Story by Corrie MacLaggan
AUSTIN, Texas | Sat Apr 21, 2012 3:01am EDT
(Reuters) - An 8-foot-tall bronze statue of country singer Willie Nelson in his trademark braids and weighing more than a ton was unveiled in Austin, Texas, on Friday, an unofficial pot-smoking holiday.
Nelson's carefree attitude helped give Austin its music reputation. So much so, the city decided to give back. Three years ago, Capitol Area Statues commissioned sculptor Clete Shields to capture Nelson's spirit in a sculpture.
"It's a challenge to try and embody what everyone thinks they know of Willie," explained Shields. "When they think of him in their mind's eye that's what I wanted to capture."
"I thought he did a pretty darn good job," Nelson, an Austin resident, said of Philadelphia sculptor Clete Shields after the cover was lifted off the 2,000-lb statue.
Nelson, who has long advocated legalizing marijuana, sang "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die." The statue features the country music legend sitting on a stool with his acoustic guitar, Trigger. Even the W sign at the nearby W Hotel wore braids on Friday.
Lawrence Wright, president of the board of the nonprofit Capital Area Statues Inc, which raised private donations for the statue, said it was not easy to find an artist who could capture Nelson.
"We wanted the sense of connection Willie and his fans have, which is so electric and so human," Wright, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, told Reuters before the unveiling.
Nelson, an Austinite, is "the man who really, more than I think any other person, made the city of Austin, Texas, the live music capital of the world," Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell told a crowd that included musician/actor Kris Kristofferson at the entrance to the Moody Theater at a plaza along Willie Nelson Boulevard.
Among the fans at the unveiling were Austin residents Alli and Richard Roberts - who said they own all Nelson's albums - and their 6-month-old son, Richard.
To the delight of fans, Nelson sang a couple of songs in an impromptu performance. He is in town for a Johnny Cash tribute concert Friday night.
That the ceremony took place on April 20 - 4/20 - at about 4:20 p.m. local time drew a lot of chatter on social media given that 420 is widely known among the cannabis subculture as a symbol for all things marijuana.
Nelson had this question for the crowd: "What time is it?" He added: "I can feel it's getting close to something."
By then it was already 4:30, and there was a slight smell of marijuana in the air.
(Concert photo by Ray Tharaldson all rights reserved 2012
Reporting by Corrie MacLaggan; Editing by Greg McCune and Lisa Shumaker)