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T for Texas, T for Tennessee: Austin gets props in Nashville’s Country Hall of Fame exhibit

Peter Blackstock

The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville has set a May 25 opening date for “Outlaws & Armadillos: Country’s Roaring ’70s,” a major new exhibition exploring the links between Austin and Nashville during the rise of Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and others who changed the direction of country music in the 1970s.

As the title suggests, the history of Austin’s iconic Armadillo World Headquarters will be central to the exhibit, which promises to reveal “untold stories and never-seen artifacts.” Armadillo founder Eddie Wilson, whose memoir about the legendary music venue was published last year, helped with historical items, along with co-curator Eric Geadelmann, an Austin-based filmmaker who’s providing exclusive concert and interview footage. The event’s promotional artwork, pictured above, was created by renowned Austin poster artist Jim Franklin.

READ MORE: An excerpt from Eddie Wilson’s Armadillo memoir

In a press release accompanying the announcement, museum CEO Kyle Young noted that “this was an era in which renegades Bobby Bare, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson fought for and won creative control of their own songs and sounds. It was a time when melodic poets Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt and Billy Joe Shaver elevated public perception of what a country song could be.

“It was a time when the Austin, Texas, music and arts scenes blossomed, and when characters like singer-songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker, Hondo Crouch — who bought his own town, Luckenbach, Texas — armadillo art specialist Jim Franklin and University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal changed Lone Star culture.”

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The exhibit follows a wave of Armadillo-era nostalgia that swept through Austin last year. In addition to Wilson’s memoir, last year’s All ATX concert at Auditorium Shores followed a “Back to the Armadillo” theme, and an annual SIMS Foundation gala at Emo’s was billed as “a celebration of the cosmic cowboy” (referencing Michael Murphey’s landmark 1973 album “Cosmic Cowboy Souvenir”).

And Jan. 23 brings the publication of “At Home With the Armadillo,” a memoir from longtime Austin singer-songwriter and bandleader Gary P. Nunn. His song “London Homesick Blues,” and its “home with the armadillo” chorus, became the era’s unofficial anthem (as well as the official “Austin City Limits” TV show theme for many seasons). Nunn will speak and sign copies of the memoir at BookPeople on Jan. 25.

Details will be announced soon about special concerts, panels and film events connected to the exhibit. “Outlaws and Armadillos,” set to run for nearly three years, replaces the museum’s current exhibit “Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City,” which closes Feb. 18. The museum also is partnering with the Sony Legacy label on upcoming reissues that will be associated with some of the exhibit’s core artists.

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