Disavowing Willie Nelson Is a Dithering While Rome Burns
By Jeff Winston
I went to Woodstock ‘99 the summer after I graduated from high school. My older brother, myself and three of our friends crammed into a Chevy Lumina and made the long trek from the Midwest up to Rome, New York. We left a few days early so we could go up to Canada, just for the hell of it. We got to Niagara Falls on the Canada side and there wasn’t really much going on. It’s kind of a lame tourist town, mostly based around shaking down middle-class dad’s wearing fanny packs and tall, white tube socks with sandals.
The drinking age in Canada was 19, but my two buddies and I were still only 18, so that was a no go. The two older guys went out to the bars and the three of us decided to walk down to the falls. We figured we could see the falls at night and get a little high. We made it to the falls, but no matter how many joints we smoked, we couldn’t get high. Apparently, my former band-mate who sold it to me had pulled the ole pencil shavings routine on us. Very funny. Do you know how many grocery carts I had to push to pay for that?
When the two older guys got back from the bars, one of my buddies got uppity and started talking shit to my brother’s friend who happened to be a pretty stout farm boy. They got into a bit of a kerfuffle. Farm Boy threw Uppity across the room and the fight was over almost before it started. Nobody got hurt and everybody was pretty much over it after a few minutes, although it obviously left an impression on me. It was actually pretty funny. Boys will be boys.
We hung around the hotel room, drinking Molson and shooting the shit for hours. We eventually laid down to go to sleep, but we were all pretty restless. We had been to quite a few big concerts, but nothing quite like this. The music started at noon and we were too damn excited to sleep, so we decided to hit the road about 3 or 4 in the morning.
We rolled into Rome, NY about noon, right as the first acts were starting. Unfortunately, we missed James Brown. The air was electric and there were people milling about everywhere. It was hotter than hell (over 100 degrees in late July) and we had to walk for miles to our campsite carrying our tent and all of our stuff. According to the Wikipedia article, it was approximately 1.5 miles from the East Stage to the West Stage and we were behind the West Stage. So, from our camp site to the East Stage was at least a 2-mile walk. The venue was an abandoned Air Force Base (Griffiss), so it was long and flat and there were virtually no trees to find shade under because apparently, they’d cut them all down to accommodate the large crowds. We had to stop for a moment because Farm Boy had gotten overheated and was on the verge of heat stroke. The previous night’s partaking and a lack of sleep probably didn’t help.
Being a country boy from the Midwest, I’d never been in a crowd anywhere near that size in my life. The biggest show I had ever been to had about 40,000 in attendance. Woodstock ‘99 was projected to have around 250,000 attendees. According to the Wikipedia page, there were approximately 400,000 people in attendance which is way more than I even thought.
The topography of the Air Force Base allowed you to see for miles. We had passed row, after row, after row, after row of people and their tents and there were still people as far as the eye could see. Standing there, looking across this literal sea of people, my head began to swim and I unwittingly dropped my jaw in awe. My friend, Uppity, took the opportunity to point this out in a condescending, snide manner, as he is wont to do. I snapped at him as I don’t like being made to feel stupid or naïve. Most of us don’t. I pointed out that if there was ever a time to justifiably have one’s mouth agape, this was it.
We finally made it to our campsite and got all of our stuff set up. Once we got everything settled, we were ready to make the long hike back in the direction we had just come from to see some actual music. Ironically, we were right behind the West Stage, but the way things were set up, we were going to have to walk over a mile to get around all of the plywood fencing to see the actual bands. The lay-out was set-up like the lines at a bank, but on a much grander scale and much less efficient.
On that Friday, I remember seeing Sheryl Crow, BuckCherry, The OffSpring, Korn, Bush, Insane Clown Posse and George Clinton and the P. Funk All-Stars. I remember being annoyed by Insane Clown Posse because part of their shtick is spraying the crowd with cheap soda pop. None of us felt like being covered in sticky corn syrup amidst the summer heat, days away from an adequate shower. George Clinton and The P. Funk All-Stars closed out the night. I dig some funk, but their aimless, 30-minute long jam on “Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)” quickly became insufferable. We decided to call it a night and make our way back to base camp.
