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Willie Nelson and I go back a long way. OK, we only met once fleetingly, but the circumstances that led up to it were as strange and crooked as the IRS.

It was six years ago, when I lived for a summer in, coincidentally, Nelson, British Columbia. The quaint little city moved quietly and contentedly, so it was obvious when a Hollywood production descended onto the town. Through the grapevine, I learned that the anxious, Ray Ban-clad army was in Nelson to film part of a movie, starring Rae Dawn Chong and Willie Nelson.

I never could quite figure out what the plot of the movie was supposed to be, except that it involved aliens and Native American Church-style peyote ceremonies. One day, I was walking through town with my then-boyfriend, when a pimply assistant came rushing toward us.

See Willie Nelson and Family Wednesday, Aug. 4 at 7 p.m.

"You!" he shouted at my boyfriend. "How would you like to be in a movie with Willie Nelson?"

He agreed, and promptly disappeared for the day. When he came back exhausted, he was barely able to sputter out what happened.

They had tapped him to play "Peyote Worshipper Number Two," a part that mostly involved single-handedly building a "sweat lodge" set and sitting around in a towel next to Willie amidst billowing smoke machines. As far as I know, the movie never came out. But two days after my boyfriend's ill-fated shoot, he introduced me to Willie outside of the food co-op.

"How do you do," Willie said with a slight, gentlemanly nod as he offered me his delicate, age-spotted hand.

That short encounter, to me, embodied the Willie Nelson ethos-mind your own business, keep your eyes level and speak softly, yet with conviction.

Although Willie was a Kennedy Center honoree last year, he wasn't always so accepted by the mainstream powers that be. After spending part of the '60s in Nashville writing popular songs for other artists, such as Patsy Cline's "Crazy" and Faron Young's "Hello Walls," he got tired of the run-around he got from producers who were unimpressed by him as a performer.

Decades before the likes of Billy Ray Cyrus, Willie was so sickened by what he saw as country music's bubblegum decline, he headed back to Austin, where he perfected his now-trademark outlaw sound and accompanying free spirit.

He scored a breakthrough album with 1975's The Red Headed Stranger, and he's been doing what he wants, to the delight of many ever since.

At 66 years old, many fans would argue that Willie is hitting his stride. He recently released Night and Day, an acclaimed collection of instrumental favorites originally penned by legends such as gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt.

And judging by what the critics are saying about a concert he just played in New York, in which the writer praised him for his combination of restraint and raucousness, he's still going strong.

Willie Nelson and Family stops at the Big Mountain Amphitheatre in Whitefish on Wednesday, Aug. 4. The gates open at 5 p.m., show starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the gate. Please bring a blanket or lawn chairs for seating.

Full of voodoo and cactus juice, Sammy Hagar is keepin' his mettle heavy


When it comes to Tequila there is no middle ground. The battle lines were drawn years ago, and if you hang around it long enough you inevitably end up falling on one side or the other. For me, my relationship with Jose Cuervo ended a few year ago on an evening that began innocently enough but ended with me sitting in somebody else's bathtub.

For Sammy Hagar, things appear to have gone better. Or maybe he's just tougher than I am.

Tip a tequila with Sammy Hagar and the Waboritas at Caras Park Wednesday, Aug. 4.

In a day and age when icons like Ozzy and Alice Cooper are practically standing in line to swear off the heavy metal lifestyle, Sammy Hagar still means business. The safe and sane '90s have done little to temper Hagar's mettle, or his love for the fermented cactus juice.

His new solo effort Red Voodoo is an unwavering celebration of tequila. Sammy appears on the cover with drink in hand, and the CD itself is styled after a twist-off cap. The photos inside are a montage of Sammy and his back-up band getting drunk together and liner notes include a recipe for the "Waborita"-Sammy's favorite drink and also the name of the band.

"I drink tequila, I make tequila. I dig it." Sammy explains in the information that accompanies Red Voodoo. But for anyone who's been listening to mainstream rock radio lately, no explanation is needed. The first single off the album "Mas Tequila" has been in heavy rotation since January. The track is a reworking of Gary Glitter's jock-rock classic "Rock n Roll Part II" and sets a light-hearted tone as the first track on Red Voodoo.

With a supporting cast of tracks like "Shag," "High and Dry Again" and "Don't Fight it (Feel it)," it's safe to say that the bulk of Red Voodoo doesn't take itself too seriously. Hagar describes the album as the most fun he's ever had making a record.

"I finally have the confidence to be completely myself on stage and in the studio," Sammy says in his written introduction to the album.

More than anything, Red Voodoo is designed to be an album that travels well and seamlessly translates into the Waboritas' live show. Sammy and the band have been on tour most of the summer and the Missoula faithful will finally get a chance to bathe in the fun when they descend on Caras Park this Wednesday.

With a live set that reportedly lasts over two hours, you can bet that Sammy busts out all the hits. The stage show is designed to be a replica of the interior of the Cabo Wabo Cantina, which Sammy owns in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. The set-up is complete with a bar and a host of tables on stage for fans lucky enough to get up close and personal with the Red Rocker.

Sammy Hagar offers an unadulterated good time, nothing more, nothing less. Just be sure to pace yourself, unless you want to end up sleeping in the bathtub.

Sammy Hagar plays the Caras Park Pavilion in Missoula, Wednesday, Aug. 4 at 7 p.m. Tickets $25 available at all TIC-IT-EZ outlets.

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