“OK, now whaddaya wanna do?”
Willie Nelson was sitting in a chair in the corner of his Pedernales Recording Studio, rolling off the likes of “On the Road Again,” “Bloody Mary Morning” and “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” like they were leaves falling from the trees. Gathered around him was a small crew from the Irish television show “Other Voices,” in town for a rare excursion outside their home country to capture a broad range of musical performances for an upcoming season.
Presently, he starts into “Always On My Mind,” then pauses. “Would you get me the words out here? Just so I don’t screw ’em up,” he says. Discussion in the control room turns toward getting a lyric sheet ready, but Willie decides to just give it a shot anyway, and he lays another ace on the table.
Scattered amid several isolation booths a few yards away are his sister Bobbie Nelson on piano, Mickey Raphael on harmonica, Kevin Smith on bass and Mike Meadows on drums. When they finish the song, Austin native Shakey Graves suddenly appears, a rising star whose task for the afternoon is to interview Willie on camera.
“I’ve never interviewed anybody before,” Graves admits sheepishly, but Willie immediately puts him at ease: “Let me interview you!” Willie asks if Shakey’s ever been to Ireland, and Graves recalls visiting the town where the “Other Voices” program is based.
“It’s called Dingle, like the berry,” Graves says, to giggles all around, before marveling about how beautiful the countryside was. Willie concurs: “You can’t even imagine how green it is until you get there.”
The taping with Nelson was a last-minute add to the itinerary for “Other Voices,” which is sort of an Irish parallel to our own “Austin City Limits.” Begun in 2003, the show has a different vibe than ACL, generally capturing bands in very intimate locations such as recording spaces, nightclubs, pubs and churches. Among those who have done the show are Austin’s Patty Griffin.
They’ll set up shop this weekend at Austin’s renowned Arlyn Studios, operated by a crew including Nelson’s nephew, Freddy Fletcher. The overlap with the Austin City Limits Music Festival’s second weekend was by design: “Other Voices” is bringing more than a half-dozen fest acts over to Arlyn from Friday to Sunday, including a couple that also taped “Austin City Limits” while they were here.
The schedule includes a mix of national and Austin acts, as well as a few performers who aren’t part of the ACL Fest lineup. The events aren’t open to the public, but tickets to some of the tapings are being given away on the Other Voices Facebook page as well as the Arlyn Studios Facebook page.
The conduit bringing “Other Voices” and Arlyn together is Graham Brown, an Irishman who moved to Austin a few years ago. Although the show currently does not air here, a representative for the program said that “the ‘Other Voices’ Austin team will be shopping the U.S. series installment to U.S. broadcast partners following these initial tapings.”
That should please Willie, who observed on Monday how the whole world is closely connected, as he sees it. “People are people everywhere, whether it’s Waco or London,” he said, a perspective underscored by the colorful “Alice in Hulaland” T-shirt he was wearing from a funky clothing shop in Maui, Hawaii.
As Willie and Shakey concluded their interview, Graves came up with a good question: “What’s the greatest gift you’ve ever given, and received?”
“Music,” Willie replied, not hesitating for a second. “To me, music is the common denominator.”