Lyndia T. Day
© Copyright 2004 by Lyndia T. Day
Lyndia T. Day lives with her musician husband in the Hill Country town of Johnson City, Texas, where music and songwriting dominate their lives.
What if you went to Willie Nelson's picnic and ended up playing with him on stage? Well, that's what happened to me a few years ago and I have been in a working band ever since.
Dreams do come true. Sometimes when you don't even dare to dream them. Who would have thought that I would get to take my meager talents that far? Certainly not me. I have played piano and sang as far back as I can remember, but most of my years were spent as more of a fan rather than as a participant. Then something happened on the way to my life in Austin, Texas. I made the right choices.
All those years sitting in front of the T.V. on the 4th of July watching celebrations all over America, I personally never gave it a thought that I would ever be where those people were. That was just something other folks got to do, not me. Especially Willie Nelson fans. Every year I had read newspaper accounts on July 5th of how many thousands of sweating, whooping, hollering fans had sweltered in the Texas heat at Willie Nelson picnics. But for me to get to take part in that was just too presumptuous of me to even think. I had lived in far northeast Texas most of my life and my chances of ever getting myself out of there and to a better way of life seemed remote at best. But things began to happen, by the grace of God, because they were suppose to, I assume, and I found myself in my new job and new home in Austin, Texas. When I got there I felt blessed that I would be able to go to any concert any time I wanted. And if I was lucky enough, and if opportunity knocked, maybe I could go to a Willie show.
In Texarkana, I had played in the Brickyard Blues Band with my adopted brothers, Ted and Rick Stone, and Rob Wysinger. But when I left town, I figured those days were pretty well over. Turns out I met the right people when I got to Central Texas. Seems as though there was a lot of activity in the "Live Music Capital of The World" and I somehow found myself right in the middle of it. Luckily, I met people who knew people, and things began to click for me without, it seemed like, me even trying. In particular, one day I found myself with my new friend from work, Nancy Ashton, having lunch in Arlyn Studios, watching her boyfriend Grant "Gabby" Brown, putting the finishing touches on an album. Grant played harmonica in a band. The drummer came outside of the control booth where Nancy and I were sitting and asked for a female back-up singer for the last track on the album. I stuck my hand up in the air, almost half-jokingly, thinking, "Naw, they don't even know if I can do it." (I didn't even know if I could do it)! But they decided to give me a try and that turned out to be my audition right then and there into the Jimmy Lee Jones & The Texas Hill Country Band. That was the spring of 1996, and the band is still rolling on.
I had sworn off playing again because I had been through some garbage-toting situations in bands before. I did not particularly like putting myself on the line like that one more time, but when they invited me to play a gig with them, I gave in and loaded up my keyboard and joined them onstage. I was pretty rusty, but the band liked the idea of a piano player who could do backing vocals to round out their sound. So I was in, but I really thought it was just going to amount to a hobby. Hum. Surprise! Surprise! We played a lot and got better and better. We played often at the infamous, dried up old town of Luckenbach, far down in the hill country of Texas, because Jimmy Lee Jones happened to be the bartender and fire marshal there. I met a lot of people and made a ton of great friends. A lot of opportunities opened up for us through Luckenbach. So I flourished in that atmosphere and became a real busy musician playing honky tonks, bars, dance halls, weddings, barbeques, chili cook-offs, outdoor stages, and even under the tree behind the bar in Luckenbach where hill country musicians gather every Sunday for a jam.
I was even more stunned when the next year Willie Nelson came calling and asked us to open for him as supporting band for a mini-tour around central Texas. The towns included Bryan-College Station, Corpus Christi, San Angelo, and Helotes. Playing those shows was so much more than a dream. It was more like a fog, and I did not really grasp the scope of the whole thing, nor did I appreciate the significance of the shows at the time. It was not until later, when I looked back and listened to the audiotapes they gave us of the shows, that I then wondered how in the hell a girl like me could have stumbled into such a lucky break.
Yet here I was on a tour with Willie Nelson, watching offstage at what happens when someone puts his heart, mind, and soul into his work. I was mesmerized by someone who had sacrificed his whole life for what he wanted to do for a living. Fifteen thousand screaming fans were storming the stage. Aggies in College Station were breaking the security barrier and damn near getting ahold of Willie to hug him to death. Old gray-haired women in Corpus Christi were gushing at him. Young buxom groupies in San Angelo were begging to get to him. The media wanted a piece of him. This American icon that represents all we truly love and believe in -- this was Willie Nelson, the Red-Headed Stranger, and here we were tagging along warming up the crowd for him with our original Texas songs. That night it really hit me how Willie affects people. And I will not forget one Aggie cowgirl standing under me and my keyboard yelling "You go girl!" I realized then that I, too, am truly a musician.
Later after the mini-tour, we got the word -- Willie's annual 4th of July picnic would be held in Luckenbach again, and Jimmy Lee Jones & The Texas Hill Country Band had a slot to play. I was definitely in shock. There was no looking back at my past of wishing and hoping that I could be at a picnic because now I was there and it was real. A wave of pride swept over me as I stood watching other guest bands on the bill playing, and me going, "Wow, I wish Willie would come out on stage and play with us."
Back during the mini-tour, Willie had heard us do a re-make of the Townes Van Zandt song "Pancho and Lefty" he had recorded with Merle Haggard several years before. All reports through the grapevine were that Willie had liked our take on it so well that he had made his own band learn it and had incorporated the song into his shows. When we returned to the stage on the 4th of July, our fearless leader, Jimmy Lee Jones, hinted that if we acted right and behaved, the old Red-Headed Stranger might come out onstage with us. So when I saw Tuner Tom, Willie's guitar tech, polishing Willie's beloved guitar "Trigger," I started checking myself for getting giddy and under my breath said, "Naw, no way. It's not happening."
When we finished our songs, though, lo and behold, I noticed the crowd began to swell and they soon started rushing the stage. I looked around and there he was, strumming that precious old beat up axe to the opening intro of "Pancho and Lefty." Then when I laid down my backing chords, I realized all of a sudden I was the only one playing along with Willie on the song. It was surreal. The people were cheering so loudly, and I wondered how they could hear the words. But that did not matter. About then is when the melody of the song turned into the chorus. I automatically sang the harmony backing part that I had practiced so much and it caught Willie off-guard. He looked over at me and smiled between the words. That's when I knew it was real. Willie and I were singing together! This was actually happening! And Lord, thank you so much for something I never ever expected in my entire days. And if I never hit another note on the piano in my whole life, that moment in time will forever be etched in my world as my crowning moment as a musician.
Who woulda thought going to a picnic would come to that?
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