Jimmy LaFave during the Summer Concert Series at the Levitt Pavilion in Pasadena California in 2013.
Jimmy LaFave performed during the Summer Concert Series at the Levitt Pavilion in Pasadena California in 2013. Credit: FlickrCC / scrubhiker

Folk and Americana legend Jimmy LaFave has entered the final stages of his battle with cancer and will be unable to perform at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts for Friday evening’s presentation of Songwriter Rendezvous.

In his stead, fellow musicians Sam Baker, Slaid Cleaves, and Eliza Gilkyson will take the stage to share the spirit of the musician they know and love through story and song.

In a letter addressed to LaFave’s “friends and fans,” the musicians acknowledged that they “just want him [Jimmy] to be comfortable and at peace in this final phase of his life,” and that moving forward with the show is a “way to move through our own grieving process together, with like-minded souls.”

Tickets for the performance can still be purchased here. Anyone who previously purchased tickets and doesn’t wish to attend will be refunded.

LaFave was diagnosed with spindle-cell sarcoma last year. He has received a great deal of love from his family, fans, and friends as he has powered through the pain to keep sharing the music that has defined his life since he was a boy growing up in Stillwater, Okla.

“Jimmy is a connector,” said Val Denn, LaFave’s agent of 22 years. “He loved meeting young and up and coming musicians, [he] would find them and help them along.”

More than $50,000 has been raised through LaFave’s crowdfunding campaign, a vehicle he is using not to support his healing or treatment, but several of his favorite charities.

With a deep connection to the “red-dirt music” of Oklahoma, singer-songwriter and guitarist LaFave has been contributing to the soundtrack of many lives across the nation from his bastion in Austin since the mid-1980s. He was recently inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame.

“Jimmy took a grassroots approach to music, always had the opportunity to sign with bigger labels, but told me, ‘I know I can do this from a grassroots level’ because he was very politically active he didn’t wish to be involved within the parameters of whatever a record label expected of him,” Denn said. “He always said, ‘We’re gonna do it my way.’”

LaFave grew up surrounded by open highways and plains, the backyard of Woody Guthrie, for whom his affinity organically blossomed into tributes in the thrust of his career. LaFave also played a dozen straight years of performance at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival, and played countless renditions of his greatest hits throughout his career.

While LaFave has long been inspired by Guthrie, he spent the majority of his career writing and producing his own records, unique and representative of his personal experience. He developed a grass roots following through his music, simultaneously acknowledging the softer spectrum through soul-stirring ballads and bringing a righteousness to the greater stories of life growing up in love and loss in America’s southwest.

In what seems to have been divine timing, more than two dozen musicians gathered at the Paramount Theatre in Austin Thursday night to honor LaFave through story and song.

LaFave unexpectedly rolled out in a wheelchair with a breathing apparatus, to strum his guitar and sing the evening’s final song.

“[For the tour], we had to agree to meet him wherever he was, everything around this would be based around that,” Denn said. “Last night we did that. He was able to sing a teeny bit and play guitar and it was amazing.

“He is at the end of his life,” Denn said. “People say that the biggest lesson he’s taught us is how to die. I think in reality he is showing people how to truly live. “

Adam Tutor

Adam Tutor is a Trinity University graduate, a saxophonist who performs with local bands Soulzzafying, Odie & the Digs, and Volcan, and a freelance music contributor to the Rivard Report.