The Way Back: Townes and Country

In the fall of 1993, Austin country musician Townes Van Zandt was putting the pieces of an embattled recording career back together. Having not released an album of new material in six years amid a public struggle with alcohol and drug addiction, Van Zandt released The Nashville Sessions, a canceled album recorded in 1973, and Rear View Mirror, a 1978 live set. Celebrating the latter with a slew of shows across the state, Van Zandt booked two nights at one of his regular haunts dating back to 1984: UT’s Cactus Cafe.

Van Zandt continued to play regularly at the Cactus for the remainder of his short life, before dying of a heart attack on New Year’s Day 1997 at age 52. He was booked to play another two nights at the Cactus just three weeks later.

Though he never attended UT, Van Zandt has a solid legacy on campus. Texas Law’s Townes Hall is named for his great-grandfather, Judge John Charles Townes. And every year, on March 7, friends and other artists gather at the Cactus for the annual Townes Van Zandt Birthday Celebration to play selections from his immense catalog. A 2004 Austin Chronicle article celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Cactus proved how special the club was to the country musician. Known for eschewing encores, Van Zandt did one very rare return to the stage at the Cactus. He also autographed the above poster, which hangs on the venue’s wall. He addressed it to “my home club.”

Image courtesy of the Cactus Cafe


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