SAN MARCOS, TX—On the cusp of SXSW, Texas State University's Wittliff Collections recently opened another major music exhibition, Armadillo Rising: Austin’s Music Scene in the 1970s, which complements their Austin music vintage poster show, Homegrown,
Treasures from the Wittliff’s extensive collections on Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Austin City Limits, plus many other music-related materials, add to the story of a city blossoming into “the live music capital of the world.” Armadillo Rising also marks the debut of a major new archive recently acquired by the Wittliff: the 1970s Texas Music/Lone Star Beer Collection of Jerry Retzloff.
Both Armadillo Rising and Homegrown exhibitions run through July 3, 2015.
On Sunday, April 19, 2015, the public is invited to the 2:00 p.m. exhibition reception and a discussion between the founder of Austin’s Armadillo World Headquarters, Eddie Wilson, and music journalist (and Wittliff donor) Joe Nick Patoski, moderated by cultural historian Jason Mellard.
The title of this new Wittliff Collections exhibition, Armadillo Rising, is inspired by the Armadillo World Headquarters—Austin’s “cosmic capital” where the “rednecks” and “longhairs” gathered together—fusing country music with counterculture lifestyles. Musicians like Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker quickly moved to the forefront of this new “Austin Sound,” becoming a national phenomenon that changed the face of American music.
Willie Nelson’s reputation as an “outlaw country” musician is validated at the Wittliff, as this exhibition includes, for the first time ever, a display of two of Willie’s burnt marijuana “roaches,” part of the major Willie Nelson collection donated by the singer to the Wittliff Collections. Also on display are Willie’s handwritten song lyrics, including his popular anthem, “On the Road Again.” Numerous other artifacts include his signature bandana, blue jeans, and running shoes.
The Jerry Jeff Walker display is anchored by Walker’s own pair of Charlie Dunn boots, which he made famous in his song, “Charlie Dunn.” The exhibition includes Walker’s handwritten lyrics of the ballad, which the singer donated to the Wittliff along with his boots. Complementing the Walker display are many vintage items, including rare photographs and one of the original flyers advertising Walker’s now legendary 1973 concert in Luckenbach that formed the basis of his classic album, ¡Viva Terlingua!
Austin City Limits creator and longtime executive producer Bill Arhos donated his extensive personal archive to the Wittliff Collections, providing a behind-the-scenes look at the television program that brought the Austin Sound into living rooms across America. The ACL display includes Arhos’s original 1975 “pitch letter” to PBS stations, asking them to carry the broadcast for his show. Armadillo Rising also features the original ACL Gibson guitar used by many musicians on the program, including Willie Nelson, along with photographs, publicity materials, and backstage passes.
Armadillo Rising marks the debut of a major new archive recently acquired by the Wittliff: the 1970s Texas Music/Lone Star Beer Collection of JERRY RETZLOFF (featured in Texas Monthly’s November 2014 issue). As the Lone Star Beer district manager in Austin during the 1970s, Retzloff was in the thick of the action. He was a longtime friend of Willie Nelson, and he collected many keepsakes now recognized as pop-culture treasures. The Retzloff Collection includes posters, flyers, unique 1970s memorabilia, and personal photos of Nelson and other stars, richly illuminating the Austin music scene during this era. LONG LIVE THE LONGNECK!—a satellite exhibition of Retzloff’s collection is on view on the first floor of Texas State’s Alkek Library through March 31.
Also on display are posters, photographs, and artifacts from the Armadillo World Headquarters itself, along with original artwork from Armadillo artists Jim Franklin and Micael Priest, whose music posters are also on view in the Wittliff’s Homegrown exhibition. An oversized cartoon from the Jack Jackson (aka Jaxon) Archive highlights the perils of attending a Willie Nelson 4th of July Picnic in the 1970s. Artifacts by author, musician, and Wittliff donor Jesse Sublett, founder of Austin’s seminal punk band, The Skunks, dramatize the turn towards a harder-edged sound in Austin during the late 1970s.
Offering further insight into the decade are books, interviews, photographs, and mementos from a variety of authors who have written perceptively about Texas music (and have donated their papers to the Wittliff Collections): Joe Nick Patoski (author of biographies on Willie Nelson and Stevie Ray Vaughan), John T. Davis (author of Austin City Limits: 25 Years of American Music and The Flatlanders: Now It’s Now Again), Bud Shrake (co-author of Willie Nelson’s autobiography), Jan Reid (author of The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock and Texas Tornado: The Life and Times of Doug Sahm), Brian T. Atkinson (author of I'll Be Here in the Morning: The Songwriting Legacy of Townes Van Zandt), and Ron Querry (Growing Old at Willie Nelson’s Picnic and Other Sketches of Life in the Southwest).
Armadillo Rising: Austin’s Music Scene in the 1970s is staged in conjunction with Homegrown: Austin Music Posters, 1967 to 1982, which features more than 140 vintage pieces from the Wittliff that document this historic time in music and testify to Texas artists’ mastery of the poster form using hand drawings and creative print techniques. The music poster exhibition Homegrown is the subject of the Wittliff’s newest book in their series with the University of Texas Press.
Armadillo Rising: Austin’s Music Scene in the 1970s was assembled by Wittliff Collections curator Steve Davis and is on view through July 3, 2015.
THE NEWEST BOOK IN THE WITTLIFF SERIES
Homegrown: Austin Music Posters, 1967 to 1982 edited by Alan Schaefer and published by the University of Texas Press, is part of the Wittliff’s Southwestern Writers Collection book series. The originals of 122 of the posters on view in the Homegrown exhibition are cataloged in this 8.25 x 11.75 inch full-color volume. From mind-melting psychedelia and surreal treatments of Texas iconography to inventive interpretations of rock and roll, western swing, and punk, this book offers the definitive, long-overdue survey of music poster art by legendary Texas artists. Insight into these “signs of the times” and the techniques used to produce them come from essays by Texas music and popular culture scholar (and Wittliff donor) JOE NICK PATOSKI and artist and poster historian NELS JACOBSON.