Spring has hit the prairie, it hasn’t been below freezing during the day for a solid week, that’s a sure sign of spring. I have no doubt it’ll snow at least once more, it always does. We got a foot once on my sister’s birthday, that’s May 11th. But like horses we can smell the barn. So my son, his wife, my granddaughter and I took a weekend off and drove east to where the prairie meets the Mississippi River valley. Cascade, Iowa was our destination and the goal was to see Billy Joe Shaver in concert.
Billy Joe is known as a songwriter, he never achieved any renown as a singer, but I’ve always had a preference for songwriters. I can appreciate a singer who can put enough of himself into a song to make it his own but a songwriter has the fast lane to my heart. Billy Joe is 77 years old this year, he doesn’t leave Texas very often, we figured we better git there while the gittin’ was good. I’m guessing most of you have never heard of him so don’t run off and google him now, play along with my “The Rest of the Story” delivery. You see, Billy Joe moved from Waco, Texas to Nashville in the late 60’s. As I’ve heard him describe it, he was the best songwriter in Waco and figured it was high time he put his talent to work where he could make some money at it. There were a few years of hard times and hard work along with a little hard living. Billy Joe spent his time on “The Lost Highway.” Then he finally got to sing a few of his songs for an established Nashville artist, nearly losing his life in the negotiations but those songs lit a fire in that artist’s mind.
So here’s the first song I’d like to play for y’all tonight. You’ll recognize the lyrics, everyone’s heard this one, it changed country music forever.
Waylon Jennings recorded an album of Billy Joe’s songs in 1973 and released it as “Honky Tonk Heroes” simultaneously lighting a spark to the molotov cocktail of “Outlaw Country.” Waylon started the Outlaw movement but used Billy Joe’s songs (and one of Kris Kristofferson’s) to do it. Billy Joe describes it as “a pretty good trade.” His singing isn’t anything like Waylon’s voice, the guitar playing is good but it doesn’t “find that half-time beat that walks around” like Waylon did. Still, Billy Joe has a classic country voice and he can hit the high-lonesome hard enough to bring tears to your eyes. Look up “When the Fallen Angels Fly” if you don’t believe me.
Cascade, Iowa is a town of 900 or so, it didn’t even have a motel, we had to go to Dyersville, about 20 minutes away to find one. But it has a damn fine auditorium. It probably seats around 300, small and very personal. He spent as much time telling stories as he did singing, I’m not sure which I enjoyed more. In fact he told this one…
“I may be ugly as a mudboard fence but I’m loaded with hillbilly charm.” If that ain’t the story of my life…
We discovered when we got to the motel that Dyersville is where they filmed “Field of Dreams.” We went to see that the next morning after I terrified my granddaughter by threatening to go to the pool with her wearing my longjohns. Some kids have no sense of adventure, at one point she told her father that “Grandpa is irritating me!” I almost wet myself. I didn’t carry through with the threat, it is nearing the end of winter and the longjohns are getting a little threadbare, but it was a fun threat. We made it to the Field of Dreams about noon, it was a cloudy, drizzly day but it was just as scenic as the movie. I highly recommend it if you’re ever in that part of Iowa.
That’s my son, Allen Jr, my granddaughter Skya, my daughter-in-law Anje and I’m the old guy with the hillbilly charm on the right. Have I got powerful genes or what?
It was a great weekend a great show and a wonderful time. Even 12 hours in a car with a nine year old, lol. It was Skya’s first concert, memories of that and hopefully of her weekend with grandpa will “Live Forever.”