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  WILLIE NELSON and Cafeteria  
  Classic Center and Caledonia Lounge  
  both in Athens, GA  
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On an Indian Summer Saturday afternoon, I sat in an old house in Athens, Georgia, while people around me scrambled to cook a late breakfast of strawberry pancakes, bacon, and grits. I sipped on a cup of coffee as one man looked up from his paper and asked about Peruvian communist guerillas. Without missing a beat, I began to talk about the Maoist Shining Path. It was a shocking juxtaposition: this scruffy, unwashed young man who looked to be sporting an atrocious hangover holding an intelligent conversation about international terrorism. It completely tore apart my expectations, and I had to rethink my notions.

Some 6 hours later, I found myself walking into the Classic Center - a large venue that reminds me of a Symphony Hall - to see Willie Nelson perform. Honestly, I can't think of the last time I went to a seated concert. And, although a number of people around me seemed young and/or casual, it seemed like a fairly mature and sedate crowd. As the concert began, I was faced with the phenomenon I had feared: a completely choreographed greatest hits showcase perfunctorily performed to a passive, aging audience.

Willie rushed through a good 10 songs until he reached a low spot, which segued into an old Gospel tune. At the moment, a shiver began to run up and down spine, tingling in a manner I've only felt seeing bands like Godspeed You Black Emperor! or Low. And I had to admit that despite all the display and trimming, and beyond the choreography and routine which distance the performer from his audience, Willie Nelson had transcended his own performance - breaking through the curtain in order to evoke a real emotional reaction. For the rest of the over two hour concert, I focused on these moments - and acknowledged that this reality was nothing like I had expected it to be.

Afterwards, I wandered with my friends to the Caledonia Lounge to watch Cafeteria, an Athens band with a strong country framework underlying some very solid songwriting. It seemed a perfect followup to Willie Nelson. And despite the clearly intoxicated state of several band members, Cafeteria came out with an energetic, rip-roaring set, delivering biting, sarcastic songs of failed relationships and pain.

Behind me, a well-dressed young man heard only the banjo and the pedal steel. He looked at the scruffy, unwashed leader of Cafeteria and whispered to his date: "Let's move away from these hillbillies..."

And I laughed.

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