During my breakfast of cigarettes and water the next morning, I somehow managed to blow out one of my Baywatch™ flip-flops. This was rather unfortunate given how woefully unprepared I was in the footwear department. So, I fashioned a pair of sandals out of some empty pizza boxes and baling twine. With my fancy new kicks snugly in place, we headed out for Saturday’s festivities. As you can probably guess, my makeshift sandals didn’t last long. Before I knew it, I was walking barefoot across the scalding-hot, concrete runway. It was what it was.
Baking in the summer sun while walking miles across the base to the East Stage, it was becoming apparent that the organizers of the event had done a very poor job of planning. There was trash strewn everywhere and the porta-potties were no longer being emptied. We found out later that well over half of the security and logistical staff had quit half way through the 2nd day (Saturday). However, we had come a long way and we were determined not to let this spoil our good time.
About halfway across the base, we came to a small river of “water” coming from the poorly maintained porta-potties and water spigots that were uphill from us. With no other options, I crossed the river barefoot. Right then, a photographer snapped a close-up picture of my crossing. That moment pretty much captured the essence of the event up to that point: A skinny, barefoot, young, White guy crossing a river of raw sewage, surrounded by mountains of trash. We had a brief exchange with the photographer. I can’t remember who he was with, but he had a pretty fancy camera. For a period, I thought maybe that pic would show up on the cover of Time magazine, but it never materialized. It’s probably for the best. People would have just roasted me for my chicken legs.
We finally managed to make it to the East Stage. We saw Kid Rock (who was surprisingly multi-faceted, although still kind of lame), Wyclef Jean with the Refugee All-Stars, Counting Crows, Dave Matthews Band and Alanis Morissette. Given that a bottle of water was $5 or $6 (in 1999 money!!!), we had been refilling our bottles from the water spigots that were provided by the event organizers. These water spigots were located right next to the over-flowing porta-potties which had become de facto swamps. About half way through the day, one of us was looking through our water bottle and noticed that there were all kinds of curious things floating in it. We all examined our water bottles and found the same. Given the very temporary nature of the spigot set-ups and the overall incompetence of the organizers, we thought it quite possible that the water was being cross-contaminated from the over-flowing porta-potty swamps. Needless to say, we made the mutual decision that drinking water from the spigots was no longer an option. We were going to have to bite the bullet and allow ourselves to be gouged by the resident merchants if we wanted to avoid dysentery and God knows what else.
The event organizers had strategically disallowed outside food and water. There was a type of “camp store” with food, but it was very far away and was undoubtedly run just as poorly as everything else. We never made it there to find out. Food vendors were selling simple little sandwiches for $7 and up. I remember these very modest, little frozen pizzas that were $10 or $11 each. I remember them specifically because their empty boxes were piled everywhere and were what I had used to fashion my failed sandal prototype.
The organizers had achieved their goal of corralling nearly half a million captive consumers into a monopolized market to maximize profits. This fact was not lost on attendees. We all felt it… and we didn’t like it one bit. This, among many other factors, was creating a palpable tension.
If you think of Woodstock ’69 as a celebration of Global Communism (which it was), then Woodstock ’99 was a celebration of the other side of that coin: Global Capitalism.
The Global Capitalist Equation:
Minimum Expenditure = Maximum Profit @ Maximum Cost To YOU, THE CONSUMER!!!
Having accepted the deteriorating circumstances, we were still determined to have a good time. We went and bought the amount of water and food that we could afford in preparation for Saturday evening’s headliners.
