This statement will come as a surprise to none of you: Texans like to do things BIG.
I offer as a case in point, last weekend’s induction into the Texas Heritage Songwriters’ Assoication’s (THSA) Hall of Fame. This isn’t just a gig, it’s three-day fiesta. Bobby Karl put the event on his radar this year, although the organization that tosses these bashes is 10 years old. It took place on June 20, 21 and 22 in Austin.
Friday evening was the opening event of the Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame weekend. It took place south of town, at Saxon’s Pub on South Lamar. You can’t miss it: There’s a giant suit of armor out in front. This venue is legendary.
“This club is 24 years old, and 30,000 artists have performed here,” said owner Joe Ables, who hosted the show. Favorites there have included such Texas tunesmiths as Ray Wylie Hubbard, Rusty Weir, Joe Ely and the late Stephen Bruton. On this night, Ables’ stage featured banners reading, “Music In Its Purest State” and “2014 Homecoming Weekend.”
That’s because the starring writers were prior Hall of Fame inductees Aaron Barker (who is from San Antonio), Sonny Throckmorton (Wichita Falls), Bruce Channel (Grapevine), Larry Gatlin (Seminole) and Allen Shamblin (Huffman), plus Bonnie Bishop, Kevin Welch, Dustin Welch and newcomer Mignon Grabois.
Working the packed room and grooving on the tunes were such familiar Nashville names as Waylon Payne, Susan Nadler, Mary Miller, Connie Nelson and Evelyn Shriver.
The second THSA event occurred the following evening. It took place in the fabulous Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. From the 40-foot bronze Lone Star towering over its plaza to the observatory-dome top floor, from the terrazzo floor depicting Texas history to the IMAX theater, this facility puts other state museums to shame. Tennessee legislators need to visit and take notes. I know Texas is a much bigger state, but at the very least our museum needs it own building.
Anyhow, the Saturday evening event was billed as “The Darrell K. Royal Songwriters Homecoming,” an elegant reception and show. Organizer Bill Schneider was the best bud of Darrell Royal (1924-2012), the legendary football coach who led The University of Texas to three national championships. Royal was also a huge songwriter fan, who always hosted guitar pulls at the golf tournament he co-hosted with Willie Nelson for years. This whole weekend grew from Royal’s enthusiasm.
The reception in the museum lobby was attended by 400+ VIPs, including Jody Williams, Bill Thornbury, Stan Moress, Gary Nicholson, Colleen Fisher, Freddy Powers, Dean Miller, Perry Howard, Amos Brown, Kelly Gonzales, Mason Hunter and more.
The cocktail supper featured chicken quesadillas, pork belly with apple chutney, jalapeno-chicken and pulled-pork sliders, grilled Mexi-corn cups and watermelon agua fresca with goat cheese. You could also indulge in pecan-pie diamonds and/or donuts with chocolate dipping sauce.
Emcee Terry Boothe brought on Schneider, who presented a Darrell Royal autographed “game ball” to THSA executive director Michelle Johnson.
Gov. Rick Perry appeared and got a standing ovation. “When you think about this state, this songwriters’ association gets to the heart of who we are as a people,” said Perry. “I don’t think there’s anybody who loved country music and its people more than your husband,” he said to widow Edith Royal. Perry presented the Darrell K. Royal Texas Music Legends Award to iconic radio broadcaster and hit songwriter Bill Mack (WBAP, Sirius/XM, “Drinking Champagne,” “Blue”).
“We live in the greatest state,” said Mack. “I’m so glad that Rick Perry is our governor.
“This isn’t political,” Mack added, before plugging Perry for President. In that very week, Perry had asserted that homosexuality was the same thing as being genetically pre-disposed to alcoholism (it isn’t) and that terrorists from Syria were coming across the border from Mexico into Texas (they aren’t).
The genial, likable Perry proclaimed Jessi Colter, as well as Natalie Hemby, Rhett Akins and Luke Laird to be honorary Texans. Larry Gatlin introduced the three Nashville songwriting stars. “I’m kind of the Susan Lucci of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame,” said Gatlin. “Because I’ve been nominated six times. But the way I look at it is, the best songwriters in the world are from the state of Texas.” He is, needless to say, a Texas S/W Hall of Fame member. Gatlin sang “Strings Attached” and “Johnny Cash Is Dead and His House Burned Down,” before turning over the show.
