"There's a Vietnam vet with a cardboard sign/ sitting there on the left turn line/ flag on his wheelchair flapping in the breeze/ one leg missing and both hands free." - We Can't Make It Here - James McMurtry.

James McMurtry

Hitting the Lost Highway for a picnic is stimulating stuff when the first I 35 pit stop is Gruene - the oldest dance hall in Texas.

Nestling high above the Guadalupe River, the 1872 circa dance hall walls are adorned with pictures and memorabilia of famed country stars of the past and present.

In 1978 I caught Ray Benson and Asleep At The Wheel live at Gruene - this time we arrive at high noon and admire photos of John Travolta in 1996 movie Michael that was filmed in the adjoining Gristmill restaurant and boathouse.

So we decide on tasty Texas cooking, aka the quaint Guy Clark song, at the rustic 1870's cotton gin that was renovated in 1977.

Next stop is San Marcos - home of the famed songwriter Kent Finlay who discovered Oregon born Todd Snider at the Cheatham St Warehouse when Todd was a bus boy.

Finlay wrote Blow-Up Plastic Girl - a bizarre 11th hour hidden track on Oklahoma born Mel McDaniel's 1977 disc Gentle To Your Senses.

It became an unlikely hit in locales diverse as Texas and 4KQ, Brisbane, when former Nu Country DJ and 3UZ programmer Rod Stone was music director.

A similar story to Snider's Talking Seattle Grunge Rock Blues - the hidden tune on his 1994 disc Songs From The Daily Planet that launched him to fame with a little help from Jimmy Buffett and Keith Sykes.

I interviewed McDaniel about the song for 4KQ on my 1983 U.S. sojourn.

I also shocked Snider when I inadvertently revived it in a phone interview with him in my decade plus long High In The Saddle stint on 3RRR-FM.

But this time we miss Kent, who hosted the songwriting soiree the night before - so my chauffeur indulges a shopping habit.

It's a good move.

Our arrival in world live music HQ Austin is derailed by a motel booking glitch that means we miss swing maestro Cornell Hurd.

But we visit Threadgills - another historic venue built on a petrol station by deceased singing landlord Kenneth and featuring revered singer-songwriter James McMurtry.

McMurtry, 43, and son of the famed novelist-movie scriptwriter Larry - Brokeback Mountain is the latest - is showcasing his 12 track eighth album Childish Things out here on Didgeridoo.

Son Curtis, 14, plays sax and Terry Allen's son Bukka guests on fiddle and organ on the disc but are not visible in the Texas heat that permeates this outdoor gig.

But the singer performs classics that include Choctaw Bingo, also cut by Ray Wylie Hubbard.

"Uncle Slayton's got his Texas pride/ back in the thickets with his Asian bride/ he's got a Airstream trailer and a Holstein cow/ he still makes whiskey cause he still knows how/ he plays that Choctaw Bingo every Friday night/ you know he had to leave Texas but he won't say why." - Choctaw Bingo - James McMurtry.


We head uptown to our air conditioned digs to prepare for the long night ahead that kicks off with the annual Mickey Newbury festival featuring descendants of the late Texas singer-songwriter.

Newbury died at 62 in 2002 with a huge catalogue of songs cut by artists diverse as Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Waylon & Willie and David Allan Coe.

It's also the world launch of Kacey Jones video clip of San Francisco Mabel Joy - title track of her acclaimed tribute disc to Mickey featuring Kristofferson and fellow singing actor Waylon Payne.

Jones' trio and Payne - who played Jerry Lee in the Johnny Cash movie Walk The Line and is the lead in the new Hank Garland film - are among the luminary live cast. Also on is video director Stacy Dean Campbell - a one time Australian tourist with Texan troubadour Hugh Moffatt and three-album veteran who filmed the clip in his hometown of Carlsbad, New Mexico.

Well most of it - the scene in which Golden Gloves boxer Kristofferson knocks out Payne was shot in Austin on the eve of the recent S X South West festival.


This night is young so we ride into South Austin honky tonk The Broken Spoke where Bandera born Bruce Robison and his hot band headline the show.

Robison, a prolific earner from hits cut by artists diverse as Dixie Chicks, Gary Allan, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, toured Australia in 2000 with his singing spouse Kelly Willis - mother of their four young children.

Bruce, promoting seventh album, Eleven Stories fondly recalls his Aussie sojourn that included live to air performances on Nu Country FM at Beer Can Hill.

Mine host James White, recovering from heart surgery, joins Bruce on stage for guest roles on Rolling In My Sweet Baby's Arms and Hey Good Lookin'.

White is bemused to learn the now defunct Melbourne country band Broken Spoke borrowed his historic dance hall name for branding purposes for its debut disc.

The band featured Nu Country FM DJS and TV hosts Paul Hicks and Red Smith and Dead Livers guitarist and Nu Country technician Rodger Delfos.

