Saturday, February 21, 2015

Willie Green, Live at the Yearling


            Willie Green is 79 or 80—no one is quite sure how old. And he still plays every weekend for tips at the Yearling Restaurant in Cross Creek, Florida, south of Gainesville.
            It wasn’t too many years ago that Willie was living under a bridge in Ocala, Florida. He’d wander from bar to bar in the town square at night, playing his harmonica for drinks, begging money for food and booze. One night he approached Robert Blauer for some cash.
            “We’d just opened this place up here,” said Blauer, owner of the Yearling Restaurant. “And I told him, ‘I’m not giving you any more money, Willie, but I’m gonna give you the chance to make some money.” Blauer took Willie out and bought him a new set of clothes—“from the hat down to the shoes”—and drove him up to Cross Creek. “I took him in one of these cabins here,” Blauer says, “and stuck him in the tub, and while he washed up, I ironed his shirt.”
            The restaurant was new and still enjoying its opening-day publicity with a full house. Willie walked in, guitar in hand, and took a seat in the same spot he sits in now. “I have no idea where he got that guitar,” Blauer said. “I didn’t even know he played guitar.” Willie played his first song, strummed the last chord, and the whole room erupted in applause.
            “He was shining like a new dime that night,” says Blauer. “And he’s been there ever since.”

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