I promised myself that I would not, under any circumstances, freak myself out and research Willie Nelson before heading to his house last Friday afternoon to talk about his upcoming concert–the seventh annual Maui Music Fest at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center, which benefits Montessori School.
The Nelson’s beachfront home is beautiful in a charming, non-pretentious sort of way. It’s in no way similar to the gargantuan stucco mansions of Wailea, but more like a really big, lovingly manicured beach house.
Sadie Nelson answered the door. A vibrant blonde, she’s rather short and stout. After wagging her tail and giving me a brief crotch once-over, she let me pass and retreated towards the pool for a midday nap.
Annie Nelson, Willie’s wife, introduced me to the crew gathered in the home–their youngest son Micah, good friend Pat Simmons of the Doobie Brothers, his wife Cris and son, lovingly referred to as Little Pat. Upon his introduction, Pat Jr. shrugged and said, “Little Pat is better than Patty.”
Both boys are 17 years old, budding musicians and just weeks away from receiving their high-school diploma’s from Christa McAuliffe Academy, which is a fully accredited online private school. Both were articulate and draped in hemp necklaces.
Annie was high energy. She houses the soul of a she-lion in a petite frame. If my experience at the Nelson home were a sea-vessel, she’d be the rudder.
Then Willie sauntered up to the table and we shook hands. His hands are strong and weathered, as though he swung axes instead of played them.
Willie nodded and smiled as I looked over at him; I’m certain he could tell I was unprepared and scared to death. Pat Simmons, sitting next to me, fiddled with his hands, probably channeling my discomfort.
“So, what’s the article going to be about?” Annie finally said, breaking the silence. I explained that I had no idea and just wanted to get a feel for everyone. For whatever reason, they bought it, allowing me to sit back and soak it in.
In no time at all, Cris brought up that Pat Jr. used to play the ukulele on the toilet as a kid, which launched Willie, Pat and the boys into a surprisingly involved discussion on bathroom acoustics.
“You got all that porcelain in there,” Willie said.
“It just sounds cool,” Micah said. “I can just sit there and look around at the tile for hours.”
“Yeah,” Simmons said. “It’s a different sound.”
Later Annie, Cris and I talked about different schooling options for kids and the beauty of education that takes place outside of the classroom.
“Real life is school, too,” Annie said. “Think about how great it is to be studying about something and then actually being there to see it and feel it.”
The Nelsons and Simmons seemed almost like just one family—one I wouldn’t mind joining. Then Willie started talking about his Peace Research Institute. In April, he and his daughter wrote “Peaceful Solution,” then put it on the Internet with the message that anyone could use the music for free to spread the message of peace.
“One night, my daughter Amy told me that she had this dream about me being on stage and I was singing this song about peace,” Willie said. “After we talked about it, I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I recorded it right then. It goes: ‘There’s a peaceful solution. It’s called a peace revolution. Now let’s take back America. There’s a war and we’re in it, but I know we can win it. So let’s take back America. It’s a dream so believe it. Now get ready to receive it and let’s take back America. And when the war is over and we’ve won it, let’s remember how we done it so we don’t have to do it again.’”
Then again, being an outsider does have its perks. Just like the way wide-eyed visitors view Maui, I was able to appreciate that brief moment where Willie Nelson recited his lyrics to me while I sat at his table, my eyes frozen with unadulterated awe. MTW