The privately funded monument near the new Moody Theater shows Nelson in a relaxed, standing pose and holding his guitar to the side, as if in conversation. Philadelphia sculptor Clete Shields said the leaning pose and heroic scale are intended to show Nelson’s openness and whimsical side while honoring his tremendous influence on music and the city.
“We wanted to get a timeless Willie, an ageless Willie,” Shields said.
Nelson is a 10-time Grammy Award-winning musician who has sold more than 40 million copies of 105 albums in a career built on not conforming to country music norms. Nelson fused country music with jazz and rock in the early 1970s to create the “outlaw country” movement in Austin and helped give the city a reputation as a music city. His first major hit came when Patsy Cline recorded his song “Crazy” in 1961.
Nelson was also a founder of the Farm Aid movement to help family farmers and has appeared in 37 films and television shows, ranging from a starring role in the 1982 western “Barbarosa” to making a cameo in the 1998 Dave Chappelle stoner comedy “Half Baked.”
The unveiling takes place on April 20, or 4/20, which is slang for smoking marijuana and a day pro-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 the group that raised money for the statue and gave it to the city said the date of the unveiling is just a coincidence.
The Willie Monument is the third statue put up by Capital Area Statues Inc., a group of prominent Texas writers, film producers and musicians. One of the others honors three Texas writers and is located at Barton Springs. and the other honors the woman who fired a cannon to prevent the removal of the state archives from Austin. Capital Area Statues was formed to add more statues in Austin’s public places and raises money for them by selling scale models of the work.
Lawrence Wright, one of the group’s founders, said April 20 was chosen because Nelson was scheduled to perform at a tribute to Johnny Cash in Austin that night, not because of the counterculture significance.
“We didn’t know anything about it; it seems everyone else knew the story on this,” Wright said, laughing, adding that he doesn’t think Nelson was doing it intentionally either. But he said the group decided to embrace the city’s unofficial motto of “Keep Austin Weird” and take the additional step of arranging for the unveiling to take place at 4:20 p.m. to add to the symbolism.