“You felt it all and you felt it deep, them songs would make me weep. Thinkin’ ‘bout the music you might have made.”
Gurf Morlix’s song about his old pal Blaze Foley — so close a friend that he was the one who gave Morlix his colorful name — set the tone perfectly for Friday night’s tribute to the late Austin songwriting legend, which followed the SXSW Film Festival screening of Ethan Hawke’s biopic “Blaze.” With Ben Dickey, the film’s star, at the helm and Dallas band the Texas Gentlemen backing everyone up, an hour went by quickly, as a handful of luminaries delivered splendid versions of songs by, about or associated with Foley.
Dickey kicked things off with two of Foley’s best-known songs, “Clay Pigeons” and “Picture Cards Can’t Picture You,” both of which also has prime placements in the film. A longtime singer-songwriter who’s only recently become an actor, Dickey had a natural command of the stage and was the perfect host for the evening.
Morlix followed his song about Blaze with his favorite of Foley’s own songs, “Cold Cold World,” before hometown hero Joe Ely offered up Townes Van Zandt’s “Waitin’ Round to Die.” Townes was a key character in the film, so including one of his songs made perfect sense — as did the addition of Lucinda Williams’ “Drunken Angel,” a song she wrote about Blaze that Alynda Segarra of Hurray From the Riff Raff sang and played beautifully on her own with an acoustic guitar. (Segarra also has a small role in the film, playing Blaze’s sister.)
The linchpin of the show wound up being not a musical performance at all. Townes’ son, J.T. Van Zandt, had been billed as part of the lineup, presumably to sing one of his father’s songs (something he does better than anyone on the planet, naturally). Instead, though, J.T. just spoke for a few minutes about his father and Blaze, sharing some fascinating insights on their relationship.
J.T. had some good things to say about the film, praising its aesthetic in capturing the spirit of 1970s-’80s Austin. But he also took issue with a key scene toward the end that falsely painted his father in a cowardly light. “I understand the license,” he said, acknowledging that biopics mix fact and fiction. “But I’ll stick up for my father.”
A few songs with Nashville singer Nikki Lane followed before the show ended perhaps prematurely; on the schedule, it was listed to run an hour and a half. It would have been nice to hear someone sing “If I Could Only Fly,” Foley’s best-known song, and it might have been fun if Hawke had reprised the rendition of “Oval Room” that he sang with gusto at a press event earlier this week. (It would have been easier to make the event deeper had they not been without the film’s music director, Charlie Sexton, who also has a key role in the movie as Townes. He left town earlier this week to tour with Bob Dylan.)
That said, tribute shows at the Paramount have sometimes run too long for SXSW evenings that are all about catching as many things around town as possible, so the brevity here had its upsides. To wit: My editor left the tribute portion to catch Ireland’s excellent Lost Brothers around the corner at the Driskill, and got quite a surprise. The duo (Mark McCausland and Oisin Leech) had been at the “Blaze” film screening, and apparently were so enamored that they worked Foley’s “Moonlight Song” into their set. Perhaps that was the best tribute of all — seeds planted that immediately sprouted in another place.