By Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
You won't see no sad and teary eyes
When I get my wings and it's my time to fly
with The Wichitas
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: Bright House Networks Amphitheatre, 11200 Stockdale Highway
Admission: $25 to $75 plus service charge
Information: 852-7777 or ticketmaster.com
What you need to know before you go
There's nothing worse than a long walk from your car to the gate, only to learn that you unwittingly brought along contraband, necessitating a long walk back and forth again. Before you head over to the show, take note of the following info.
* No ice chests.
* No outside drink or food.
* Beer, wine, other beverages and food will be sold on site.
* Ticket-holders for the lawn area may bring blankets, but chairs and umbrellas are not permitted.
* Concert-goers may be subject to security search.
The last time we heard from elusive Bakersfield country act The Wichitas was two years ago when they opened for Oscar winning-singer/songwriter Ryan Bingham at B Ryder's. For the uninitiated, The Wichitas are local country roots rockers who made a big noise in the 1990s, performing around town for a few years before going on hiatus, resurfacing now and again. Over the course of the band's nearly 20-year existence, the guys have opened for Johnny Cash, Los Lobos, Buck Owens/Merle Haggard/Dwight Yoakam (a legendary 1995 show at the fairgrounds), and Willie Nelson at the Fox in 1999. The current lineup features lead vocalist and guitarist Olen Taylor; Bruce Jones, drums; Chris Goodsell, bass; and Ernie Lewis, sitting in for original ax man, Marc Lipco.
"The trick is, Willie loves what he's doing and he's really sincere about it and loves his audiences. They're really loyal fans. He doesn't look at it like doing a show. He needs air and water, and he needs to play music."
-- Mickey Raphael, who has played harmonica with Willie Nelson for nearly 40 years
THE WICHITAS SCORE ANOTHER PRIME GIG
Just call my friends and tell them
There's a party, come on by
And just roll me up and smoke me when I die.
-- "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die" by Willie Nelson
BY MATT MUNOZ
What do you do when you become the face of the fight for marijuana legalization in this country? If you're Willie Nelson, you roll with it -- literally.
The icon of American music and champion of his herb of choice has been getting a rousing reception at recent shows with a new song, "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die," which extols one of Nelson's favorite pastimes. From his latest album "Heroes," the song features Nelson pal Kris Kristofferson and a performer some might not associate with the Texas outlaw: rapper Snoop Dogg. Then again, considering both performers' love of lighting up, the pairing might not be as odd as it seems, said Mickey Raphael, Nelson's longtime harp player.
"We were both playing in Amsterdam, and Snoop came over to Willie's room and played dominos for about five hours. We went into the studio and cut one of his songs right after that. When it came time for Willie to record 'Roll Me Up,' it was natural for them to ask Snoop. That initial connection in Amsterdam set it off. He was a really great guy."
While it's pretty unlikely Snoop will show up at Nelson's concert Friday at Bright House Networks Amphitheatre, fans can expect a rollicking, unscripted set as the singer and his band return to Bakersfield. Raphael, who has been with Nelson for nearly 40 years, spoke with The Californian just hours after what has become a legendary date for the band: the annual Fourth of July picnic in Texas.
"The shows have gotten a little bit more controlled, but back then it was crazy just trying to get into the place," said Raphael, 60. "We either had to be dropped in by helicopter or deal with traffic for hours. So it was a challenge just getting there. Sometimes we might come in the night before and just camp out to be there early enough to play."
Not sounding the least bit fatigued from what has come to resemble a modern-day Woodstock, Raphael looked back fondly on how the patriotic tradition started.
"Each year is different. Back then, it wasn't a perfect science. They'd just find a field, put a flatbed truck with a makeshift stage and that was it, people would come. Next thing you know, 50 to 60,000 people would show up. Last night was my 39th 4th of July show."
Raphael first crossed paths with his future employer during an impromptu backstage jam session in 1973. In the decades since, the two have developed a nearly telepathic technique, Raphael's grace notes helping to make classics out of Nelson tunes like "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground" and "On the Road Again." Pretty impressive stuff, especially considering that Raphael was called to the instrument quite by accident.
"I heard a guy name Don Brooks who became Waylon Jennings harp player. The first time I heard him, I knew that's what I wanted to do. I was struggling as a guitar player when I was a kid. I loved music, but I was just looking for an instrument I was comfortable with. When I heard the harmonica I started following Don and his career. I always had a harmonica, but until I heard how it could be played by Don, that was it. I knew that was it for me."
What Raphael learned from Brooks was how to find a way into a song without over- blowing. The key, he said, is to hold back and listen until the music extends the invitation.
"What I'm good at is knowing when to play and not to play. That's what they pay me for, not necessarily for my skill on the harmonica. It's knowing when to place the harp in a song. That's actually more important then what you actually do with it."
Developing an ear is essential while playing with Nelson, revered for his jazzy phrasings, spontaneity and propensity to play behind the beat.
"It's give and take, but it's kind of a living, breathing thing. What we play is not written in stone. It's a stream of consciousness. It flows, it's alive and it changes every day."
One thing that never changes, though, is Nelson's unique voice. His soulful, nasal delivery crosses genres and styles with ease, even at the age of 79. All things considered, Raphael finds himself marveling at his friend's enduring musicality.
"I don't know what Willie puts his vocal cords through. I'm surprised he's got a voice left, because we work. We do 130 cities a year and he doesn't warm up, he doesn't do anything. It's in his genes; he's just lucky."
Joining Nelson and Raphael onstage will be the Family band: Nelson's sister Bobbie on piano; brothers Paul and Billy English on drums; and new member Kevin Smith, stepping in for longtime bassist Dan "Bee" Spears, who died in December.
Though Nelson maintains a punishing tour schedule, Raphael said his boss wouldn't have it any other way.
"The trick is, Willie loves what he's doing and he's really sincere about it and loves his audiences. They're really loyal fans. He doesn't look at it like doing a show. He needs air and water, and he needs to play music. Food might come after that. It's just natural for him. No set list. You'll just know it when you hear it." Win Willie Nelson tickets today!
Join the Eye Street crew on "Californian Radio" this morning for a chance to win Willie Nelson concert tickets. This is the hot ticket in town this weekend, so don't miss your chance to score. Listen for the cue and call 842-KERN. The show airs from 9 to 10 a.m. on KERN-AM, 1180.