“Being the eldest son of Townes Van Zandt is definitely a unique experience,” J.T. Van Zandt says in “Anchor Point,” an 8-minute film that’s part of a Father’s Day-oriented series titled “My Old Man” produced by Austin outdoor-lifestyle company Yeti.
It’s a fascinating glimpse into the influence of Townes’ music and love of nature on J.T.’s own life pursuits as a fly-fishing guide and woodworker. Footage features J.T. on the porch of his grandparents’ home in Hallettsville, fishing with his dog in Texas coastal marshland, helping to build boats in a wood shop, and playing with his own young son.
J.T. is up-front about the difficulties of having grown up with a father who often was on the road playing music. But he also has profound things to say about the paradoxical realities of Townes’ dedication to his art.
“My dad was the happiest when he was the most unhappy. That’s really difficult to explain. He found sincere magic in the blues,” J.T. says in the film. “If his songs sucked, then it would have been all for nothing. But he ended up writing up some of the greatest American literature in existence, all crunched down into melodies.”
Music did not become J.T.’s calling, though he says he learned how to play guitar “as a personal show of respect for my father.” He has performed stirring renditions of Townes songs for special occasions, such as last year’s Austin City Limits Hall of Fame induction of Townes, and a 2014 appearance in Alejandro Escovedo’s “United Sounds of Austin” concert.
Today, the family name has a place on the Austin skyline, emblazoned across the top of the new Van Zandt hotel in the Rainey Street district. J.T. helped the hotel choose and install some artwork featuring Townes in one of their lobby areas.
J.T. also penned a 1,200-word essay, which appears on a website accompanying the series, that sheds further light on the father-son relationship. While J.T. acknowledges that “I was never drawn to the smoke-filled bars and endless partying that comes with life on the road,” he explains that they connected deeply in other ways.
“My father and his music have had a huge effect on who I am as a man,” J.T. writes. “It’s always in nature when his words, his lessons, ring out to me.”
- RELATED: “Darkness on the Edge of Townes” (from the Statesman archives, 1996)