Although these days he spends most of his time riding horses on his Hawaiian ranch, Willie Nelson is just about as synonymous with Austin as Zilker Park. He's made such an impression on the city that we honor him in every chance we get: in murals, as a statue in front of the Moody Theater (which sits on Willie Nelson Blvd.), on T-shirts and with his 4th of July Picnic.
So in celebration of the Red Headed Stranger's 88th year around the sun, here are just a select few of the reasons Austin loves Nelson.
We get to celebrate his birthday twice
Nelson was born just before midnight on April 29, 1933, in Austin, Texas, the county courthouse didn't record his birth until the next morning, officially giving him two birthdays, as he explained on Sirius XM in 2018. Nelson celebrated on April 29 exclusively until he turned 18, joined the Air Force and obtained a copy of his birth certificate. Instead of fretting about the clerical error, Nelson saves people the confusion by celebrating on both days. If anyone deserves two birthdays it's him, right?
He has done some outlandish things for weed
It's not a secret that Nelson has a certain affinity for the devil's lettuce but he didn't start smoking it until he was 21, even refusing the first time it was offered to him. He has since been serious about destigmatizing the use of cannabis. He recently started his own line, called Willie's Reserve, and held a cannabis convention this year. In the in-between, though, Nelson says he's been busted more than a few times for possession.
Upon coming home to see his Tennessee house on fire in 1969, Nelson ran inside in search of two things: his beloved guitar and a pound of Colombian bud. However, Nelson says he didn't go after the weed to save it but to keep himself out of jail for possession.
Equally crazy, Nelson once smoked a joint on the roof of the White House with Jimmy Carter's son, Chip. Ticking off the bucket list, Nelson tried to do the same on the roof of the Governor's Mansion but was caught before the goal was achieved.
One of his albums was released to pay off IRS debt
Owing an estimated $32 million in taxes to the IRS, which Nelson attributes to mismanaged money and bad accountants, federal agents raided Nelson's home in 1990 and seized some of his assets. After the seizure, the IRS charged him $16.7 million. Nelson released a two-disc acoustic album titled "The IRS Tapes: Who'll Buy My Memories?" and gave the IRS a portion of the profits. The ordeal was settled in 1993 and Nelson is proud to say he lived to tell the tale.
He's been a performer since he was a child
The first time he ever performed in public, Nelson was 5 years old and recited a poem. He had such a bad bout of stagefright that he started picking his nose until it bled onstage. Though his first performance didn't go well, he was gifted a guitar one year later, when he was 6, wrote his first song when he was 7 and joined his first band when he was 10. By 13, he had played with Bob Wills, the "King Western Swing" music and got a job in a Bohemian Polka band as the lead singer and guitarist. The rest is history!
He's been playing the same guitar for 50 years
Named "Trigger" after Roy Rogers' horse, Nelson has been playing the same guitar for 50 years, which explains the scratches, nicks and beat-up look the instrument has, but he loves it the same. After his trusty Baldwin was damaged beyond repair by a drunk man at a show, Nelson got into the market for a new one. A Martin N-20 classical guitar, Trigger has been with him through his house fire and when the IRS came to raid Nelson's home, he sent Trigger to his daughter, Lana, in Maui, Hawaii, for safekeeping. The guitar has been through hell and back, it even has a hole in the body from use, and sees a guitar technician frequently but still plays as good as it should.
We hope you have two "Willie" nice birthdays, Mr. Nelson!
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Downtown may be recovering from the pandemic but the priorities resident wants in their city center are changing, according to the City Pulse Survey done by design firm Gensler.
After studying 7,500 people in 15 global markets, including our very own Austin, Gensler found that life in COVID has pushed city-dwellers to want more outdoor activities, social spaces and entertainment venues in bustling business districts.
Post-pandemic, the highest-rated downtown activities were shopping, visiting parks and just “hanging out.” The need for more public spaces like parks jumped from sixth on the list to second this year.
Although globally people view downtown as a business district for task-based activities, across the U.S., downtown districts are viewed more as a vehicle for entertainment. This is especially true for Austinites, where people surveyed said they would rather see more entertainment and cultural venues than shopping or public transit downtown.
