Funkytown is a singer/songwriter town. We have all sorts of music — from funk to rock to country (and Western). But the singer/songwriter scene is what Fort Worth is known for, and if you were to try and pick the archetypical example it would be Fort Worth native son Townes Van Zandt.
Townes hit all the marks: Amazing talent, depression, drug addiction and a failure to ever gain the fame that he so deserved, largely due to his self-destructive and tragic life.
“When somebody’s as good as Townes Van Zandt was and more people don’t know about it, it’s Townes’s fault,” songwriter Steve Earle said in a New York Times article. “For whatever reasons, he shot himself in the foot every damn chance he got.”
Even if you haven’t heard Townes, you’ve probably heard his music. The list of artists that have covered Townes songs seems endless, and includes (among others) Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Cowboy Junkies, Lyle Lovett, Counting Crows and Willie Nelson. And last weekend, we got to hear his music covered in local venues, by local artists at the annual homeTOWNESfest.
“A couple of years ago, I played the annual Townes wake at the Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe in Galveston and was blown away by the scene,” said Bruce Payne, the man behind homeTOWNESfest. “The place was packed and people were raptly listening to the delicate and beautiful lyrics and music that Townes wrote, sharing stories, etc. I couldn’t get over that nothing like that was going on in the town where he was born, and then it hit me that I had to do it.
“I contacted [his widow] Jeanene Van Zandt through his Facebook page, told her what I had in mind and asked for the family’s permission and blessing. She readily gave both.”
The show this year spanned three days, starting at Arts Fifth Avenue on Friday and Saturday for a multimedia celebration of Townes’ life, and ending up at the Grotto on Sunday for the songfest (a new addition this year). I couldn’t make the first two nights, but no way was I going to miss the song circle Sunday.
We got to hear some Townes classics, such as Waitin’ Round to Die, None But the Rain, No Deal, A Song for, Blazes Blues, Snake Song, Two Girls, Rake, Marie, No Place to Fall, and Pancho and Lefty.
After the local song circle finished, Robert Jetton from Nashville came in and reunited with the rest of the Panther City Pickers to pay tribute. He sang songs (some of which had already been done, but nobody cared) and told stories about Townes from the old days. By the time time Jetton took the stage, the Grotto was straining to hold its capacity crowd (it was standing room only). Townes may not have gotten the recognition he deserved during his lifetime, but this was a fitting tribute to one of Fort Worth’s greats.
And on the subject of honoring Fort Worth’s greats, it was with great sadness we learned of the passing of blues/jazz singer Oklin Bloodworth. He was a fixture over the years at blues and jazz nights, and even into his 80s he could be spotted at places like the Keys Lounge, always dressed to the nines and always kind and gracious. He was known as Fort Worth’s Ambassador of the Blues, and he will be missed.
The service will be Friday at Jay’s Chapel, 1121 Roberts Ave., Madera, Calif.