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Senior Correspondent

A Second Chance From Willie Nelson

A Second Chance From Willie Nelson

Photo: Jacquelyn Martin

Reactions to meeting celebrities can be very unpredictable — intense heart palpitations, quickening of breath, over-the-top comments gushing forward, as well as screaming and fainting.

I found out I don’t react that way at all when I had the opportunity to interview a famous singer. Reporters working for small town newspapers don’t get too many chances to interview big-time celebrities. But lucky me, I was given such an assignment several years ago.

I was writing a preview story for a concert Willie Nelson was headlining in Winchester, Virginia. He was coming for the first Patsy Cline Classic, a concert held in honor of Winchester’s native daughter. He knew her and her husband, and wrote one of her hits  “Crazy.”

The local promoter gave my cell number to Willie’s manager, and I was told I would get a call. Usually it takes a couple of days for a call to be made with a time decided and contact person making the call. At least that was the case with other big wigs I had interviewed — authors, newscasters, singers, etc. So, I thought it would be days before I heard from him or his staff. But that was definitely not the case this time.

My cell phone rang a few hours later after I had left work. I was headed to the checkout counter at the grocery store. The name of the caller popped up as private, so I thought it is a telemarketer. It wasn’t. It was none other than the legendary singer himself, not a secretary or publicist to set up a time for the interview.

It definitely sounded like him with that distinctive voice, and he was calling me by name: “Frances, I heard you wanted to talk to me.”

I was so shocked, flabbergasted and totally thrown off balance, I told him it was a bad time since I was at the grocery store and asked if he could call me later. Well, he said, he was busy that evening. He had a concert, and it would be pretty late. I thanked him and said I hoped to hear from him that evening.

Did I really just tell Willie Nelson I was too busy?

Once I hung up the reality of it set in, and I thought I would never get that interview. I kept my cell phone close by, but no calls came from the celebrity I had told I was too busy to interview. I began to beat myself up mentally for not taking advantage of the call. Who tells Willie Nelson she is too busy grocery shopping to talk to him? I got no sympathy from family, friends or co-workers, who didn’t hesitate to tell me how crazy I was and how foolish I had been.

I backtracked and talked to the local promoter to contact the publicist again and please, please ask for a reprieve and a second chance. Several days passed, and still no call. I was sleeping with the phone and kept my notepad and pencil with me every second of the day and night.

Finally, the phone rang and the word "private" popped up again. Could it actually be him?

Sure enough, Willie’s melodic voice answered. I immediately apologized. He said, “You must have been pretty busy when I called before."

The interview commenced as it should have the first time, and I got the story. Willie was a true delight. Listening to the voice I had heard so often in song was a real thrill. He gave me great information about his relationship with Patsy and her family, explaining that was why he was coming to this small town at the top of Virginia. He was absolutely gracious and a real gentleman, especially after I had put him off the first time he called.

Several years later, a story showed up on the Associated Press wire about a reporter who frequently received calls from Willie. He elaborated that when the call came he never refused it, often causing him delays and even missing flights. I realized then I was in some pretty good company.

I don’t know why I reacted as I did. It was a gut reaction that couldn’t be explained. If I had it to do over (which never happens, of course), I would have sprawled on the floor of the grocery store, taken out my reporter’s pad, and started firing the questions.

But due to his really nice disposition and evidently forgiving nature, he gave me a second chance. I am eternally grateful.

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