Saturday Evening with Townes Van Zandt


A few days ago I happened on a piece in The Guardian about a pair of landmark documentary films from 1976. One was Martin Scorcese's The Last Waltz, a recording of The Band's farewell concert in San Francisco. The other was New York filmmaker Jim Scalapski's Heartworn Highways, a profile of the new country scene emerging out of Nashville and Austin, what came to be known as "outlaw country." The film featured young singer-songwriters Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Steve Earle, and Rodney Crowell, guys I have been listening since the mid 1970s. Sometime around 1978, give or take a year, I caught Townes Van Zandt live twice at a little Atlanta bar called Aunt Charley's. But this is the first I've heard of Heartworn Highways. I think I missed something special.

Laura Barton's The Last Waltz and Heartworn Highways: two 40-year-old films at the birth of Americana is worth a read, not least for the video of The Band performing "Further on Up the Road" with Eric Clapton. It's hot.

Here is a seven-plus minute segment from Heartworn Highways that concludes with Townes Van Zandt playing "Waiting Around to Die." Townes wrote some sad songs. That's Guy Clark singing at the beginning of the clip. He's special too.


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David Matthews

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