The history we learn is only a matter of opinion. Historical facts always seem to be from the point of view of the writer, and are almost invariably contradictory among themselves.
I have had this story in my head about Willie Nelson for more than 35 years, now, and I can find no information from external sources to back it up. It would appear that Willie himself is probably the least reliable source.... http://ngro_obsrvr.tripod.com/articles/gibbyvswillie.html of all.
On the weekend of Saint Patrick's day in 1972, My parents celebrated their thirty-ninth wedding anniversary, by boarding our four girls while my wife and I went to a three day celebration called the "Dripping Springs Reunion", near Dripping Springs, Texas.
I had, until then, not really been a fan of country music, but who was to say that this was a program of country music? It was music for everybody! There were hippies, rednecks, cowboys, you name it, all gathered on the ground near a Woodstock-like stage.
Among the performers were Roy Acuff, Tex Ritter, Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn, Kris Kristofferson, Tom T Hall, Charley Rich, and a great number of others, including Willie Nelson.
I had a 35mm camera with me, and when Willie Nelson, a person I'd never known about before (although I'd been listening to his songs for years), I was enthralled by his singing. I made my way as best as I could through, over and across about a hundred feet of seated and reclining humanity to get close enough for a photo. The man on the stage was not the Willie we know. This guy was wearing a dark suit, hat, and tie. http://www.last.fm/music/Willie+Nelson/Shotgun+Willie He looked a great deal like the CD cover on Shotgun Willie, except that I don't remember the beard from 1972.
I took two or three shots (film is expensive), and then, after I got home, I set the film aside for awhile, until I could afford to get it developed, and never got that part done. I seem to have mislaid the film, and never saw the photos!
To that festival, Kris Kristofferson had brought Rita Coolidge. Here was the most arrogant, self-centered performer I'd ever seen in my life, acting like a teenage groupie in the presence of the great Rita Coolidge. I cannot blame him for that, I doubt there was a red-blooded human male anywhere who was not in awe of Rita Coolidge, but it did impress me the way he seemed to get all gushy about her. Kris is not a person who even half way tries to make a good impression with the average fan. In 1973, Kris and Rita were married, and remained that way for about six years.
There are varying dates given about when Willie moved to Austin. Some sources say as early as 1965, and then others say 1970, or 1972. Maybe that really doesn't matter, but after March 17, 1972, I was a Willie Nelson fan.
Sometime during late '72 or early '73, I saw a flyer from Armadillo World Headquarters, with a hand-drawn portrait of the world's ugliest man, proclaiming that Willie would be at the World Headquarters on such-and-such a date. I was not able to attend that one.
I moved to the place where I now live in March of 1973, and later on that year, we went to the first Willie Nelson Fourth of July Picnic, at the same Dripping Springs site. We took the kids this time. I was so impressed with the Reunion, I thought they should see it.
Basically the same performers were at the Picnic as were at the Reunion, but by now, Willie was, as nearly as I can recall, full-blown Willie!
I heard a rumor, but have found no evidence to back it up, that Kris and Rita had taken Willie in tow, and helped to create the Willie image we love so well.
Whether or not this is true, I don't think I will ever be able to prove. No one seems to know about this little part of Willie's life, least of all Willie, but if you read the lyrics to "Devil In a Sleeping Bag" (by the way, it's without a doubt the worst Willie Nelson song ever written or sung), on the 1973 album "Shotgun Willie" you may get a feeling that maybe what I say has some merit.
Anyway, I'm happy to know there's a Willie, and I'm happy that he's the way he is, whatever anyone else may think. And if he needed the touch of an angel in the philharmonic hall, so be it!!!!
FOOTNOTE........In a magazine at the doctor's office on August 5, I discovered that the date of the aforementioned Armadillo concert was August 12, 1972, and that date I am unofficially proclaiming as the debut of Willie's appearance on the Austin Music Scene, whatever may be said by other sources.
FOOTNOTE AGAIN.......Today, April 7, 2009, I had a hit from Austin from someone who was searching for "willie nelson" july picnic, and
I'm happy to say that my theory stands. History is a matter of opinion. I attended the 1973 picnic, and, although I was there from early afternoon until late in the evening, I had not been aware of Leon Russell's presence, although I was a fan of both Willie and Leon at the time. I came away with a different memory.
FOOTNOTE AGAIN TOO.......And so, today, I find that the link referencing an article with memories attributed to Willie no longer works, and I will not try to find it in the wild blue cyberspace. I think it suffices to mention that there are differing versions of "The Dripping Springs Reunion", depending on the points of view of those who observed it.