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Sunrise With Willie Nelson, Mickey Newbury And Darrell Royal

Back when Willie Nelson had returned to Austin from Nashville and suddenly become the hillbilly crown prince of the Live Music Capital of the World - which was not yet known by that somewhat dubious nickname - one of his most visible supporters was then-University of Texas football coach Darrell K. Royal.

Like Nelson, Royal was known to frequent Hill's Restaurant with the likes of John Henry Faulk, Bud Shrake and other Austin notables and incorrigibles, and had a passion not only for country music but for golf. After his retirement as head coach in 1976, Royal also became known for his chaotic charity golf tournaments, which featured a hodgepodge of entertainers, sports figures and jet-setters.

One of the best (or worst) features of Facebook is the ease of reconnecting with people from past lives. Not long after Lonesome, Onry and Mean got on Facebook, we friended a former Permian High School classmate, Lynda Higdon of Granbury. One day Higdon sent an inbox note that said to look at a photo she had just posted on her wall.

Well, LOM almost fell out of his chair when we saw a smiling Higdon with none other than Willie Nelson. Her story goes like this:

Higdon was asked by her friend Kay Maugham - a descendant of British novelist W. Somerset Maugham - if she'd like to accompany her to Royal's charity golf tournament at the almost-new Woodlands Country Club. Maugham had a press pass and could invite one guest, so Higdon found herself careening around on golf carts, drinking beer and talking with none other than Darrell Royal and Willie Nelson.

"It was hilarious," Higdon recalls. "Everyone was just having a great time, a lot of laughing and talking trash about who was the worst golfer."

The tournaments always included an evening musical performance, and Willie was the headliner in 1978. Maugham wasn't able to get her a pass for an actual seat, so Higdon ended up standing in a hallway off the side of the stage and seeing what she describes as an amazing performance.

Afterwards, she and a handful of other civilians were invited to Coach Royal's hotel room for an informal picking party.

So Higdon found herself in the company of Royal, his wife and son, Willie, Hank Cochran, Johnny Bush, Mickey Newbury and several other musicians whose names she can't recall.

"They had their individual instruments, and each guy took a turn singing several songs," she says. "The rest of us sat around on the floor, being quiet as little mice, and just drank it all in. It was an awesome experience.

"I can see it just like it was yesterday and hear the music, Willie strumming his guitar and singing 'Georgia On My Mind,' which he'd just recorded. He also sang 'Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,' an old favorite of mine.

"Mind you this was immediately after he had just given a two-hour concert, but you would never have known it.

"My main impression was that Willie just enjoyed being there as a person, because he really was like that," Higdon adds. "He truly enjoys just strumming, singing, telling stories and laughing, having a good old time with everyone.

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"So the next thing I know, someone says the sun is coming up, and we all gathered at the back sliding door to watch this beautiful sunrise. It was just one of the most amazing nights of my life.

"And, no, I never saw any of that weedy stuff."

Willie Nelson & Family play Verizon Wireless Theatre Friday, February 4. The show is close to selling out.

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