Bruce Robison - photo by Carol Taylor


Sunday morning coming down brings us to Jones' Howard Johnson motel room as producer Carol Taylor films a Nu Country TV interview and hosting role with Kacey Jones, also revered as producer of Kinky Friedman tribute disc Pearls In The Snow. Jones recruits East Burwood Rams Under-11 rover Jordan Taylor as roadie to gather a swag of memorabilia to accompany her hosting role. It's an 18 years after reunion for this writer who first interviewed Jones in Nashville in 1988 when she was lead singer of ground breaking country comediennes Ethel & The Shameless Hussies.

Jones recalls how Waylon Jennings guested as a traffic cop on their song Last Night I Really Laid Down The Law.

She reveals her songwriting CV that includes songs cut by David Allan Coe - one of the headliners at Shotgun Willie Nelson's July 4 picnic.

Jones, born in the world garlic capital Gilroy in California, also runs a stable of indie record labels - one is Kinkajou with The Kinkster.

And she won acclaim as the singing comedienne on a syndicated radio show.

As the Sabbath turns from afternoon to evening we check out the famed Ringling Brothers-Barnum & Bailey circus that has set up in the shadows of the Governors' Mansion in downtown Austin.

After photographing elephants, zebras, lions and horses, producer Carol decides to shoot footage outside the stately digs of incumbent Governor Rick Perry - an old mate of our country king and TV show host Lee Kernaghan.

Although we don't venture inside to check out the beds and linen for The Kinkster and his unnamed Governess-in-waiting we arouse the security cameras when Rams rover Jordan throws his new Texas Longhorns gridiron ball at the fence.

It gives us enough breathing space to check out the Governor's 12 Step Program - the exact number from the mansion to the street - and the two stepping trail to the nearby heavily guarded Capitol building, circa 1888.


Willie Nelson - Photo by Carol Taylor

Our dalliance in the Texas capital on the Sabbath means we miss another historic gig in Shotgun Willie's hometown of Abbott.

Willie, now 73, purchased the 1899 Methodist church and performed gospel songs with sister, Bobbie, and Leon Russell.

Nelson celebrated his preservation of the church services and building with a concert that brought together family, friends and longtime parishioners for prayers and gospel music.

"Sister Bobbie and I have been going to this church since we were born," Nelson said.

"Now, you're all members of the Abbott Methodist Church, and you will be, forever and ever."

In between blessings from guest ministers, Nelson performed with Bobbie and guests including Leon Russell.

They sang hymns such as Uncloudy Day, I'll Fly Away, Will the Circle be Unbroken and Precious Memories.

The congregation listed 600 members at its peak in 1886, according to its historical marker.
But the steepled church building, which itself dates from 1899, closed in May after its last service as part of the United Methodist denomination.

The dwindling congregation merged with a larger one in Hillsboro.

Abbott, located along Interstate 35 about 65 miles south of Dallas, is home to some 300 people.

Nelson greeted old friends in the sanctuary after the service.

"This has been quite an experience, all these people," he said.

"We went to school together, played ball together, dated together."

While his own involvement will be minimal, Nelson said he decided to buy the property because he couldn't stand the thought of the church being silent.

"We sang, and my sister played piano here," Nelson said. "My grandmother brought us, and we came every Sunday, every Monday and Wednesday."

He said the church will remain a community church, and will not become an entertainment venue.


Kinky with David Dawson
Photo by Carol Taylor

Monday dawns as our unflappable producer Carol resumes chauffeurial duties to beat the Texas heat in a 140 mile trip north to Carl's Corner for our audience with Texas Governor In Waiting - Kinky Friedman.

Kinky chose the truck stop festival HQ of Willie's highly publicised energy efficient bio-diesel fuel as our meeting place.

It's one of The Kinkster's many political platforms and we drop his name at the gates of this July 3 curtain raiser for Willie's July 4 picnic.

We find Kinky and his constant companion, pianist and fellow Texas Jewboy - Little Jewford - in the VIP hospitality tent where celebrities dine out in splendour.

The Kinkster suggests the Gibson Guitars bus that doubles as his campaign HQ for the Nu Country interview.

We meet campaign chief Dean Barkley who successfully shot professional wrestler Jesse Ventura into the role of Governor of Minnesota and learn our interview is being filmed by another TV crew for a docco on The Kinkster.

We don't catch up with Reid Nelson, who ran Dan Quayle's congressional campaign in Indiana, coordinator of Kinky's petition drive.

But The Kinkster delights in introducing Public Relations Manager Jason Hardison who facilitated our entrée into Carl's Corner with VIP passes.

"This is Chicken Dick," The Kinkster reveals as to distinguish his slender PR chief from himself Richard Kinky "Big Dick" Friedman.

It's impeccable timing as Texas Secretary Of State Roger Williams has just ruled that Friedman's nickname Kinky, not Big Dick, was not a slogan and thus did not violate state law.