Mildly hydrated and partially satiated, we took in Los Lobos and Mickey Hart/Planet Drum over on the West Stage. This music was more in alignment with the “peace and love” theme of the original Commiestock as Mickey Hart was a longtime member of The Grateful Dead. After that, we made the long trek back to the East Stage to hear music more befitting of the zeitgeist. We saw Limp Bizkit (or as I like to call them “Limp Diznik), Rage Against the Machine (who burned an American flag onstage during their set and openly promote Communist/Marxist Che Guevara) and Metallica. All of these groups put on a decent show and the aggressive music was making the crowds increasingly hostile. During Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff”, there were mosh pits everywhere. People started tearing down parts of the giant plywood fencing that we were corralled into and began using them to crowd surf. There was some violence that was starting to get out of hand. There was also a report of a gang rape in one of the mosh pits. There were a number of sexual assaults and rapes reported after the fact. Of course, we weren’t aware of any of these things at the time. As far as we were concerned, with all things considered, it was a pretty good night.
The next morning, we all woke up feeling like warmed-over shit. We were tired, hot, filthy, thirsty, hungry and sun burnt all to hell. We couldn’t get high on our pencil shavings, we were running low on our carton of smokes (which was the only thing keeping me going) and it wasn’t even worth trying to get booze to numb the pain. My older brother, Farm Boy and our other pal had had their fill. They wanted to get the hell out of dodge. They did their best to convince us to break camp and leave right then and there. I certainly sympathized with them and was very tempted to leave, but I was torn. I felt just as shitty as they did, but we had come so far and I’m one of those assholes that insists on seeing things through to the bitter end, no matter the cost. I guess that’s the Faustian Spirit in me. Uppity felt the same way that I did which is why he’s one of my closest friends to this very day. The five of us worked out a plan that we could all live with: We would break camp and the other three gents would take all our stuff to the car, leave the grounds, go get some food, water, shade, rest, etc. Uppity and I would stay and see where the day took us. They would come back and pick us up at the end. Keep in mind that this was before cell phones. We must have designated some sort of meeting spot and general time frame as we’re not idiots, although the details on this are a bit fuzzy.
Uppity and I both took the towels we brought with us and parted ways with the rest of the crew. We wet the towels and put them over our heads. This was an incredible relief and gave us just enough comfort to temporarily take our minds off of our severe sunburn so we could appreciate the music. We were running real low on money, but we had just enough between us for a bottle or two of water and a mini cardboard pizza each. We made the 2-mile-long journey over to the East Stage to catch the final day’s line-up. We were treated to Willie Nelson, The Brian Setzer Orchestra, Everlast, Elvis Costello, Jewel, Creed featuring Robby Krieger and the big closer: The Red Hot Chili Peppers.
This was the first time I had ever seen Willie Nelson perform. I knew who he was, of course, but I had never really paid much attention to him. I was mostly into heavier, more youthful bands. His songs on the radio mostly sounded like standard country music fare to me, but it was becoming clear that the studio recordings didn’t do him justice. There was a depth and eccentricity to his guitar playing and songwriting style that was lost in translation through the major media platforms.
He took a number of incredible, lengthy guitar solos. I had no idea he could play like that. He had a very unique style that was born from a cornucopia of different influences: Country, Blues, Rock, Jazz and Flamenco. And he played it all on this ridiculously old, beat up guitar that he still plays to this very day. He had a class, gravitas and humility that was unmatched by any of the other acts at the entire event. In short, Willie was a beacon of light in this miserable sea of shallow, callous, angry, self-absorbed and cynical consumerism.
Willie Nelson at Woodstock '99 (Full Set):
This isn’t to say that the rest of the acts weren’t entertaining. They all put on a good show. The Brian Setzer Orchestra was incredible and Jewel’s got a great voice. She’s also easy on the eyes. I even enjoyed the Creed set. For as much as people make fun of Creed, they did an impressive set of Doors covers with The Door’s former guitarist Robby Krieger. The Red Hot Chili Peppers put on one hell of a show. To their credit, they got word that women were being groped in the crowd and they told people to keep their hands to themselves. At one point during the Red Hot Chili Peppers set, they had to stop to allow a firetruck to get through to put out a fire that had been set at the base of one of the giant speaker stands. This was a sign of things to come.
