A Bicentennial 4th of July at Willie’s

Putting up our tent at Willie's Picnic (Click for larger image)

Putting up our tent at Willie’s Picnic

We’ve only spent one 4th in the States. It was Bicentennial year, 1976, and we spent four weeks driving around the South, with a final goal of Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic (the fourth or fifth, depending), held in Gonzalez that year.

(The photo above is one of only two I have left. Most of the others drowned in our cooler while driving)

We didn’t end up staying for the whole 24 hours… probably less than half of .it. It was hot (no surprise), crowded, and we were a long way from the stage. There were other issues.

An account in the Austin American-Statesman listed some “highlights”:

Early arrivals found the site to be perilously short on water outlets and bathroom facilities and the concert ended when a downpour on the morning of July 5 shorted out the PA system – before Waylon or Willie had performed their shows. In between, one person drowned and injuries ranged from stabbings to snake bites. More than 140 were arrested – four for kidnapping – and at least three rapes were reported. Willie would later be sued by two injured picnickers, the owner of the ambulance service and the owner of the ranch.

Other things I remember:

  • Seeing our first armadillos. Pretty amazing creatures
  • A lot of people coming up to us saying “Happy Birthday”; I’d reply “It’s not mine.”, I don’t think they knew what I meant, but I was able to trade some of our Lone Star beer for smokeable items.
  • I don’t remember every performer we did see (well, we could see the stage, sort of), but the late, truly great George Jones was there. Those were his wild days; it was a small miracle he actually made this show. It was about a year after Tammy Wynette had left him, and I remember him changing the line in “Rolling in My Sweet Baby’s Arms” to:

“I’m going to lay around the shack
Till Tammy comes back”

  • We also heard Asleep at the Wheel, Leon Russel, and Ray Wylie Hubbard & the Cowboy Twinkies (His shaggy dog story of how he wrote “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother” on YouTube)

The account above also documented the local opposition to the Festival, led by the “Citizens for Law, Order and Decency” — yes, CLOD. The Rev. Jimmy Darnell wrote in a handbill, “To allow this invasion is to invite the anti-American, anti-Christian, hippie sub-culture right into our homes.”

The Picnic has had a lot of challenges over the years, but it was usually a bit smoother than that one. But although Willie has long been one of my favourite perfomers (Red Headed Stranger would be one of my desert island discs), I’ve still never seen him live.

I would have caught his most recent Toronto show at Massey Hall, except it was the night after we got back from a Ukraine-Istanbul trip, and I didn’t think I’d be ready for it. I did enjoyed though Brad Wheeler’s account in the Globe & Mail of the show and Willie’s entrance from his tour bus to the hall:

People waited for a sweet cloud of smoke to emerge from the touring vehicle, which would signal the imminent appearance of a kindly balladeer – the Pope of Puff. … The eyes of the new octogenarian twinkled, curiously showing no signs of glaucoma.

Long Live Willie; I expect he’ll always be glaucoma free.

And yes, we did put one of these bumper stickers on our car (a 1975 Nova).

Here’s Willie, band (and it’s mostly the same band he still plays with) along with Leon Russell (and drink) doing his classic, “Funny How Time Slips Away” at his 1974 Picnic.

[jwplayer player=”4″ mediaid=”1337″]

For Ahmed

Tonight we received tragic news from our friend Abdul Salam in Benghazi.

He said he had waited a long time before he was ready to call us to tell us that one of our great Benghazi friends, Ahmed (“The Red”) al Faitory was killed by gunfire during fighting in Benghazi (in his neighbourhood) on June 16.

Ahmed, fighting for Libyan freedom. 2011

Ahmed, fighting for Libyan freedom. 2011

This was very painful and sad news. We could only listen to Abdul Salam talk about the circumstances through our tears. We couldn’t speak. And Ahmed’s death seemed just a little more hurtful that he died on my birthday, while we were celebrating it in Istanbul.

Ironically, tonight after hearing the news, I started searching through old emails we’d received from Ahmed. (Unlike our other two Benghazi friends, Ahmed the Red spoke — and wrote — very little English). I found this birthday note he sent me on June 16, 2007:

hi dear frined jhon
i still see your face in my mined , i still remember that good time together

i missed you so much man, so happy birthday and i hope you will get a long good lifetime

good bye for this moments

Ahmed, we so wish that you had the long, good lifetime that you deserved.