Laird (“Give Me Back My Hometown,” “Drink in My Hand,” “Keep It to Yourself”), Hemby (“Baggage Claim,” “White Liar,” “Drinks After Work”) and Akins (“That Ain’t My Truck,” “Honeybee,” “Take a Back Road”) were stellar. “Thank y’all for having us cats from Nashville crash your party,” said Atkins. Booked for the gig by BMI, all three did Music City proud.
Next on our THSA agenda was a VIP reception in the mezzanine lobby of the Moody Theater at Austin City Limits downtown. The walls were completely covered with photos of ACL performers, from Sheryl Crow, B.B. King, Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews and Elvis Costello to Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, Keith Urban, Rosanne Cash and Bill Monroe. Not to mention Willie Nelson, a bronze statue of whom also smiles benignly on the theater’s entry plaza.
The theater itself, is a marvel. With no columns anywhere, the sight lines are flawless. The sound is sterling. You’ve seen it on TV, and it’s just as cool in real life.
“There is no place I’d rather be than right where we are,” said show host Red Steagall. “There are only three kinds of Texans – those who were born here; those who got here as fast as they could; and those who are on their way.
“Darrell K. Royal…brought a group of us together and created a family. This is a continuation of that family.”
Inductee K.T. Oslin received a standing ovation before she uttered a word or sang a note. “Texas, I’m home!” she exclaimed. She sang “Cornell Crawford,” explaining, “This is the first song I ever wrote. All those years in New York just went away, and out came Texas.”
Oslin was transcendent, enthralling the crowd with “Do Ya,” “Hey Bobby,” “New Way Home,” “Hold Me” and “80s Ladies” in much the same way that she did at her Franklin Theater comeback show in November. “What an honor this is for me,” she said.
Lee Roy Parnell sang for inductee Buck Owens (1929-2006). “Buck was my friend,” Parnell said. “This is a particular honor for me. The greatest night of my life was when I was inducted, and tonight is up there with ‘em.” With Bonnie Bishop doing Don Rich-style harmonies, Parnell performed “Under Your Spell Again,” “Crying Time,” “Together Again,” “Tall Dark Stranger” and “Love’s Gonna Live Here.” He promised to place the award on display at Owens’ Crystal Palace nightclub in Bakersfield.
Kris Kistofferson was first up to honor inductee Waylon Jennings (1937-2002). “I’ve been a fan of Waylon ever since the first time I heard him sing at a demo session for one of Harlan Howard’s songs,” said Kristofferson. “I’d never heard anything like him, and I still haven’t.”
Son Shooter Jennings did “Sad Songs and Waltzes,” “Lonesome On’ry and Mean” and “Belle of the Ball.” Then widow Jessi Colter provided her own “I Ain’t the One” and “Storms Never Last” to the proceedings. She and Shooter brought this tribute section to a close with a rocking “Why You Been Gone So Long.”
All three tribute segments featured video testimonials. Among those appearing on screen were Joe Galante, Guy Clark, Bill Anderson, Miranda Lambert, Tim DuBois, Rodney Crowell, Dwight Yoakam, Vince Gill, Richie Albright, Ralph Emery and Ringo Starr. It’s also essential to mention that Johnny Nicholas & Hell Bent, featuring dobro/steel sizzler Cindy Cashdollar, were a superb backing band throughout the show. These folks are also Saxon Pub regulars.
The evening concluded with a 71st birthday celebration for Kristofferson, who led everyone in singing “Me and Bobby McGee.” Schmoozing at the gig were Texas boosters Kimmie Rhodes, Ray Benson, Tamara Miller, Charlie Stewart, Turk Pipkin and Lisa George.
“God bless Texas!” said Red Steagall. “Will you join us again next year?” Loving songwriters as I do, I just might do that.
Read about Bobby Karl’s favorite Austin restaurants.