It was a wild, woolly Willie Picnic week with the Freddy Powers Parkinson's fundraiser at the new Willie's Place at Carl's Corner truckstop, pre Picnic gigs in Lubbock and the Winstar casino across the state line in Oklahoma, the Third of July Picnic free bash at Willie's Place with Darrell McCall, Justin Trevino, Mona McCall, Leona Williams, Forty Point, Johhny Bush, David Allan Coe, Ray Price, Merle Haggard, and Willie Nelson and family, christening the Willie's Place Theatre, Willie's Place XM Radio Studio, the Whiskey River bar, and the new Willie's Place truck stop and biodiesel refinery. There was the official Fourth of July Picnic at the Verizon Amphitheater in Selma, north of San Antonio, and the Fifth of July Picnic at the Sam Houston Raceway in Houston. And I had a great visit with Linda Lee of StillIsStillMoving.com and Cherie Brautigam of Magnolia at Herbert's Taco Hut in San Marcos.
But of all the events, none was quite as satisfying as the Sunday morning service at the Abbott Methodist Church in Abbott, the church where Willie and Bobbie Nelson were raised, and the church that they saved when they bought it in 2006, after the congregation merged with the Methodist church in nearby Hillsboro. The church is now run by a group of volunteers headed by Donald Reed, his wife Joyce Clements Reed, Faye Dell Brown Clements, and Jackie Clements, with services currently scheduled twice a month.
The church was rededicated two years ago with a gospel service featuring Willie and Bobbie and band along with Leon Russell that was broadcast on the RFD cable network. This Sunday was a much lower-key affair, a typical Sunday service with guest singers, most of whom sang along with pre-recorded instrumental tracks, two patriotic songs ("Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "Proud to Be An American") in keeping with the Fourth of July weekend, some good preaching, and a special singing with Willie and Bobbie, who came to the service and sat in the side pew with Willie's wife Annie, his daughter Lana and her son.
Brother stood beside Sister seated at the piano to sing "Family Bible" the spiritual song he wrote that he sold to Paul Buskirk and Claude Gray, whose cover version was a top ten country record in 1960 and punched Willie's ticket to Nashville. "Family Bible" is a gospel classic and Willie sung the song with inspiration, power, and with the soaring range of an Irish tenor. It's the best singing I've heard from him over the past three years. Maybe it was because he only sang two songs - "Family Bible" and another original "In God's Eyes." Maybe it was because the only instrumentation backing him was Sister Bobbie on piano. Maybe it was because he was singing in front of people he grew up with. But this was special. I'm glad I was there, and glad my friend Kirby Warnock and his wife Diann were there too. Kirby used to write about Willie in Buddy Magazine in Dallas back in the wild ass 1970s and he directed the film documentary "Border Bandits" which offers the hidden history of the Texas Rangers and Texas-Mexicans in the Rio Grande Valley. Kirby's a solid Baptist down to his degree from Baylor University and about as passionate a Texan as you'll ever meet. It was Kirby who noted that "In God's Eyes" has quite a message: Watch what you think because your thoughts turn into words, and words into actions.
If I was singing offkey during the hymns, Kirby, I apologize. I'm out of practice.
Kirby posted a little snippet of "Family Bible" on YouTube here: