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'Don't Mess with Texas': Then and now

After 30 years, the Texas Department of Transportation believed the campaign needed a reboot for a new generation.

The “Don’t Mess with Texas” anti-litter campaign is one of the most recognized slogans in the Lone Star State.

But after 30 years, the Texas Department of Transportation believed the campaign needed a reboot for a new generation. So the original 1986 pitchman, one Mr. Willie Nelson of Abbott, Texas, makes way for his son.

Nelson was the original voice of the campaign, seated on a stool in the middle of a rural Texas highway, singing a re-written version of his “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys.” Research shows Nelson’s star power, and that of subsequent Texas artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Lyle Lovett and others actually worked. Surveys showed 98 percent of Texans knew the slogan, recognized the problem, and litter rates did start going down.

But 30 years later, and with a population that increases by the day, Texas is still plagued with an estimated 500 million pieces of roadside litter a year. People ages 16 to 34 are considered the most common culprits. So when TxDOT needed a new voice for the next generation, they just called the Nelson family again.

This time, in public service announcements that have already started running on KHOU and other TV stations across the state, Willie Nelson’s son, and a successful musician in his own right, Lukas Nelson, was seated on a stool on that same yellow stripe in the middle of a bend in the same rural Texas highway to be the “Don’t Mess With Texas” troubadour for his generation.

"To be able to do this and follow them is a huge honor, and I'm happy to be able to spread the message ‘Don't Mess with Texas,’” Lukas Nelson said of the original stable of artists.

The new campaign also includes the Eli Young Band and Grupo Fantasma.

The hope is that one of the most recognized slogans in Texas history will remain part of the mindset for a new generation. So whether it’s Willie or Lukas Nelson sitting and singing on that road again, that you will pay attention and help keep Texas roads clean.

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