Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Jen's World: Willie!

Here's my 4/20 column... by popular demand. And by "popular demand," I mean that my friend Kelly requested I post it.

Long Live Willie Nelson!

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Willie Nelson is the soundtrack of my youth. I probably wouldn’t have admitted it to my friends then, but how many times did I dance in my parents’ basement to “Good-Hearted Woman”? Play pool under the fluorescent lights to “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground”? Belt out “On the Road Again” during family road trips?

Countless, that’s how many. And so it was with a fair bit of excitement that I walked into Mayo Civic Center for my first-ever Willie Nelson concert on Saturday night.

As my friend Lisa and I settled into our seats, we checked out the crowd. We noted a decidedly older demographic (there was a cane hanging on the railing blocking the stage)—though there was a respectable showing of children and 20-somethings, as well.

From the balcony, we admired the inhabitants of the first row with wonder (“How do you get those seats?” and “Look at those sequins!”) as a man behind us starting singing. “Waylon, Willie, and the boys…” he crooned, before yelling out, “C’mon! Everybody!” I thought the woman at the end of our row was going to join in, but instead she yelled, “We love you, Willie!”

And then, as if that’s the signal he’d been waiting for, the lights dimmed and Willie Nelson appeared. Wearing sensible tennis shoes, black jeans, a zip-up sweatshirt and a cowboy hat, the 77-year-old legend walked quietly on stage. Like an alternate-world Mister Rogers, he slipped off his sweatshirt, hung it on the table behind him, and put on his guitar—with its trademark red, white, and blue shoulder strap. And then, simply, he began playing. Just like that. No theatrics. No fanfare. No introduction. Just Whisky River.

And yet the crowd exploded—and I was transported. Like the smell of Bay Rum aftershave or the feel of riding a 10-speed on gravel, hearing Willie Nelson’s distinctive voice—live, in person, right in front of me—brought me straight back to RR 1, Box 294B, Thief River Falls, Minn. I might’ve been in section 10, seat 10 at the Mayo Civic Center, but I was also spinning around the pool table at my parents’ house, playing air guitar on a cue stick while my dad drank an Old Milwaukee and my mom twirled my little sister under her arm.

There’s a reason Willie Nelson doesn’t require fireworks or a grand introduction. His music is enough. We know all these songs—even if we didn’t know we know these songs. For 90 minutes, Willie sang back-to-back-to-back hits, without pause: Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain. Good-Hearted Woman. Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys. Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground. On the Road Again. You Were Always on my Mind. I’ll Fly Away. Georgia. City of New Orleans.

It struck me during the concert that Willie Nelson is the original crossover star. I’m not suggesting that his sound was ever confused with pop music. No. But he draws fans who might otherwise never lay claim to country music. Thirty years ago, when my dad first forced the Red-Headed Stranger onto his family? The long row of albums under my parents’ stereo housed The Doors, the Beatles, Peter Frampton, Janis Joplin, George Carlin. Willie Nelson was the delicious anomaly.

Because here’s the thing—and if I didn’t know it then, I know it now: Willie Nelson is cool. Like crazy cool. He can amble on stage, throw on his guitar and play 90 minutes of solid tunes. Utter a couple of thank-yous. And then smile, sign a few hats, and walk back off.

And still make me nurse a sizable crush—and hum Good-Hearted Woman for the next three days. And counting.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Jen's World: 15 Years & Counting...

Hey everyone! Yes, I know, MIA. While trying to decide exactly what need this blog fulfills (for me, for you), I've skirted it tremendously. :)

I'm hearing that many people are having difficulty finding my columns on the Post-Bulletin site. I get it. I tried to find them just now and came up with a big, fat ZERO when entering "Jennifer Koski" AND "Jen's World" in the search engine, despite the fact that I've written more than 250 columns for them in the past five-plus years.

So here you go, those who've been asking! This is the 3/23 column. Last Wednesday's column can be found on my FB page.

Best to you all! xoxo

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Nearly 15 years ago, my husband and I were married. And can I just say that, if I could do it over again, I would change almost everything?

For starters, I would knock myself upside the head when I got the brilliant idea to make our own invitations. This was definitely one of those “sounded like a good idea at the time” projects. To save money and personalize our invites, we bought specialty paper, which we both rubber-stamped and embossed by hand. And then we realized that we’d forgotten the date on the first batch. It took us weeks to finish those things. And then we had to address them. And I’m pretty sure we didn’t actually save any money.

Also, if I were to do our wedding again, I wouldn’t waste five seconds worrying about coordinating colors. I’ve never been good at making decisions (to this day I have to give myself a time limit in the candy aisle), but I was particularly inept when it came to choosing colors for our wedding. I still remember agonizing over which shade of green was most appropriate for napkins, for ribbons, for dresses. When, really, does anyone even notice that stuff?

OK, yes, maybe they notice the dresses. But that’s another thing I’d change. I would never again presume to pick out clothing—much less the exact same gown—for five other women. I mean, really. If I were to get married again, I would tell anyone who wanted to stand up front with us that they could wear whatever they wanted.

And this is just for starters. I’d also have our wedding outdoors on a Friday evening instead of indoors on a Saturday afternoon, and wouldn’t worry about whether that meant that a second cousin twice removed wouldn’t be able to attend. Our reception would be twice as long. I’d have brownies instead of wedding cake. And I’d forego all formal pictures. (OK, maybe I’d allow a couple professional candids —but there’d definitely be none of that posing-for-two-hours thing.)

Truth is, there’s a ridiculous list full of things I’d change about my wedding if I could. But, I’m happy to tell you, it doesn’t include the most important stuff.

Like the groom. Of course. And the attendees. Jay and I were just one year out of college when we married (what babies!), so our guest list comprised this fabulous mix of high school friends. college friends, and family—many of whom are no longer with us. Our reception remains the best party I’ve ever attended. (Also, it didn’t hurt that I rode to the reception on the back of a Harley after our best man found a willing escort in a bar.)

Last week, I was digging some blankets out of a trunk in our living room when I came across perhaps the smartest decision we made for our wedding. It’s a simple, hand-bound book filled with cloth-like paper. On the cover, it says, “Thoughts” and I suppose that’s accurate.

During the dinner at our wedding, we circulated this book along the tables and asked our guests to write in it. Paging through this momento in my basement last week, I took to heart sincere messages (and laughed at the funny ones), recognized many a distinctive handwriting, and touched the signatures of people who’ve since passed from this world.

“Never forget we love you both and will always be here for you.”

“May your marriage be long and happy.”

“Never go to bed mad because you’ll wake up madder. Trust me.”

Paging through this book, I wasn’t only transformed back to my wedding day, but also to the people who were key in my life in 1996. What an incredible gift. In fact, it may be the best decision I made for my wedding. Besides the groom, of course.