For Melanie Gartman, a manager at construction software company Levelset who has been living in Austin for most of her life, the needs and wants of the average resident closely align with her own.
Austin clocked in second-most desirable downtown, tied with Charlotte, North Carolina. Like the 78% of Austinites in the survey, Gatman said she thinks Downtown Austin is hanging on to its lovable charm.
“Even now with fewer people out and about it's still very vibrant and lively. I feel like I saw life come back to downtown a lot sooner than I expected it to,” Gartman said. “It's still holding on a bit that Austin vibe and with the high rises coming in, it's scary that we could lose that. I think it's holding on better than I would have expected, especially within the last two years of everything that happened.”
As Austinites eased back into downtown, the first stop Gartman made was to go see music again. Since venues opened back up, Gartman and her loved ones have seen live music at their favorite venues: Moody Amphitheatre, Mohawk, The Parish and Empire Control Room.
Blackillac opened for Gary Clark Jr. at the Moody Amphitheater's first show back in August. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
Entertainment is most important for Gartman’s life in Austin—seeing Gary Clark Jr. in August brought normalcy back into her routine—and said our local downtown is the ideal out of other cities in Texas.
“I've always noticed that between Houston’s downtown and Austin’s, Houston's is so Monday to Friday, eight to five, maybe a post-work happy hour,” Gartman said. “Growing up, downtown (Austin) was always the place to go. It has always been the hub and I think Austin is unique in that way.”
Traffic in downtown areas is way down overall, even though concern over pandemic safety has taken a backseat. Shopping traffic has decreased by 28%, dining out and entertainment attendance dropped by 33% in the post-pandemic sphere.
Even though her office is located downtown, Gartman usually works from home. Her downtown visits tend to be for the purpose of entertainment and she said the lack of parking sometimes becomes problematic.
“I feel like all these high rises are taking over all the parking,” Gartman said. “It used to be for go-to parking, I would just park under I-35. No big deal. But now, that’s kind of scary, especially if you're by yourself. The party parking is a barrier to actually making it down there.”
But with the rise of the hybrid work model, it’s likely that the downtown sphere is going to change all across the U.S. For now, survey participants said they would like to see their downtown reduce traffic, add more green space, improve the cityscape and increase parking capacity as we shape the future of cities.
Akins Early College High School, 10701 S. 1st St., was on lockdown Wednesday morning as district police investigated a report of an "armed subject," Austin ISD Police Chief Ashley Gonzalez tweeted. The district has since deescalated the lockdown to a hold, where students can go to the restroom and be picked up if parents choose to do so.
Students and staff are safe and no shots were fired, according to police. Three students were identified to have caused the lockdown after a witness claimed one of them had a weapon; the three met up in the school restroom. No weapon was found on the three students. However, one of the students had two magazines with ammunition.
The three students were located and will not be returning to school tomorrow. Gonzalez said their punishment with the school or charges have not been identified since the investigation is in the early stages.
Additional officers will be on campus tomorrow. "We take these events seriously and we prepare so that at the end of the day, everyone can go home safe," Gonzalez said.
The Taylor Police Department is investigating an apparent murder-suicide that left four people dead on Tuesday.
Officers responded to a call at around 1 p.m. for a welfare check at 616 Symes St. in Taylor, Texas, where the Taylor Fire Department helped force entry into the home since it was locked, police said. Once inside, officers found four dead bodies. The names of the victims have not been released as police continue to contact relatives, but officers revealed they consisted of a 45-year-old woman, a 20-year-old woman, an 18-year-old man and a 57-year-old man.
Police believe the deaths to be a murder-suicide and are investigating with the help of the Williamson County Sheriff's Office and the Texas Rangers.
Later that day, another murder was reported in Taylor, which police say is unrelated.
Police responded to a shooting at 2100 Whistling Way around 4 p.m. Tuesday. They said a family member found 33-year-old Jonathan Hitch with a gunshot wound to his head. It is being investigated as a suspicious death.