We were proud that when Benghazi rose up against Gaddafi, you fought for your country’s freedom, and we despair that you — who had so much to offer — lost your life… for nothing.

We know that you really tried to get to Tripoli last July to see us, but couldn’t. We looked forward to some day going back to Benghazi to see you, Ahmed and Abdul Salam, and your other friends and families who we met in 2007. Those days are among our most treasured memories.

We miss you.

Always our friend. Always in our hearts.

With much love,
John & Oksana

(Click on photos for larger images)


Our last Benghazi photo: at the airport, with Ahmed, Abdul Salam and Ahmed (The Red”)



Ahmed, with his parents

Ahmed, with his parents

In the Benghazi market: Ahmed, Oksana, Abdul Salam

In the Benghazi market: Ahmed, Oksana, Abdul Salam


A spring cleaning resurrection

Click on photos for larger images.

Behind the freezer!

Behind the freezer!

We decided we needed to do some re-arranging in one room, which necessitated moving some stuff to the basement, which meant finding a place to put it there, which meant moving some stuff from this storage place to that, which meant a lot of old junk could finally be thrown out…

We cleaned out some shelves in a closed-off corner under the basement stairs, and after emptying and vacuuming them, I leaned in to (bravely) take a look behind the freezer, beside those shelves. I was amazed to find out how much stuff had fallen behind the freezer. Layers in fact.  Old newspapers, work gloves, an empty (unfortunately) box of Lagavullin. Some of Oksana’s educational papers. How long had some of this been there? There were some Globe & Mail’s from 1995 & 1998, and advertising from Eaton’s. And dust. It took a lot of stretching and effort to pull it out bit by bit.

Some non-treasures found back there.

Some non-treasures found back there.

And then, something smaller. And more valuable. Oksana’s long-lost opal ring was sitting underneath it all. How long had that been missing? At least a decade and a half. She was probably hiding some jewellery in the freezer when we went on vacation, and this piece didn’t make it inside. I don’t know how many times over the years that she’s lost some ring or earring, and I always say “It’ll show up”. It almost always does, except for this one ring, the loss of which she occasionally would still bemoan. She bought the opal when we were in Brazil in 1986, and had it made into a ring at the old Letki Designs on Baldwin Street in Toronto a couple of years later.

Lesson: Don’t put it off… get that spring cleaning done!

The treasure!

The treasure!


Remarkable celebrations

I loved this set of Tweets sent out yesterday by the Libyan Youth Movement (@ShababLibya), in the midst of the huge celebrations in Libya on the 2nd anniversary of the Libyan Revolution:

Imagine living in a country where the only celebration took place happened to celebrate something you didn’t even want to recognize. #libya

Where even your favourite spectator sport was tainted by the regime’s hand. Also, forget concerts or any live entertainment. No expression

Now imagine that goes on for forty two years, to the point where you even begin to forget what public/national celebrations are…

Imagine that glass being finally shattered and you gain the freedom to smile, to sing, to wave a flag you recognize. #libya #feb17

What we see today in #Libya are celebrations of a people who actually haven’t had much practice at it& they’re doing a fabulous job! #feb17

How many national holidays, celebrations, concerts, fireworks, face paint, music, candy, laughter, & smiles could you have in 42 yrs? #libya

Pack all of that into one day= #feb17 celebrations, may we see many many many more to come. #libya


What a great few days it’s been for Libyans and friends of Libya, as everyone marks the second anniversary of the February 17 Revolution. Truly, this was an amazing accomplishment for Libyans, who sacrificed so much, and for the outside world who saved countless Libyan lives, and finally helped Libyans throw off a bloody dictator.

I’ve been a bit too busy finishing up my Libyan election posts to have followed as much news as I’d want to, but I’ve seen how joyous Libya has been. Many in Libya who have grown frustrated by the apparent lack of progress since the Revolution, are happy and proud today.

And we are both extremely happy for their joy.

Below, a photo taken in Fashloom, Tripoli on Feb. 17. From Muhammad Bugashata via Twitter