It would have been his 69th birthday. Fans, friends and family members gather atop Austin’s Doug Sahm Hill in Butler Park. Everyone is waiting for 2 p.m. That’s when the memorial marker honoring music legend Doug Sahm is going to be unveiled.
Folks talk about the traffic. Riverside Drive and Barton Springs Road are at a standstill, congested due to the Gypsy Picnic food trailer festival a few blocks away. “What would Doug have thought about this traffic?” “He’d be pissed off if he was stuck in it.” “No, he’d be groovin’ and he wouldn’t care!”
Doug Sahm’s daughter Dawn Sahm arrives from San Antonio. She’s accompanied by friends Barbara Wolfe and Steve Silbas. Wolfe and Silbas own and operate the San Antonio music venue Casbeer’s at the Church. Dawn asks if anyone has seen her brothers, Shawn Sahm and Shandon Sahm. “Not yet,” someone answers. It’s getting close to 2 p.m.
Mark Vane, a "Doug fan" and family friend, places a Texas flag over the memorial marker. Shawn Sahm tells Examiner, “Mark Vane has been working with me on this project since Pop passed away. Mark was hip to all the different ideas and ways we might help keep Pop’s name alive. When we heard that the city was going to rename this park, Mark and I did everything we could to get it named after Doug Sahm.”
Shawn continues, “We had been to so many meetings pleading our case to honor Pop. When the Butler family learned the park would be named Butler Park, they were gracious enough to set aside a section, this big hill and scenic overlook, and call it Doug Sahm Hill. The Sahm family is very grateful for this. It’s taken us a while, but here we are on Pop’s birthday, to unveil this monument. It’s a permanent, educational marker, just like one for a cat in a Texas History book.”
Tommy Dunn steps up, peeks under the flag and nods. He and Doug Sahm used to play baseball in the 1970’s for Soap Creek Saloon’s team, the Soap Creek Bombers. Dunn owns a sign company now, and it is his company that constructed the monument to honor his dear friend.
Celebrated artist Kerry Awn arrives wearing a Soap Creek Saloon shirt of his own design. Some might know Awn as Ronnie Velveeta from the cast of the Esther’s Follies comedy troupe. Awn also plays with the Uranium Savages, Texas’ acclaimed comedy rock band. He’s been a Uranium Savage since 1974. Awn is also a close Sahm family friend. Shawn Sahm likes to say, “The Sahm kids were raised by Savages.” Awn gives Dawn Sahm a huge hug, and the two start to catch up and reminisce about Doug. There’s not a cloud in the sky.
Someone shouts, “There they are!” and soon Shawn and Shandon Sahm greet their sister. Numerous quick hellos follow as Shawn and Shandon make their way through the crowd. “It’s so good to see you again.” “Thanks for coming out buddy.”
It’s already after 2 p.m. Shawn calls family friend and music writer Margaret Moser from his cell phone. Moser is not here yet and the Sahm family doesn’t want to start without her. But some folks have been waiting quite a while, and everyone is excited to see what’s under the Texas flag. (Meanwhile, Moser is sitting in traffic, being stuck “two minutes away for over 30 minutes.” She will arrive during the ceremony.)
Shawn Sahm starts by introducing Mark Vane to the crowd. Shawn thanks Vane for his help with the Doug Sahm Hill memorial project. Tommy Dunn is introduced and the topic quickly turns to Doug Sahm's love of baseball.
Shandon Sahm recalls being the Soap Creek Bomber’s bat boy at age 7. “Someone hit the ball, and I ran out to retrieve the bat in the middle of play, I didn’t let it finish out. I remember getting smacked into and plowed over in a cloud of dust.”
Dawn Sahm remembers that she and her brothers used to cringe when their dad saw the bright lights of a ball field. “Those big white lights in the air meant we were gonna stop and see a baseball game. It didn’t matter who was playing. Dad would stop and watch little league games, and watch teams play he didn’t even know.”
Kerry Awn is introduced. Shawn tells the crowd that Awn did the art for the memorial marker and that Margaret Moser wrote the bio. Someone mentions it being Doug Sahm’s birthday and folks start to get teary. It’s time to unveil the monument.
When the Texas flag is removed everyone sees a simple black sign with the words “Doug Sahm Hill” in large white letters. That’s it. Shandon and Dawn look puzzled. This is the monument with the groovy art and heartfelt bio? It's not quite what they expected.
Shawn Sahm, Mark Vane and Tommy Dunn start to laugh. They explain that this is a temporary sign, placed over the original so no one can see the design before the unveiling. The black sign is pried off and a colorful, groovy graphic is revealed. It’s a caricature of Sahm surrounded by a Texas flag, a jukebox and a Texas tornado. A banner reading “Sir Doug Sahm” is decorated with a guitar and a baseball bat crossed like a big "X".
The beautifully written bio describes Sahm as “a true child prodigy on steel guitar, fiddle and mandolin” who “helped put the Austin music scene on the map”. Sahm is credited as being “first called the ‘State Musician of Texas.’”
Seems like everyone here has a camera. Photos are taken from all angles. Gary Clark Jr. starts his set at the festival down the street. The crowd disburses slowly, but not before someone says, "God bless Doug Sahm."
Doug Sahm died from a heart attack Thursday, Nov. 18, 1999. He was 58.
Shandon Sahm is the drummer for the punk-country/psychedelic-rock band the Meat Puppets. He also has a solo career as the glam-rock frontman for Shandon Sahm band.
Want to keep up with what keeps Austin weird? Receive e-mail alerts when new articles are available. Just click on the “Subscribe” button above.
... tweet, tweet ... Follow Machelle Dunlop on twitter here!