The inimitable Rusty Wier will forever be pointing to the heavens in mid-song as he did for five decades on stages across Texas and the world.
Larry Joe Taylor’s annual Texas Music festival began Tuesday at Melody Mountain Ranch in Stephenville with the unveiling of a metal sculpture commissioned by Taylor. Wier is shown in a familiar pose, looking at a crowd with his right arm stretched out, his finger pointing to the sky.
Cancer killed Wier last year.
The sculpture is attached to a wall next to the backstage ramp leading up to the main stage. Wier poured heart and soul into every performance, and his bust makes a fitting source of inspiration for artists about to perform.
The Austin musician had performed at Taylor’s festival for most of its 22 years, and the two men had become fast friends.
Many of Wier’s old buddies gathered around the statue Tuesday afternoon to take turns knocking back a shot of tequila (Wier’s shot of choice) and telling favorite tales of their fallen comrade. Tears flowed as abundantly as the booze.
Grammy award winning songwriter Richard Leigh (“Don’t It Make Your Brown Eyes Blue” and “The Greatest Man I Never Knew”) wore a suit and tie – perhaps the first person to ever don a suit at Taylor’s party-down festival.
“I’m glad I had this,” he said, tugging at the hanky that was tucked into his coat pocket.
“Rusty had a magic about him that only true artists have,” Leigh said.
Dave Perez of the Tejas Brothers reiterated what is common knowledge to anyone who ever witnessed a Wier show – the man left everything on the stage at every performance.
“Whether he played for five people or 5,000, you were going to get Rusty,” he said.
“Make ’em dance, make ’em smile” is inscribed on the sculpture, alluding to a verse from Wier’s biggest song, “Don’t It Make You Wanna Dance.”
Taylor recalled Wier’s final performance at the festival two years ago. Weak from cancer, Wier struggled to walk up a ramp that led to the main stage. Thousands of people had gathered to see what many figured would be his last performance there. Two stagehands grabbed Wier on either side and helped him up the ramp.
“Just before they reached the top of the ramp where the crowd could see, Rusty pushed the two guys away from him,” Taylor said. “He didn’t want people to see him being helped on stage.”
Wier made it the rest of the way unassisted and delivered an exhilarating set of music.
“He put on the best show of his life,” Taylor said. “It’s like he got a burst of energy.”
Here’s a YouTube clip of that final performance (including a short snippet of footage showing Wier being led up the ramp):