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Auburn Party in the Park headliner Billy Joe Shaver performs free of legal clouds

Jury acquittal in shooting, no-contest plea on gun tote in bar, now behind outlaw country legend
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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No storm clouds are on the horizon for headliner Billy Joe Shaver or the weather Friday for Auburn’s Party in the Park. And that suits Shaver and Party in the Park organizer Scott Holbrook just fine. Shaver – a legendary outlaw country singer-songwriter from Central Texas – dodged a legal bullet two months ago when a Waco jury found him not guilty of aggravated assault in connection with a shooting outside a bar three years ago. That allowed him to continue his touring schedule and be in Auburn instead of potentially behind bars facing a lengthy prison term. Holbrook – who has seen Party in the Park temperatures over the past 10 years chill into the 50s and swelter near 100 degrees – is looking at a forecast promising a high temperature today of 80 degrees and proclaiming conditions perfect for the outdoor event. “It’s going to be like heaven in the foothills,” Holbrook said. Shaver has freely admitted shooting 52-year-old Billy Bryant Coker in the face at close range with a small-caliber handgun but said it was in self-defense. With high-profile Texas defense attorney Dick DeGuerin in his corner and not charging a fee, an elated Shaver walked out of the courtroom free of a charge that could have sent him to prison for 20 years hanging over his Stetson. The trial took on a circus atmosphere, with entertainment media covering the proceedings and Willie Nelson and Robert Duvall – both friends of Shaver – turning up. “I have good friends and it helped me – Dick DeGuerin has never lost a case,” Shaver said. “We were in the right but it took some fighting.” Music remains the focus for Shaver. But he said in a telephone interview that he’s also concentrating on staying out of legal trouble. While he was acquitted on the much-more-serious aggravated assault charge, he also had a misdemeanor gun charge connected with the 2007 shooting to grapple with. That has now been resolved, with Shaver pleading no contest Wednesday and paying a $1,000 fine on an allegation of bringing a handgun into a bar. Shaver said that, in his defense, he did have a license for the gun and he’d been a deputy sheriff since 1984. “I’m keeping my nose clean,” Shaver said. “I made a mistake. I took my ex-wife into a bar. When you take a woman in, you’re just asking for trouble.” Shaver and his band will take the outdoor stage at Regional Park at about 7:30 p.m. Party in the Park will wrap up around 9:30 to 10 p.m. Holbrook said the 10th annual Party in the Park, organized by the Auburn Recreation District, is geared toward families and fun as well as the music. A children’s play area will be set up and several community groups will have food and drink for sale. The buzz over a legendary musician headlining as well as the mild weather should attract as many as 4,000 people to an event that regularly draws between 2,000 and 4,000, he said. “It might tilt to the high end because of the weather and the high caliber of musicianship,” Holbrook said. Local favorites The Bob Woods Trio with Pete Grant are also on the bill, with music starting at about 5:30 p.m. “Cowboy hats are definitely welcome,” Holbrook said. Shaver, 70, has been described by Willie Nelson as “the best songwriter alive today.” With songs like “Honky Tonk Heroes,” “I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I’m Gonna Be a Diamond Someday)” and “Georgia on a Fast Train,” Shaver rose to stardom in the 1970s. His songs have been recorded by everyone from Elvis Presley to Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. Shaver has even made it into a Dylan-penned song lyric. Shaver fronts a band that also includes 16-year-old guitar wunderkind Adam Carter, upright-bass player Nick Gaiten and Jason Mackenzie, on drums. Shaver said he may also have mandolin player Kimberly Kelly onstage as well. “We’ll have a lot of energy – a lot of kickass country stuff,” Shaver said. “In Texas, you have to kick a little harder to step over the drunks.” ---------------------------------- Party in the Park Where: North Auburn’s Regional Park, 3770 Richardson Drive When: Start time of 5:30 p.m. Friday with headliner Billy Joe Shaver taking the stage at about 7:30 p.m. Admission: Free