The community of Huddleston, Va. is celebrating a ‘Willie Merry’ Christmas, thanks to local farmer Beth Bays. Bays marked this year’s holiday season by building a 15-foot-high hay sculpture of Willie Nelson on her farm.
Bays tells the Richmond Times-Dispatch that her ode to the Redheaded Stranger — dubbed, of course, “Will-Hay Nelson” — is the latest sculpture in an 8-year tradition. In previous years, she has built hay bale likenesses of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, characters from The Wizard of Oz, a cow, and elephant and more. The tradition started after Bays was enlisted to participate in Bedford Farm Bureau Young Farmer’s hay bale decorating contest.
“They needed more entries and asked me if I would do one,” Bays recalls. “My husband didn’t know what in the world I was doing, but I managed to get one together.”
Since then, the contest has ended, but Bays’ hay sculptures have become an annual tradition. Each year, she unveils a new one in late November or early December. However, the farmer adds, this year’s sculpture of Nelson is particularly special.
“This one seems to be everyone’s favorite by far. My cousin joked that I might have to quit now, because I’ll never be able to top this,” she adds.
As they have in previous years, members of Bays’ community are coming to take holiday photos in front of the sculpture. “It’s become a tradition around here. A lot of people do family photos with whatever is out here each year,” says Huddleston resident Frank King, who helps Bays create her sculptures.
“This is my favorite one so far,” adds Don Williams, who looks for the sculptures each year while traveling to his Smith Mountain Lake vacation home for the holidays. “I could tell it was Willie Nelson from all the way down the road. I just had to stop to hell her how much I enjoy seeing these each year.”
In fact, a group of community members came together to perform a re-imagined version of Nelson’s classic “On the Road Again,” with its lyrics changed to “On the Farm Again,” in front of the statue. That’s a tradition, too: Local musician Dave Owens has written songs for Bays’ sculptures nearly every year since she began her project.
Of creating the sculpture, Bays says that the basics were easy to do — she only needed three bales to make his body — but nailing Nelson’s trademark features was a little tricky. “There was a lot of detail work with sculpting the arms out of chicken wire and making the guitar from a huge piece of Styrofoam I came across a few years ago and saved in my bard,” she explains. “I also had to make a nose out of chicken wire because Willie has a very prominent nose and I wanted to get that right.”
Bays debuted the sculpture in late November, and since then, a Facebook post about it has gone viral. The farmer says she hopes that the attention might even allow Nelson himself to see her hay bale homage.
“That’s amazing that word has spread that far so fast,” Bays comments. “I’m hoping the real Willie Nelson sees it and stops by the farm. I would love that.”
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