The Seventies were a wild and wooly time in the world of country music. Long hair, beards and blue jeans were anything but the norm in Music City, but a group of renegades in Texas changed all that, and in the process transformed the outlaw country movement into a mainstream force. This May, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville will chronicle the movement with the new exhibit Outlaws & Armadillos: Country’s Roaring ’70s.
Outlaws & Armadillos opens on the 45th anniversary of seminal outlaw releases like Willie Nelson’s Shotgun Willie, Waylon Jennings’ Honky Tonk Heroes, Jerry Jeff Walker’s ¡Viva Terlingua! and Billy Joe Shaver’s Old Five and Dimers Like Me, and takes its name, in part, from Armadillo World Headquarters, an Austin venue of the time.
Opening May 25th and running through February 14th, 2021, Outlaws & Armadillos will be bolstered by a companion book, CD and LP, and also feature educational courses. The exhibit will be fleshed out, not only by artifacts, but via visual art, film and historical footage, including interviews and concert footage from Austin filmmaker Eric Geadelmann.
A ragtag bunch of ex-hippies and Nashville castoffs, the outlaws found common ground in the Lone Star State’s capitol city of Austin, which was still years away from being known as “The Live Music Capital of the World.” Nelson and Jennings would become two of country’s biggest icons as well as counterculture figures, upending the business by being granted unprecedented creative control over their music and recordings.
Along with Nelson and Jennings, Bobby Bare, Jessi Colter, David Allan Coe, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt all became integral members of the movement. Others like Shaver, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Gary P. Nunn wrote songs that became hits for others, including Nunn’s “London Homesick Blues,” the longtime theme song for Austin City Limits, which launched its first season in 1976.
“At the time, some of these things seemed unusual, even insane,” says museum CEO Kyle Young. “Now, they all seem essential to any understanding of this great American art form, country music.”