“This was the last show we did before COVID hit,” acknowledged Ronnie Dunn at the outset of the Texas Heritage Songwriters’ Association Hall of Fame show. With seating at the Paramount still spaced out, the air was informal and celebratory among the all-stars onstage to honor this year’s inductees.
Lefty Frizzell, Nanci Griffith, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Mark James marked the 2022 class, honored Saturday night at Austin’s historic theater, but with the passing of Griffith this past August, only James remained to accept his ““Little Willie” statue in person.
Gary Keller received the Darrell K. Royal award recognizing his support of the music community. Following a four song set from Dunn, who served as MC for the evening and stunned with his still-extraordinary vocals, former Austinite Brennen Leigh emerged to kick off tribute to Frizzell with “I Love You a Thousand Ways.” Frizzell’s brothers David and Allen capped with “I Never Go Around Mirrors,” highlighting their sibling’s unique and influential vocal style.
Robert Earl Keen delivered the most poignant moment of the show, paying tribute to his longtime friend Nanci Griffith with a personal story of a tour through Ireland together. “She was good to me when I wasn’t any good,” quipped the songwriter. Keen, who announced last month that he would retire from touring, offered four songs in tribute, clearly moved by the weight of the moment as he offered “The Wing and the Wheel.”
Mark James’ string of powerhouse hits earned honors in the hall, showcased by Raul Malo blowing out “Hooked on a Feeling” and “Suspicious Minds,” while Dunn matched with the Houston-native’s “Always on My Mind.”
That set up the final induction of Lightnin’ Hopkins, received by his daughters as Billy Gibbons’ amps made a conspicuous appearance on stage. The 45-minute blues blowout boiled to close out the evening. Jimmie Vaughan, Mike Flanigin, and Sue Foley joined the ZZ Top icon to showcase Hopkins’ influence and incomparable style, with Gibbons offering up some recollections of time spent with the bluesman. The shred included Hopkins hits like “Mojo Hand” and a stellar “Mr. Charlie,” but also Vaughan’s “Off the Deep End” and Gibbon’s “La Grange.”
The evening succeeded in highlighting the range and diversity of Texas’ songwriting tradition, but also the immense influence that still flows from the Lone Star state.