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The Five Coolest Things about the Willie Nelson Statue

A crowd gathered on 4/20 on Willie Nelson Boulevard, in Austin, to watch the unveiling of an eight-foot, one-ton bronze rendering of the Red Headed Stranger. 

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Turk Pipkin | Facebook

As TEXAS MONTHLY contributor Andy Langer stopped just short of saying in his interview with Willie Nelson for Austin’s Your News Now, a person usually has to die to get a statue. But that wasn’t the case for the legendary musician.

Nelson and a crowd of more than 1,000 fans gathered on Willie Nelson Boulevard outside of Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater on Friday to see the unveiling of the third statue commissioned by the Austin non-profit Capital Area Statues (CAST)–an eight-foot, one-ton bronze rendering of the Red Headed Stranger by sculptor Clete Shields. 

Five more things about the statue:

1. The date of the unveiling was an accident
Although YNN reported “The statue dedication is purposely taking place this Friday, or 4-20, which is the national day of protest for the legalization of marijuana,” CAST board member Lawrence Wright told the Austin American-Statesman‘s Ben Wermund that the date was a “complete and utter coincidence.”

It was chosen because Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and many others were performing that night at ACL Live’s Johnny Cash tribute concert, as Chris Tomlinson of the Associated Press reported.

Regardless, the media had to fall over itself trying to explain the basic meaning of 4/20 (as opposed to its deeper meaning, which remains the stuff of legend). 

“A sort of counter-culture holiday,” wrote the Statesman‘s Wermund. 

“An unofficial pot-smoking holiday, Corrie MacLaggan of Reuters called it.

“A date long reserved to celebrate marijuana use,” said AP’s Tomlinson, who then continued:

The unveiling was fitting on April 20 — or 4/20, which is slang for smoking marijuana — a day pro-marijuana legalization forces have used for annual gatherings to demonstrate in support of the cause. Nelson is a well-known advocate of legalizing marijuana and has been arrested several times for possessing it.

But Nelson said it best when he talked to Langer about the sculpture’s permanence: “I’ll be stoned one thousand years.”

2. It might be the least quirky of the three statues CAST has made
While music fans from outside Austin might lump the Willie statue in with Town Lake’s Stevie Ray Vaughan statue, CAST‘s other sculptures are Philosopher’s Rock, which features Texas literary giants Frank Dobie, Roy Bedichek, and Walter Prescott Webb pontificating at the entrance to Barton Springs, and Angelina Eberley, who fought the “archive war” that kept Austin from being replaced by Houston as the capital of Texas. 

CAST’s board is an eclectic group that includes film producer Elizabeth Avellan, musician Marcia Ball, writer and photographer Bill Witliff, the New Yorker writer and author Lawrence Wright, and novelist and TEXAS MONTHLY contributor Stephen Harrigan. CAST was founded in 1992 with the belief  “that cities are made great, at least in part, by the monuments they choose to express their identity. “

3. The statue has it roots at San Diego Comic Con
As CultureMap‘s Kevin Benz reported last year, sculptor Shields originally met Avellan (and her ex-husband and collaborator Robert Rodriguez) at San Diego Comic Con some years ago: 

“She gave me three things they were really looking for [in the sculpture],” Shields said. “Willie could not be playing guitar; he had to be addressing the audience, approachable; and he had to have that twinkle in his eye. When someone gives you an opportunity to sculpt Willie Nelson, that’s a once in lifetime opportunity. I wasn’t going to let anything stop me.”

4. The W Hotel became a bit less pretentious Friday
The Starwood boutique property’s signature “W” sign was given its own set of braids and a red headband (photos here, here and here).

5. Intentional or not, 4/20 was celebrated.

“There was something in the air Friday afternoon,” wrote Wermund of the Statesman

One of the two songs that Nelson played was his new single with Snoop Dogg, “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.” And, as Tomlinson also reported, he asked the crowd “What time is it?” 

Below, a video that shows you just how that played with the crowd. 

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