly meet the earth, taking her husband with her. I only wish I could have seen it with both eyes, for my gaze was fixed up Sir Willie performing “Always on My Mind,” “On the Road Again” or some obscure number, and I only caught the tumble peripherally. My concert compatriot, Alan, though, saw the whole thing, the lucky so-and-so.
After that, my fantasy became that some poor bastard would stumble over the unconscious guy and be clumsily propelled into the fat woman, whereupon the two of them would topple over and take down a whole crowd. Think of it as human bowling.
It never happened, though. Last I saw them, the woman had – with the help of many friends – tepidly placed herself in a camping chair (it appeared to be more sturdy and did not spill its contents, unfortunately). The wife of the senseless man suddenly reappeared (she was gone for quite a while and I didn’t think to ask her what had taken so long), and loving place his head in her lap and gently ran her fingers through his hair as she spoke to him softly. I couldn’t make out what she was saying, but she was probably reminisce about the times they had growing up together and what bears mom and dad could be.
Prior to this, the most fun I had experienced with a concert crowd was when we went to the Foo Fighters/Red Hot Chili Peppers show at Blandstone. It was just a couple days after Ozzfest had been through town and the turf back on the lawn was pretty torn up so to save the ground, the crew laid down mesh tarps. Unfortunately they got kicked up, revealing the slick underside, wet with the ground’s moisture. Understandably, no one wanted to stand on this slippery surface so it created what appeared to be a path in the swarm of people on the lawn. Many a sap unwittingly charged onto this lubricated runway, only to have their feet and head exchange places. I nearly fell down myself laughing at these poor souls.
That night had nothing on this, though. Why for the modest price of $25, I not only got two hours of Willie’s serenades, but so much slapstick tomfoolery that Buster Keaton would have blushed. Oh there was a lot more that happened that night – like the music itself, or the time I and a host of others were tricked into believe that we had met Willie himself – but that is another story altogether.