Big star Waylon Jennings hasn't forgotten where he came from--Littlefield

June 28, 1992|By Kathryn Straach | Kathryn Straach,Dallas Morning News

DALLAS -- Waylon Jennings may sing about Luckenback, but he has a song in his heart for Littlefield, Texas -- his hometown.

Mr. Jennings, wife Jessi Colter and their son, Shooter, will return Fourth of July weekend to the small Texas town, 38 miles northwest of Lubbock, where the country-western legend grew up. While there, he'll give a free outdoor concert, sign autographs and serve as parade marshal in the town's holiday festivities.

Technically, the event is called Littlefield Celebration with Waylon Jennings. Though the town is absolutely crazy about its native son, the emphasis is on the Fourth of July.

"We don't want Waylon to take over Independence Day," says Emil Macha, president of the Waylon Jennings committee. He emphasizes that the weekend also includes barbecue, bean and chili cook-offs.

Flag-waving notwithstanding, Mr. Jennings is a big draw for Littlefield's celebration. Last year, the town of nearly 7,000 attracted about 30,000 for a free Waylon concert.

Mr. Jennings keeps ties to Littlefield, where his mother, stepfather, two brothers and an assortment of aunts, uncles and cousins still live. He pops in occasionally for a visit.

"You'd be surprised how quickly the grapevine is activated," says Mr. Macha, "but people here do respect his privacy, except when it's concert time. Then it's a different ball of wax."

Mr. Jennings gave a free concert in 1988 for the town's 75th diamond jubilee celebration and again last year when he told locals that he would like to make the event an annual affair.

"We hope he'll come back each year," said Eva McDonald, coordinator of the arts and crafts portion of the celebration.

There's no mistaking that Littlefield is Waylon Jennings territory (although Littlefield also is home to Tom Jones, playwright of "The Fantasticks," the longest-running off-Broadway show). The water tower is plastered with "Home of Waylon Jennings." A street is named after the singer. In fact, in 1990, the town dedicated an RV park to Mr. Jennings. He returned for the honor before --ing off to join Willie Nelson for a Fourth of July picnic.

This year, Mr. Jennings, his wife and his son will serve as parade marshals at the Saturday morning parade and sign autographs that afternoon.

"He'll probably pitch a few horseshoes at the horseshoe pit named after his aunt Fannie Mae Whitfield," says Mr. Macha. "The pit was built by his cousin, Wendell Whitfield, but the horseshoe-pitching competition itself is named in memory of his father, William Albert Jennings."

That night, he and his wife will sing at a concert expected to attract 40,000.

"Bring lawn chairs," recommends Ms. McDonald.

The seating facilities might not be top-notch, but Littlefield has built a new permanent stage just for Mr. Jennings.

"He'll be surprised," says Mr. Macha.

If he doesn't read the newspaper, he also may be surprised when, at the concert, the Texas Education Agency presents him with an appreciation award for the work he has done for illiteracy.

"He never graduated from high school, but he received his GED a year or two ago," says Ms. McDonald. "He now speaks on education, encouraging others to stay in school." The theme of his drive is "Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Dropouts."

Even Texas Gov. Ann Richards has sent a certificate in appreciation of his work to be presented that night.

Mr. Macha's ties with Mr. Jennings go back to his early days: Mr. Macha worked at the local radio station when Mr. Jennings was trying to get air play. Mr. Macha passed Mr. Jennings' demonstration tape on to the station's program manager and subsequently played in a local band with him for the next several years.

But Mr. Macha doesn't take any credit for helping Mr. Jennings get his start.

"He was a determined man," says Mr. Macha. "He wasn't going to stop until he got to the top. He didn't step on anybody; he just surrounded himself with as many musicians as he could. I have a lot of respect for the man."

If you have questions about the event, call the Waylon Jennings hot line, operated by Mr. Macha at his tire and garden center, (806) 385-6172.

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