Posted on April 20, 2012 at 9:26 PM
AUSTIN, Texas -- Country music legend Willie Nelson helped the city of Austin unveil an 8-foot statue of himself on a day long reserved to celebrate marijuana use.
Nelson also sang his new song, "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die," during the ceremony Friday.
Organizers say they didn’t intentionally choose the date, but once they found out, they set the time for 4:20 p.m. as a tongue-in-cheek reference to Nelson’s openness about his marijuana use and advocacy for its legalization.
Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell accepted the privately funded statue, which stands in front of the Austin City Limits Studio. Fellow singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson congratulated Nelson, who thanked the Texas city as marijuana smoke wafted through the crowd.
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 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.