Billy Joe Shaver: Marked for greatness at the Dripping Springs Reunion

6:11 p.m Friday, March 16, 2012 Music

Willie Nelson prefers not to talk about the past, his publicist says, which is why he didn't want to be interviewed for this article. Kris Kristofferson was a little more straightforward. When asked to comment on the 40-year-old Dripping Springs Reunion, his publicist reports, he said, "Hell, I don't remember what I had for breakfast."

But Billy Joe Shaver is more than happy to talk about the weekend that helped kick start his music career.

Attending only because fellow artist Sharon Rucker didn't want to drive to the festival alone from Nashville, Shaver reports that it was Kristofferson who talked him into going on-stage. It was the first public performance for the songwriter.

"I rode bulls, and I done everything in the world with cattle and horses and stuff, and I wasn't scared," Shaver said recently. "But of all places, I got out there (on-stage), my knees started knocking. And they gave me a chair. Somehow or another I was able to get the songs out and the trembling in my voice, I guess they thought that was emotion, but I was scared."

After playing a few songs, Shaver "was trying to get off the stage, and (Tex Ritter) grabbed me by the ear and put me back out there on the chair and said ‘keep playing.' I said, ‘Man, I ain't no good.' He said, ‘No, you're marked for greatness.' I said, ‘I guess I am now.' "

Shaver's run of luck continued backstage, where he was playing "Willie the Wandering Gypsy and Me." Waylon Jennings "come busting out of the trailer" to hear Shaver's cowboy songs, declaring that he would record them. It would take some time and a Nashville confrontation between Shaver and Jennings, but that encounter in Dripping Springs would result in the Jennings album "Honky Tonk Heroes," featuring nine of Shaver's songs.

Shaver's run of luck was counterbalanced at the next year's picnic, when he was bitten by a brown recluse spider, started hallucinating that he was Jesus and went to healing concert-goers and baptizing them in mud puddles.

— Dave Thomas

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