The Story Of How Willie Nelson Was Able To Smoke At The Roof Of The White House

The Story Of How Willie Nelson Was Able To Smoke At The Roof Of The White House | I Love Classic Rock Videos

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In 1977, Jimmy Carter became the 39th president of the United States, a period celebrated for the popularity of outlaw country and Southern rock. Before he was president, Carter enjoyed early rock, folk, and jazz. However, in the late 70s, his musical tastes expanded as he formed connections with icons like Ronnie Van Zant of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Dylan, The Allman Brothers Band, Emmylou Harris, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Waylon Jennings. Among these friendships, Willie Nelson stood out, leading to an unforgettable story that has been shared across the decades.

Willie Nelson’s High Times at the White House

Willie Nelson, renowned for his music and his advocacy for cannabis, became lifelong friends with President Carter. Among the many tales he’s told, one particular story stands out – smoking pot with Carter’s son, James Earl “Chip” Carter, on the roof of the White House. In the 2020 documentary Jimmy Carter: A Rock and Roll President, Carter shares, “When Willie Nelson wrote his autobiography, he confessed that he smoked pot in the White House, one night when he was spending the night with me. He said that his companion that shared the pot with him, was one of the servants at the White House. That was not exactly true. It actually was one of my sons, which he didn’t want to categorize as a pot-smoker like him.”

This amusing incident occurred on September 13, 1980. During a break in Nelson’s White House performance, Chip Carter suggested they enjoy the sight of Washington from a unique viewpoint. “In the break, I said, ‘Let’s go upstairs,’” Chip recalled. The adventure did not stop until they reached the roof. “We just kept going up ’til we got to the roof, where we leaned against the flagpole at the top of the place and lit one up,” Chip added. He described the White House as the hub from which you could see the city’s spokes leading toward them, making it a marvelous spot to relax.

In Nelson’s 1988 memoir, Willie: An Autobiography, he fondly reminisced about the experience, revealing, “Sitting on the roof of the White House in Washington, D.C., late at night with a beer in one hand and a fat Austin Torpedo in the other, I drifted into a reflective mood.” This candid moment shows a different side of political and public figures, as well as the blend of music, politics, and personal freedoms.

Years later, Nelson humorously mentioned the incident during an interview on Late Night with Conan O’Brien in 2008. “I hope that happened,” he joked, grinning. “I really hope I did that. That short-term [memory] stuff…”

The “Musicians’ President” and His Harmonious Friendships

Jimmy Carter was known as the “Musicians’ President,” admired for his authenticity and open-mindedness. Peter Conlon, a former Carter staffer and founder of Music Midtown Festival in Georgia, highlighted Carter’s deep, soulful nature and his non-judgmental approach. “He’s deeply soulful and open-minded. He doesn’t judge people. Wouldn’t that be nice, in the current political environment?”

Even as some criticized his close ties with musicians like Nelson and Dylan, Carter remained unfazed, cherishing the influence and connections these artists provided. “There are some people that didn’t like my being deeply involved with Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan and disreputable rock and rollers, but I didn’t care about that because I was doing what I really believed,” Carter stated. He noted, “And the response from the followers of those musicians was much more influential than a few people that thought being associated with rock and roll and radical people was inappropriate for a president.”

Over the years, the bond between Carter and Nelson only grew stronger. The former president joined Nelson on stage multiple times, including a memorable 1985 concert in Plains, Georgia, Carter’s hometown. Carter also played the harmonica for Nelson during the 2004 filming of CMT Homecoming: Jimmy Carter in Plains, showcasing a friendship that extended beyond political realms into personal and musical collaborations through 2016.