Talk about getting to meet one of your idols… Willie was so popular at the time that he sold out South Shore Music Circus three nights in a row and I was with him all three nights as his opening act.
I had been singing Willie songs for years and now I was about to be on the same stage with him. My opening went great for Willie and afterwards, I went backstage.
It was the second night of the series and I was sitting on a bench backstage chatting with Willie. Intermission was almost over and Willie was about to leave the dressing room area to prepare to start his show when there was a tremendous racket at the backstage door.
Through the screened glass we could see a large man crying and yelling something about his daughter and pleading for Willie to talk to him. Security ran past us to remove him, but Willie yelled, “Stop! Let him in!”
Nice thing about country stars, they treat you like family, like you’ve been on the road with them forever. It doesn’t matter who you are, if you’re on the show, you’re one of them.
Backstage is a highly secured area; nobody gets in that isn’t working on the show, but a star can always change the rules.
Security cautioned Willie that the man looked like he’d had a few, but Willie insisted they let him enter. The man came in crying saying that he was out in the audience with his 12 year old little girl and that she had cancer and was currently going through chemo. He asked Willie if he would dedicate “Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground” for her?
Willie gave the distraught man a big hug and said, “Of course I’ll sing it for her.”
After they spoke for a few minutes, the man calmed down and Willie asked Security to return him to his seat and then come back and let him know where he and his daughter were seated.
Most stars probably wouldn’t let somebody like that into the dressing room, especially someone who had a couple of beers. But Willie has always had a big heart and he probably wasn’t too worried about getting hurt because he also has a black belt.
Not just any old black belt, either — Willie’s rank is a very respectable 5th Dan Black Belt in a Korean Martial Art called GongKwon Yusul.
I am taller than Willie and outweigh him by a hundred pounds and even though I hold a 3rd Degree Black Belt in Ueichi-Ryu (Okinowan Karate), I’m sure Willie could put me in his back pocket if he wanted to.
Back to the story: About 15 minutes into the show, Willie got real serious and told the audience he had just met a wonderful Dad backstage who loves his little girl very much and who had asked him to sing a special song for her.
Willie directed the spotlight to the area where they were seated and asked them to stand. There she was, wearing a red bandanna covering her head. Willie sang “Angel Flying Too close to the Ground.” What a very special moment to be a part of…
By the third night, Willie and I were both wearing red bandannas. Willie was very gracious to me and we had pictures together and he told me I was welcome on his stage anytime and that he’d see me again when he came back to New England.
Willie kept his word and his management approved me to open for him on other occasions at major theaters on Cape Cod and in Connecticut.
Whenever I think about Willie, I remember how benevolent he was during everything that happened on that special night.
Most of all, I remember wearing our little red bandannas.