But Williams declared that rival independent candidate Carole Keeton Strayhorn can't include "Grandma" as a nickname on her ballot.

Without wanting to reveal the interview contents I'm happy to report that Governor Perry's 20 million dollar plan to install border cameras to film Mexicans crossing the Rio Grande is manna from heaven for The Kinkster.

The recently revealed security saga that finds hapless swimmers and sprinters beamed live onto the Internet is a Godsend for Kinky who describes it as a crowd pleaser akin to Mexican Idol where Texans can vote the wetbacks out of their state and houses.

The Gubernatorial bus is a welcome retreat from the heat and voter support snowballs for Kinky with his memorabilia on full display throughout the festival and Lone Star State.
The Kinkster once again adorns the cover of the prestigious Texas Monthly magazine that featured his columns until he stood for Governor.


The thrill of the chase inspires videographer, producer and cameraperson Carol who finds Kinky's clout - he gives us his all access backstage passes - enables us to invade the stage.

We're in the wings filming young Texan chanteuse Pauline Reese showcasing fourth disc Too Texas - Live At Cherry Ridge when we spy a skinny, bespectacled chap and companion to our left.

Rover Jordan informs us the lad is Shooter Jennings - who had a cameo as his dad Waylon in the Johnny Cash movie Walk The Line.

Also in the wings is Waylon Payne - who played The Killer in the same movie.

But not for long - Payne guests with Django Walker (son of icon Jerry Jeff) during his set.

The galaxy is dazzling with the famed Nitty Gritty Dirt Band - celebrating 40 years in the recording saddle including a role in Paint Your Wagon - excelling on their set that includes Django's dad classic hit Mr Bojangles.


Fellow icons Asleep At The Wheel and Johnny Bush, who repeatedly thanks Willie for cutting and opening his shows with his tune Whiskey River, take the stage.

Shooter and hot band perform songs from their two recent albums Put The O Back In Country (2005) and Electric Rodeo (2006) - the latter shares its title with Nu Country TV host Lee Kernaghan's 2002 disc.

Our producer Carol, video camera in one hand and brand new Cannon digital around her neck, discreetly shoots Shooter, 26, and his song source and long time sweetheart Drea De Matteo.

Drea won an Emmy for her portrayal of Adriana La Cerva on The Sopranos.

So when Shooter and Drea leap onto one of several gleaming Harley hogs adorning the stage, Carol reaches for her Cannon.

But, even with super shutter speed, she is just a mili-second short of a snap for the glossies that might have paid for our sojourn.

Such is life in Texas.


Meanwhile rover Jordan, who shows Lone Star lads how to kick his Texas Longhorns ball, returns to stage right as veteran outlaw Ray Wylie Hubbard, 60, performs tunes from his new disc Snake Farm - his 13th album in 30 plus years.

It's only when Ray's son Lucas, 14, joins him on guitar, Jordan realises his playmates were kinfolk of the legend who has no qualms about revamping famed hit Up Against The Wall, Redneck Mother.

The Oklahoma born, long time Texan handles a power failure with better humour than seven times wed fellow outlaw David Allan Coe, now 66.

Coe recovers to showcase his country classics and new tunes penned with Kid Rock, Uncle Kracker and Pantera and Damageplan drummer Vinnie Abbott whose brother Dimebag Darrell was shot dead two years ago on another stage in Ohio.

Coe and Damageplan have released a bizarre "hillbilly metal" disc Rebel Meets Rebel cut with Dimebag Darrell before he was murdered.


Heather Myles
Photo by Carol Taylor
Californian chanteuse Heather Myles proves an oasis for fans of pure country music when she performs songs from fifth album Sweet Talk And Good Lies with her stone country band.

She reaches back into her catalogue and proves why she has graduated from being a jockey to riding the roots country range as one of its most credible flame keepers.

Myles performed her tune You've Taken Me Places I've Never Been in Disney movie Snow Dogs.

At 37 she has attracted duet partners of the calibre of Merle Haggard and Dwight Yoakam over the years but she is the focus of this set.

Myles was raised on racetracks and country by two generations of jockeys and trainers at the Three C Ranch, Riverside.

After her set she admits she once packed a 38 pistol for protection while on the road.

But we don't ask her if she still drives a 1964 Ford Ranchero, has a Schauzer named Sonny and cat named Mimino.

The singer says she is still keen to tour Australia after an ill-fated attempt by a local promoter to bring her here a few years ago.

"Sadly, I never received the deposit," Myles revealed.

The night is closing in so we bid adieu to Carl's Corner for the drive north to Forth Worth for Willie's 33rd annual Picnic in the historic Stockyards in the shadows of Billy Bob's - the biggest honky tonk in the world with 42 bars and a live bull riding ring.

Stay tuned for that special report and exclusive pictures.

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