Embracing Townes Van Zandt’s Fort Worth legacy at homeTOWNESfest

Two musicians on stage

homeTOWNESfest founder Bruce Payne (right) and Kavin (left) share some smiles on stage at Southside Preservation Hall. Photo: Jessica Waffles

There is a presence of hometown pride when walking into homeTOWNESfest, an annual event honoring folk artist Townes Van Zandt.

Last weekend brought the beloved event back to Southside Preservation Hall in Fort Worth- featuring former TVZ manager and promoter John Lomax III speaking on Saturday, and a Sunday afternoon of local musicians’ renditions of hits and deep cuts of Van Zandt.

Organized by Bruce Payne, the event serves as a vibrant celebration of Townes’ life and music, drawing inspiration from his profound impact on the world of folk music.

Two musicians on stage in front of a seated crowd

Bruce Payne and Betsy Cummings opened this show with a couple of songs, including Steve Earle’s “Fort Worth Blues,” the song written in tribute to Townes Van Zandt after his death. Photo: Jessica Waffles

A musician on stage playing guitar and singing

Jacob Furr’s renditions of “If I Needed You” and “Tower Song” were played to a hushed crowd enjoying his musical aptitude. Photo: Jessica Waffles

“The only reason I started doing this is to spread the songs,” Payne emphasized. “People need to hear this stuff in the younger generation. Folks like Jacob Burr, Zach Pack and Jack Barksdale help spread that love of the music.”

The first event took place in 2014 at the Grotto, shortly after Payne had attended a similar event at the Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe – a venue that played a significant role in Townes Van Zandt’s career.

“After I played the Old Quarter wake in 2012, I got home to Fort Worth. For a week I was still vibrating,” Payne recalled. “And I thought, ‘Why isn’t anybody doing this in Fort Worth?’”

A guitar with signatures

A guitar signed by homeTOWNESfest artists past and present was on silent auction to raise funds for the Southside Preservation Hall. Photo: Jessica Waffles

Two musicians on stage

Randal & Susie played “Dead Flowers,” originally a Rolling Stones song that Townes Van Zandt made his own. Photo: Jessica Waffles

Southside Preservation Hall is a stone’s throw away from where Townes Van Zandt was born (St. Joseph’s Hospital – now JPS), and on the other side just down the road is where Townes’ parents lived.

“We want to continue his legacy,” Payne said. “And it just felt like the perfect place to do this.”

With the blessings of Jeanene Van Zandt, Townes’ widow, and the support of KNON Radio, homeTOWNESfest has been a place where locals can sign up on an open mic sheet to pay their tribute – channeling Townes’ signature style of fingerpicking and soulful storytelling.

A musician on stage playing guitar and singing

Cameron Smith sand a couple TVZ songs including “For the Sake of the Song.” Photo: Jessica Waffles

A musician on stage playing guitar and singing

Steve Nichols tribute included Townes Van Zandt’s “Like a Summer Thursday.” Photo: Jessica Waffles

A highlight of homeTOWNESfest is the presence of younger talents like 15-year old Jack Barksdale, who’s been playing the event for nearly half his life.

“When I first saw Jack play, it kinda freaked me out that this 8-year-old was explaining Townes Van Zandt lyrics to me,” Payne laughed.

A sheet of paper with names listed

The open mic-style sign up sheet for homeTOWNESfest 2024. Photo: Jessica Waffles

Beyond the music, homeTOWNESfest serves as a platform to honor Townes’ enduring legacy and contributions to Fort Worth’s cultural heritage.

“Five years ago on Townes’ 75th birthday, we got the city of Fort Worth to proclaim March 7 Townes Van Zandt Day,” Payne said proudly. “I ordered copies of the declaration for Townes’ family. His son JT said, ‘I think [Townes] would’ve been prouder of this than any other award. He loved Fort Worth.”

A man holding a microphone while people stand in the background

Bruce Payne announces next singers while musicians wait in the wings. Photo: Jessica Waffles

A musician playing a guitar and singing on stage in front of a seated crowd

Jerry Elmore played Guy Clark’s “Anyhow, I Love You” and Townes Van Zandt’s “Tecumseh Valley.” Photo: Jessica Waffles

The solemn words and haunting melodies of Townes Van Zandt live on through the musicians who love him, spreading the sounds like gospel at the tribute event.

As the last note of a song trembled off the lips of local musician Steve Nichols into the listening room, there was a child no older that 10 years old in the front row listening – two generations down from the singer who passed the stories down like folk lore.

A musician on stage playing guitar and singing

Jacob Hardman on stage at Southside Preservation Hall for homeTOWNESfest. Photo: Jessica Waffles

Lomax provided a printed copy of a 1977 promotional letter of Van Zandt he wrote as his manager titled simply, “Introduction.”

It feels like a rare piece of history that deepened the admiration for an artist under-appreciated in his time.

An excerpt from Lomax’s handout from Saturday reads: “[…] Townes Van Zandt knocked me flat. Try as I could, I could not extricate his melodies and stories from my skull. […] After ten yeas and seven albums on two obscure labels he remains a ‘cult figure,’ yet his music touches the hearts and the minds of those who hear him like the work of no other living artist. […] Like transcendental meditation, Townes’ music builds inner peace and fosters mental stimulation.”

(see scanned copy at bottom of this article)

A musician on stage playing guitar and singingCameron Smith on stage at homeTOWNESfest at Southside Preservation Hall. Photo: Jessica Waffles

A man on stage speaking

Bruce Payne on stage at Southside Preservation Hall repping his homeTOWNESfest T-shirt. Photo: Jessica Waffles

Seeing multiple generations in the same room brought together by folk music was a beautiful thing – exemplary of how artistic communities help shape the culture of understanding the world around us.

The wholesome energy experienced at homeTOWNESfest is the product of love for a prolific artist by his hometown, whose fans will not let him be forgotten.

A musician on stage playing guitar and singing

Keith Ditto told a story of seeing Townes Van Zandt at the Old Quarter in Houston before playing “St. John the Gambler.” Photo: Jessica Waffles

Cans of beer in an ice chest

homeTOWNESfest was sponsored with free beer by Fort Worth company Rahr & Sons Brewing. Photo: Jessica Waffles

A scanned copy of a letter

Page 1 of “Introduction.” Provided by John Lomax III

A scanned copy of a letter

Page 2 of “Introduction.” Provided by John Lomax III

Jessica Waffles is a freelance photographer/videographer and regular contributor to KXT. 
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