Read part one here.
Well, last we left off, I described the experiences I had covering the Flood of 1998 on the radio. However, once the flood waters receded, and people and property were accounted for, the true emotional toll started to kick in.
Adrenaline got us through the flood, but, as anyone who's experienced some trauma can tell you, once that adrenaline goes away, depression and anxiety can start to creep in. Sadness, helplessness, loneliness, financial worries, the big lingering question — Now what the heck do we do? When your house had flood waters reaching the ceiling and trees all over your yard, the feeling of recovery can be overwhelming. Grab a mop? Get a Chainsaw? Try to salvage personal keepsakes? Knock down your whole damn house? Repair everything? Insurance? FEMA? Time off from your job to clean? Do your kids have trauma? Do you? And, while you're trying to answer all these questions, all you want to do is curl up in the fetal position and cry. You must stay strong for your family and for yourself. The whole city needed a morale boost. Something positive. HOPE.
After 9/11, New York City was suffering. Not just the actual literal devastation, but the morale. NYC felt defeated. A great city was brought to its knees in a way nobody could have ever imagined. Then, Mike Piazza came to the plate for the Mets at Shea Stadium. Sept. 21, 2001. 10 days after the attack on the World Trade Center.
This was the first sporting event to occur in NYC after the attack. The Mets were losing to their rival the Atlanta Braves in the 8th inning 2-1. The crowd was subdued. Already numb from the tragedy. In one swing, Mike Piazza hit a towering homer over the left-center wall to take the lead and go on to win. 41,000 New Yorkers in attendance rejoiced in jubilation. Strangers hugging strangers. New Yorkers were unified in the belief that you cannot defeat us no matter how hard you try. It was just a home run but sometimes that's all you need. That was the beginning of the moment New York felt it was on its way BACK! That home run might be the greatest in New York baseball history. It's impossible to describe so I will say this— google Mike Piazza 9/11 home run and watch it. I tear up every time I watch it. All that city needed was one swing of the bat to say 'You Cannot Defeat Us!' Sounds trivial, but it was not. Again, google Mike Piazza 9/11 home run. Watch it. It'll make you want to run through a brick wall to say 'I'm an American and you will never defeat us.
New Braunfels needed a towering shot over the left field wall to remind us, you can knock us down but you will never beat us. We will always get up.
Three days after the flood, I had an interview with Willie Nelson to discuss his record Teatro. The interview was set up well in advance so the timing was coincidental. He was calling me from the road, where he pretty much lived. He was in Florida and had not been in Texas during that time.
After the interview, I asked Willie to stay on the line, off-air, so I could ask him a question. Somehow I had a lightbulb go off in my head and managed to have the guts to ask Willie if he'd consider doing a benefit for New Braunfels flood relief. I said, 'Hey Willie, we've had some devastating floods in our town.' He responded, 'I heard and it sounds terrible. 'So, somehow I decided to go for it and said, 'You know, I can get some bands and we can raise a few thousand bucks but this town needs the kind of money you can raise. Would you ever consider doing something for us?' Without hesitation, he said, 'Yes. I will help.' I thought 'OK Mattson, now what the heck do I say?' And this is what came out of my mouth, 'So, Willie, once we hang up the phone, you become pretty hard to get a hold of. What do I do next?' He simply said, 'Just call me.' And he gave me his phone number. And then we hung up. I stared into space for 10 minutes thinking 'Ummmm, what just happened?'
Three days later I decided I might as well call that number to see if it were real. I dial the number thinking I'm going to get someone answering the phone "Hi, you've reached Willie Nelson Enterprises, how may I direct your call?' Nope.
On the third ring, a voice answers 'Hello?' I had approximately .2 seconds to realize 'This is Willie and don't screw this up.' So, I proceed. 'Hi Willie, this is Mattson, we spoke the other day about you doing a benefit, and, well, I'm just calling to see if that's still a possibility?' He said, 'Of course it is. When do you need me?' I responded, 'Actually you tell me whatever day works for you and I'll make it happen.' So, he checked his calendar and said, 'How about Dec 3rd?' I said that will work and we'll do this at Gruene Hall. I asked him what he needed from me. He said, 'You sell it out and I'll do the rest.' We exchanged pleasantries, I thanked him, and we hung up the phone.
I actually had no idea if Dec. 3rd would work but what else was I going to say? So, I called Pat Molak at Gruene Hall and simply said, 'I have Willie coming to Gruene Hall on Dec. 3rd for a flood relief concert. Please tell me that will work because I already told Willie it would.' Pat quickly stated, 'Let's do it!' And now, it was time to start putting together the greatest musical event New Braunfels had ever seen. We had not hit the towering home run yet but we were at the plate looking for a waist-high fastball. Willie gave us the fastball and all I had to do was swing. Here comes the pitch....and the rest of the story will be in the next blog.
As they say in show business, leave 'em wanting more. And, I shall finish this remarkable story in the next newsletter. This is just the beginning.