Red Hot Chili Peppers Set Interrupted by Fire:
After the Red Hot Chili Peppers finished their set, the grand finale was a video tribute and light show to Jimi Hendrix while his version of the Star Spangled Banner played. Legend has it that Jimi’s sister talked to the Red Hot Chili Peppers backstage and asked them if they would play a Jimi song for an encore. They had one in their back pocket that they hadn’t rehearsed, but they agreed to do it anyway. Once the Jimi video tribute was over, the Red Hot Chili Peppers came back on stage and busted out one of Jimi’s most high energy and appropriately named songs: Fire. The crowd went ballistic. The palpable frustration that had been building over the course of the past three days was finally reaching a fever pitch. Fires began popping up all across the field which was still filled with hundreds of thousands of people. At some point, a tractor trailer filled with wildly overpriced merchandise was set ablaze.
Riot Footage (Warning - Male Nudity):
My friend and I looked around and realized that this was quickly transforming from a rock concert into a riot. As soon as the song ended, Uppity and I hightailed it the hell out of there. On our way out, I remember jogging past this gigantic speaker stand, probably 40 or 50 feet high. There was an enormous, raging inferno engulfing the entire base of it. I looked up and there was a long-haired, shirtless man standing atop it, dancing primitively and seemingly howling at the moon. My immediate thought was “How the hell is he going to get down from there?!? He’s going to be burned alive!!!” But, he didn’t seem too worried about it, so we kept running. People were tearing down the plywood fences surrounding the place, so we squeezed through a hole in the plywood. By some kind of miracle, we were able to quickly find the rest of our crew who were waiting for us in one of the nearby fields they were using as a parking lot. We jumped in the car and got out of there as fast as we possibly could.
We had to get about 60 miles from Rome before we were able find a crappy little motel with vacancy to stay in. We were all really excited at the prospect of running water, air-conditioning and actual sleep. From the comfort of our motel room, we watched the news reports about Woodstock ’99 and the ensuing chaos. We all called our parents to let them know we were okay.
Decent Woodstock ’99 Documentary:
A dithering while Rome burns.
To say Woodstock ’99 was a disorganized clusterfuck would be an incredible understatement, but it was completely indicative of American culture at that moment in time and it was a foreshadowing of things to come. In 1999, we were closing in on the end of a decade, a century and a millennium. We were coming to the end of the prophecy and we weren’t sure what was going to happen. Were people going to be raptured up into the heavens? Were all of our computers going to crash and cause mayhem in the streets because we got lazy and opted for two digits instead of four (Y2K)? There was a lingering uncertainty, but when the clock struck midnight on January 1st, 2000, everyone was shocked to discover that… nothing happened. Nothing really changed. There was no chaos in the streets. There were no major computer crashes. Nobody was suddenly recalled to the heavens (that I’m aware of).
But we expected something to happen because we knew something wasn’t right. Something was off. Everything was going in the wrong direction and most people seemed to agree on that, but for some reason, we couldn’t figure out how to stop it. It was as if we were on a train going full speed with no brake line to pull.
The Matrix also came out in 1999. It became an instant hit because it struck a chord with so many people. It captured a vague feeling that we all had, that we were somehow being manipulated in a way that we didn’t yet understand for some kind of sinister purpose.
At this point, you’re probably wondering where this article is going. I promise to bring this all full circle.
Well, there’s been a bit of a controversy lately regarding Willie Nelson and the fact that he is headlining the campaign for a Democrat named Beto O’Rourke who’s running for U.S. Senate against Ted Cruz in Texas (Willie’s home state). Many of Willie’s fans and fellow Texans are feeling betrayed to the point that they are permanently disavowing him. This Breitbart article and the corresponding comments sum it up nicely.
