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Up In Smoke: Billy Bob Thornton, Protest Singer

Stop The Presses!

Just about any boot-scootin' Texan can tell you that deep in the heart of the Lone Star state, where there's smoke there's barbecue. This is especially true around Austin these days, since the town billed as the "Live Music Capital of the World" has followed most major US cities in banning cigarette smoking indoors, leaving tobacco-inclined people in need open-aired spaces in which to exercise their habit--with the net effect of societal prejudice now adding (given the detrimental effects of nicotine and tar) insult to injury, so to speak.

Still, we are a nation of freedom-loving people, and at this year's South By Southwest music festival, which finds some 1200 or so performers of every different stripe and style from all four corners of not just the US but the world doing their particular thing, the growing minority of cigarette smokers can look to their voice being now heard here, too, in the presence of Billy Bob Thornton. Yes, that Billy Bob Thornton, certainly best known as an actor, but also of late a recording artist with his musical group the Boxmasters--and, as evidenced by his appearances at several shows at the start of this year's SXSW, something of an activist as well on smokers' rights front.

Billy Bob's shows at SXSW were at venues sponsored by two tobacco companies, both of which, we should note, are purveyors of products advertised as being "all natural"--although, as their advertisements do faithfully note: "No additives in our tobacco does NOT (their caps) mean a safer cigarette." And while Thornton doesn't have any specific songs relating to smoking, he did take the stage at both his concerts with a lit cigarette firmly in hand. Technically, he was breaking the law, though no one seems compelled to make a citizen's arrest Wednesday night at the aptly named Smokin' Music Club,  which does have an outdoor safe haven "lounge" area adjacent to the music room.

About the closest anyone came to breaking up Thornton's act of "protest" was the person near us complaining about the quality of the stone country music Thornton and his band were playing. About midway through a number called "Don't Build Your Own Prison If You Can't Do The Time, he told his friend that "These songs would probably sound a lot better if he sang them in his 'Sling Blade' voice." 

Tough crowd, these oppressed smokers.


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