Willie and his ‘Circle’ of friends

When you live in the country where you’re lucky to have one bar of cellular service most days, and you have no Internet service, and your house is located an equal — and very far — distance from the broadcast towers of the television stations that service both the East Central and West Central Mississippi markets and you have antenna-only television, the stations you pick up in the evenings, when you finally sit down to watch television, can be very limited. Limited, and somewhat pixilated at times in clear weather, but most certainly when storms are looming, or the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, or perhaps the moon is of the full stage.

That is the case at our house in Sebastopol. So when WLBT Channel 3 in Jackson — which we do pick up most days — added an additional channel in January it was almost like Christmas for wife Danny and myself. That is, once again, if the wind is not blowing in the wrong direction, storms are not brewing, and the moon is not of the stage of full!

The new channel, Circle TV, is billed as a “joint venture of Gray Television and Ryman Hospitality Properties subsidiary Opry Entertainment Group.” Programming consists of “country music and lifestyle programs — much of it made up of original productions — as well as other programming (including classic television series from the 1960s to the 1990s, and music-focused documentary films) with a country music or rural living focus.”

Basically it is country music television which allowed us to watch Hee Haw on Sunday afternoon and a really good Willie Nelson special last week.

I reckon we fit the “rural living” mold!

I’ve been a Willie fan since high school and had the good fortune my freshman year in college to be able to wash the man’s clothes. I even swapped t-shirts with his road cook and wore that t-shirt until there was practically no string of cotton left holding it together.

For some reason, I do not remember what, a group of friends and I had decided to make a road trip to Hattiesburg and the University of Southern Mississippi for a Friday night Willie concert. We left Starkville that afternoon, stopped in Newton to swap my little Toyota Corona for a friend’s van, and headed on south.

The concert, as were concerts on college campuses in 1980, was a grand, rowdy, experience and something we knew we would be talking about for years to come. Little did we know at the time.

When I said “for some reason” we went to Hattiesburg, I suppose it was just to make a road trip, because Willie was scheduled to play the following night in Starkville. Our group left Hattiesburg headed back North and stopped off again in Newton to tell everyone what they had missed. We kept the friend’s van since he and his girlfriend planned to join us in Starkville for the remainder of the weekend.

When our road-trip crew arrived back on campus we decided to swing by the coliseum to see if we could catch a glimpse of Willie and his gang, and sure enough his buses were there with the crew unloading, and setting up for the concert. We stopped, made some friends, and ended up driving his road manager around town on some errands. One stop was at a local jewelry store where he bought a ring, I don’t remember why or for whom, but it seems like it was an engagement ring.

He ended up offering us floor seats, center stage, in exchange for washing Willie’s clothes and those of a few others, including the cook. We jumped on that and the rest is history.

I talked the cook into swapping t-shirts for a MSU Bulldog one and they gave us enough tickets to get everyone that had traveled to Hattiesburg and everyone coming up for the weekend into the show as well. It was much better free from row seven than the night before if memory serves me correctly.

Circle TV reminded Danny and me of that fun spring as we watched Willie the other night. We were not even dating back then so she didn’t get the wild ride we all got, but she did snag me pretty soon afterwards and we married in August of 1981!

Considering the concert was 40 years ago, I suppose I can now rest comfortably knowing that she wasn’t just looking for one of those free tickets to see Willie live.