Beto is your typical, modern-day politician (Democrat = Republican = Bolshevik). Even though he’s of Irish descent, he’s more than happy to give away the country founded by people of European descent to 3rd world invaders so long as White folks promise not to be mean and to pay for the overwhelming majority of their own displacement and destruction. He supports the NFL kneelers, prison reform (letting violent minority offenders out of prison to offend again), DACA, the notion of White privilege, blah, blah, blah, blah.
My first inclination was to disavow Willie too, but I had second thoughts. The reason I felt compelled to share my coming of age Woodstock ’99 story with you is because I think it exemplifies Willie’s true nature and what an important part he has played in American Culture. In the sea of filth (literally) and Communist/Capitalist degeneracy that was Woodstock ‘99, he was a beacon of light to me personally and I’m sure to many others. I went on to buy one of his CDs and was inspired to learn a number of his songs. He has had a significant impact on me as an artist. He has also brought genuine joy and happiness to millions of people for over half a century and become an important part of the fabric of Americana.
He plainly stated in one of his most famous tunes On The Road Again, “The life I love is making music with my friends.” I really don’t think Willie is any more complicated than that. He’s an old country hippy who likes to get high and play music with his friends. He’s not a Communist agent or some kind of enemy provocateur. He’s an old man, grown soft in his age who is caught in the middle of a giant shit storm he can’t even begin to understand.
Willie Nelson - On The Road Again:
He most likely agreed to support Beto O’Rourke because he can’t fathom what the results of his policies will look like. He can’t imagine what Whites becoming a minority in the US will ultimately mean. He didn’t go to a black school and get beat up every day. He didn’t get passed over on job opportunities for much less qualified minorities. Maybe he doesn’t know anybody who has been culturally enriched via theft, assault, rape or murder or at the very least, he didn’t put together that there was a racial component to it. Like many people from his generation, he doesn’t understand that we are on the precipice of the abyss because he probably actually believes all of that “we’re all equal… man” hippy, hocus-pocus bullshit.
I’m going to bat for Willie on this one because to completely disavow him is to allow our enemies to convince us to eat our own. To better understand what I mean, please consider the following analogy:
Communism is a unique malady in that it’s like a parasite that gives your society A.I.D.S Cancer. First, it weakens your immune system and ability to fight off invading entities (A.I.D.S.). Then, while the healthy cells should be working together to fight off the invading entities, the parasite confuses and divides the healthy cells against each other so that they’re more focused on destroying each other (Cancer) rather than the invading entities. Some of the healthy cells are so confused (Willie) that they unwittingly help the invading entities destroy other healthy cells. It exponentially metastasizes from there. The parasite uses the ensuing chaos to provide cover for it while it drains all of the resources from the healthy cells and suckles at the spilt blood.
Willie Nelson and his body of work are one of the healthy cells. To completely disavow him and his work and try to remove him would be like mistaking your heart for a malignant tumor and moving to cut it out. We’re essentially performing self-surgery here, so we have to be careful not to cut out the good and essential parts. That’s what the enemy wants us to do in a state of panic.
This isn’t to say that he shouldn’t be criticized for supporting Beto, but let’s be honest, Willie isn’t going to be with us for much longer. The net negative effect that this is going to have is nothing compared to the net positive effect that Willie has had on American Culture at large.
So, I will continue to play “Blue Eye’s Crying In The Rain” when my mom requests it because it’s a beautiful song and it makes her happy. I will continue to play “On The Road Again” when I’m sitting around a campfire and somebody hands me a guitar because it’s become a tradition. And on the day Willie passes into Valhalla, I will observe a moment of silence and perhaps even shed a tear, for we will have lost one of our greatest musicians and songwriters. A true American icon.
With all of that said, the next generation of great icons and artists will not be feckless philanderers. They will be the renaissance re-builders of Western Civilization.
Willie Nelson - Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain: