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Willie Nelson—you know him, you love him and he loves Austin. The red-headed stranger has spanned a 60-year career, putting Austin on the map, winning every award in the business, but has never been featured as a speaker for SXSW until today.
Representing a historic moment in Austin history, the local legend sat down with Texas Monthly's Andy Langer to talk about vulnerability in the pandemic, smoking weed, becoming a progressive figure in a red state and the key to living a sustainable life.
Nelson was originally scheduled to make a keynote speech at SXSW in 1992 but a delayed bus coming home from a concert kept him from delivering. Coming to speak nearly 30 years later, Langer asked Nelson to open with a joke that the musician had told him while smoking weed with Snoop Dogg 15 years ago.
"The thing I remember most about getting high with you 15 years ago was a joke you told me that took my breath away," Langer said. "It's the one about the nuns that are out for a bicycle ride around the Vatican. The punch line?"
"One of the nuns said 'I've never come this way before.' The other one said, 'me neither. It must be the cobblestones.'" Nelson replied, without missing a beat.
The legendary @WillieNelson shared some timeless wisdom with the #SXSW Community today in his Keynote conversation with @andylanger. pic.twitter.com/EPyCsCr3qi
— SXSW (@sxsw) March 17, 2021
At 87 years old, Nelson is at high risk for catching COVID-19 and watching out for the virus is something him and his family needed to be careful about. However, Nelson said he still feels lucky—knowing that others have struggled more and are missing the people around them makes him feel worse—and he misses getting to hug his fans every night after the show.
"It's been really tough on me but I can't imagine that it's been tough, not only on me, the performer but also everybody else who happens to be in the audience," Nelson said. "They come a long way, drive a long way, raise some money to hear somebody get up there and sing, whether it's me or whoever, so they can clap their hands and enjoy the music. I think they're missing it also. We're not like a lot of people out there who are really struggling. So I feel very, very fortunate."
Now, living on his ranch with his horses, Nelson said he has had plenty of things to keep him occupied.
Mid-pandemic, Nelson is focusing on spiritual growth, creating his new album, "Energy Follows Thought," and expanding his famous cannabis company, Willie's Reserve. Willie's Reserve is built on four pillars: personal freedom, medical advocacy, social justice and sustainability.
Nelson said decriminalization has come a long way since he was first "busted" for marijuana, but he wants it legalized for reasons more than just getting high.
"It can help you in a lot of ways and the more they think about it and the more they realize that's true, then the more people in more states will legalize it," Nelson said. "More states are on the way."
For all farmers, Nelson feels like they have been on the bottom rung of the economy for too long and urged people to get connected to their community, shop local and support local.
"Without the farmers, we don't eat so they're very important and they haven't been treated as important," Nelson said. "We got to take care of the small family farmer, period. We've got to quit buying our groceries and our breakfasts from 1,500 miles away, when there's a farmer out there that can grow it for you every day."
With dozens of years of a rich international career under his belt, Nelson said he has learned how to keep himself young, lift the people around him up, keep politics away from his performances and be independent with his religious beliefs.
"Here's what I believe: God is love. Period. Love is God, period. You can't have one without the other. And if you live knowing that God is love… that's all you need to know."
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With more research done on the COVID-19 Delta variant, Austin Public Health is upping its goal of 70% vaccinated to at least 80% due to the extreme virality of the strain.
As more Delta cases are identified—up to 29 cases are confirmed in Travis County—health officials are urging the unvaccinated to get their shots to contain the spread and relieve hospitals from reaching full capacity.
Austin-Travis County surpassed the Stage 5 threshold on Friday and has reached a seven-day average of 61 hospital admissions. However, Austin health leaders have yet to make an official shift as the Delta variant calls for new guidance, APH Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said at a joint Travis County Commissioners Court meeting on Tuesday morning.
The new guidance has yet to be released, but Walkes said it will take into account the viral load of Delta on both unvaccinated and vaccinated people.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed the Delta variant was as contagious as chickenpox, which has a herd immunity threshold of at least 90% vaccinated.
Although 63.42% of those eligible in Travis County are fully vaccinated, breakthrough cases—where vaccinated people are contracting COVID-19—are being identified. APH has identified 1,496 breakthrough cases of the roughly 800,000 vaccinated. Most breakthrough cases are showing less severe symptoms or are asymptomatic, according to APH.
Health officials are still asking residents to wear masks, although the city cannot mandate any masking orders due to an executive order by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
"Our challenge is going to be whether we're going to stand as a community and everyone who can get vaccinated, get vaccinated, and everyone wear a mask—that's what it's going to take," Walkes said.
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Save Austin Now police petition will reach November ballot after county clerk certifies 25,000 signatures
Save Austin Now is now 2-0 over Austin City Council after its petition to add more staffed police officers to the Austin Police Department was certified, garnering over the 20,000 votes needed to make it on an election ballot.
The petition calls for more police staffing per city resident, quicker response times and more training for city police officers in the wake of increasing violent crime rates nationwide and a year of limited APD staffing. The City Council will now decide whether to implement the ordinance outright or add it to the November election ballot; it will likely do the latter.
Over 25,000 of the 27,778 signatures racked up by the public safety petition were certified as valid, well over the 20,000-vote threshold required to be certified with the City Clerk. City Clerk Jannette Goodall placed the city's seal of approval on the petition on Tuesday morning.
The petition, by the same political group that got the camping ban reinstated through a petition in May, seeks to:
- Require minimum staffing of two officers per 1,000 residents
- Require a minimum standard of 35% community response time
- Add 40 hours of training
- Require city council members, Mayor Steve Adler and other city staff to enroll in the Citizens Police Academy
- Facilitate minority officer hiring through foreign language proficiency metrics
Austin's 160 patrol vacancies have dropped its staffing rate to 1.2 officers per 1,000 residents, according to the department. APD's response time has increased by about one minute and 50 seconds in a year.
The petition comes nearly a year after APD's budgets were slashed by city council following the summer's Black Lives Matter protests, which saw several demonstrators severely injured as millions called for justice in the police-related deaths of George Floyd and locally Mike Ramos, an unarmed Black man killed by APD officer Christopher Taylor, in April 2020.
Austin and the U.S. have experienced a widespread uptick in violent crime rates in 2021. The city has reached 49 homicides in 2021, higher than the total number of murders in all of 2020 and the 38 homicides in the city in 2019. Austin police officers have seen response times rise as the department suffers increased vacancies and fewer newcomers while cadet classes are being readjusted.
Opponents argue the ordinance would ramp up a policing budget while taking away from other departments including Fire, EMS, violence prevention, and mental health care. City Council Member Greg Casar, the Travis County Democratic Party and the Austin Justice Coalition have spoken out against the organization's latest public safety move, calling out the campaign as a "right-wing petition" that misleads those who sign.
🔥 PANTS ON FIRE: Republican-front group Save Austin Now is lying about their petition!
They say their measure is about police reform, when it's really about devastating our city budget - all for the benefit of the police union. Watch the video here ⬇️ #ATX pic.twitter.com/Z6QQSfhHfH
— Gregorio Casar (@GregCasar) August 2, 2021
The latest battle between city council and Save Austin Now will be decided by Austin residents in the Nov. 2 election.
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Austin City Limits fest and iHeartRadio Fest are the latest festivals to announce the removal of rapper DaBaby, who has come under fire for homophobic comments made during a recent festival.
The 29-year-old rapper, whose real name is Jonathan Lyndale Kirk, was dropped by Lollapalooza just hours before his set on Sunday, followed by the Governor's Ball in New York and Nevada's Day N Vegas after making unsolicited comments about men with HIV/AIDS at the Rolling Loud Festival in Miami. Rolling Stone Magazine confirmed with iHeartRadio organizers that DaBaby will no longer perform.
DaBaby will no longer be performing at Austin City Limits Music Festival — lineup update coming soon. pic.twitter.com/jAYfdJFxJf
— ACL Festival (@aclfestival) August 3, 2021
There is no word on who he will be replaced with yet, though rumors on ACL's subreddit, r/aclfestival, are saying they expect Tyler, The Creator, who performed at Lollapalooza. Kirk will be replaced at Day N Vegas by rapper Roddy Ricch.
Kirk later backtracked his offensive statements on his Instagram story, but again faced criticism for not exactly apologizing.
After facing a second round of backlash for his Instagram statements, the rapper posted on Instagram, saying:
In addition to being dropped from the festivals, DaBaby has been denounced by fellow celebrities like Dua Lipa, Madonna and Elton John.
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