Finding Willie Nelson in Austin

photo:  Jay Janner
by:  Dave Thomas

There are two kinds of people in Austin: Those that remember old Austin and those who will start remembering old Austin in a few years.

Wait, that’s not it. Maybe it’s: Those who have allergies and those who will.

Well, maybe both of those are true. But what I’m aiming for is this: Those who love Willie Nelson and those who ought to start.

Willie was born in Abbott, north of Waco along I-35. He started writing hit songs in Houston — penning “Night Life” on his commute from Pasadena. The budding songwriter made a career in Nashville, and when his home burned down, he found his footing in Bandera. Even now, he’s often found toking, joking and gambling with pals in Maui, Hawaii.

But (at least when he’s not on the road, again and again) Austin is the spiritual home to Willie Nelson. He was always going to be a great songwriter. He created something more here. Are you feeling it, too?

Here are six places in and near Austin where you can gaze upon Willie now … or think about Willie then.

An 8-foot-tall bronze statue of Willie Nelson watches over West 2nd Street, also known as Willie Nelson Boulevard, at at ACL Live at the Moody Theater, the home of “Austin City Limits,” Monday September 12, 2016. The statue was created by Philadelphia artist Clete Shields, and given to the city by the nonprofit Capital Area Statues Inc. in a ceremony on April 20, 2012. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN (Jay Janner/Jay Janner)

1. The Willie Nelson statue, 310 W. 2nd St

The eight-foot tall statue was unveiled on April 20 (4/20!), 2012. Created by Philadelphia-based artist Clete Shields, the sculpture is near the home of Austin City Limits. The pilot of the long-running show featured Willie, of course.

PHOTOS: Willie Nelson through the years

Threadgill’s on Barton Springs in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, December 20, 2008. (Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman)

2. Threadgill’s World Headquarters, 301 W Riverside Dr

Plenty close physically and spiritually right on top of the site of the iconic Armadillo World Headquarters, you can belly up to the bar (or sit down for chicken-fried steak) and reflect that only the years separate you from that night in 1972 when Willie actually brought the hippies and rednecks together (and blazed his future path) in one epic August Armadillo show. Armadillo leader and Threadgill’s owner Eddie Wilson would be instrumental the next year in making the first Willie Nelson Fourth of July Picnic a success.

A 60-foot-by-20-foot mural of Willie Nelson looms over traffic on East Seventh Street at Neches Street on Monday, February 22, 2016. Austin artist Wiley Ross completed the mural Sunday after a week of painting. Rudy Duran is dwarfed by the mural while posing for a photo. “He is Texas, as far as I’m concerned,” said Duran, who came to look at the mural as soon as he heard about it. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN (Jay Janner/Jay Janner)

3. The giant Willie Nelson mural, East Seventh at Neches Street

Artist and musician Wiley Ross spent 80 hours over six days completing this 60-foot-by-20-foot mural, which would make an excellent backdrop for your next snapshot, selfie or official portrait.


4. Southpark Meadows, 9500 S IH 35 Frontage Rd 

You don’t have to eat at the Texas Roadhouse here, though Willie is a part-owner and there’s a small smattering of memorabilia. Instead, drive farther into the shopping center, toward the Hobby Lobby. In the parking lot here is where the stage used to be for the Southpark Meadows concert venue. Willie held three Fourth of July Picnics here: 1984, 2000 and, most notably, 1985. In addition to being the rainiest Picnic, ‘85 was one of the first appearances of The Highwaymen, the country supergroup Willie formed with friends Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson.

The “Willie Nelson For President” mural on STAG Provisions for Men was painted by Joe Swec from a drawing by Jacqui Oakley and a design by Erick Montes. Photographed Thursday July 14, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN (Jay Janner/Jay Janner)

5. The Willie for President mural, 1423 S Congress Ave

This smaller mural, on the side of the Stag Provisions for Men building is probably a little better for capturing snapshots with the Red-Headed Stranger. It also is very close to the former site of the Austin Opry House, the venue Willie opened in 1977. The Opry House was Willie’s often-chaotic, not-near-as-good answer to the Armadillo World Headquarters.

Susie Fowler introduces Tessy Lou and the Shotgun Stars members (from left) Bryan Paugh, Kenny Williams and Scott Martin during a concert Sunday at Poodie’s Roadhouse benefiting residents of Aransas Pass and the Rockport area who suffered from the effects of Hurricane Harvey. (SUE KNOLLE/Lake Travis View)

6. Poodie’s Hilltop Roadhouse, 22308 Hwy. 71 W., Spicewood

Named for and created by Willie Nelson stage manager Randall “Poodie” Locke, who died in 2009, this Hill Country bar was, for awhile, about as close as you could get to the idea that Willie might just stop by and pick a few songs. That may be more legend than reality these days, but when he’s not in Hawaii or on the road, Willie lives nearby. Strike up a conversation, you never know who will be telling the next Willie story — or who they might introduce you to.

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