How a country musician sparked entrepreneurship in Austin

How did Austin become Austin?

In the late 60s, a country musician was making his way in Nashville.

He’d written hit songs—including a career-defining tune (“Crazy”) for Patsy Cline. But he lost momentum. His career stalled.

Nashville and the country music machine were driving him nuts.

His name was Willie Nelson and he felt frustrated, constricted, constrained. The industry didn’t care about him.

The songs that the country music system wanted from him would only fit in a very tight box. Fed up, he left Nashville for Austin.

He started playing at an Austin music venue called the Armadillo World Headquarters.

There, he found an audience of cowboys, hippies, bikers.

When these groups saw Willie play at the Armadillo, they coexisted, i.e., DIDN’T beat the hell out of each other.

This was weird!

In Texas in the 70s, these groups didn’t get along. But they did when Willie played.

At the same time, he was switching up his sound. He and his friend Waylon Jennings started making grimier, grittier music.

A sound that became known as “Outlaw Country”

In Austin, Willie kept experimenting. He made a covers album…except it was countrified, jazz covers.

Stardust, Willie’s jazz country album

His label opposed this record—once again, the system was trying to box him into a sound—this time, the Outlaw Country sound.

But Willie’s fans and the Austin community embraced him exploring new ground.

This is the beginning of Keep Austin Weird and the city being the kind of place you can be creative, try new things, and explore new and different versions of yourself.

Austin’s vibe is what gave Willie the spark to break new ground in country music.

And it never stopped with the music. That momentum spilled over into the entrepreneurship ecosystem.​

It’s how Whole Foods founder John Mackey was inspired to change the way America eats.

It’s what encouraged University of Texas freshman Michael Dell to change the way the world bought computers

This video goes a little deeper into Willie and his contributions to making Austin what it is:

Awesomely, Austin Startups—the voice of startups in Austin—published this. If for some reasons you want to see it “in the wild,” check it here.