A Fan Remembers a Willie Nelson Picnic (8/11/01)


The Willie Nelson Picnic is alive and well, touring Texas with shows in Dallas, San Antonio and Houston. The Verizon Ampitheatre, which opened north of Loop 1604 in San Antonio, was the perfect venue for this collection of songwriters on Saturday, August 11, 2001. The parking was easy, and the stage was easily accessible for 20,000 people.

Two stages, alternately showcasing music, allowed for a showcase of up and coming talent along with the featured artists on the main stage-a huge main stage. Not a minute without live music for 12 hours.

The show began with a rowdy set by Cooder Graw, an Amarillo quintet led by Matt Martindale. “If we get one person on the back row smiling and joining in, we succeeded,” Matt replied when asked about leading off to a light crowd in a huge venue. The crowd built and so did the show.

Hayseed Dixie took the Levi stage in between sets on the main stage. “We’re here to testify,” shouted out lead singer, and the bluegrass tribute to AC/DC began. Strange but true. This band has been greeted with rave reviews, radio promotion, packed club dates and bills with superstars. They put their own spin on the classic heavy-metal AC/DC tunes.

Back to the main stage with Dennis Quaid and the Sharks, followed by a rocking Rodney Crowell. Playing songs from his autobiographical album “The Houston Kid,” and backed by a tight band, he also ran through the slew of hits he’s had over the years.   He ended his set with a powerful version of Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.”

Pat Green followed, bringing his young energy to the stage. He’s working on a new album for a new record label, and he proudly announced that Willie even sang a song with him on that album. Pat may be going through the door opened by Robert Earl Keen, but he’s certainly creating his own landscape of rocking Texas music along the way. “Carry On,” by Green might just become another Texas anthem. He proudly admits that he loves Texas and plays Texas music.

Robert Earl Keen followed on the main stage, and the rest is history. He commanded the day, playing his familiar hits along with new songs from his upcoming album, “Gravitational Forces,” on Lost Highway label. “Hand Me Down My Walking Cane,” seems to be his new “first song.” 
Brian Duckworth, longtime friend and fiddle player has retired, but Rich Brotherton took over those leads on several impressive guitar solos. Bill Whitbeck (bass) and Rich added harmony, giving a new sound to the stark songs of Keen. After an awesome show at the very formal Bass Concert Hall in Ft. Worth the week before, Keen and his band let loose with abandon. He owned the crowd that day, and no one took it away from him.

Dwight Yoakum took the stage about 8:00 p.m. to a standing ovation. He was a good act to follow Keen, giving the audience another look at country music. Pete Anderson posed as he took the guitar leads; Dwight danced sensuously with his guitar. Dwight had invited Flaco Jimenez and his band to join him backstage, and Flaco joined him on stage, playing accordion (what else?) on “Streets of Bakersfield.” The crowd gave him at standing ovation as he walked out on stage. Everyone loves Flaco.

Over at the Levi stage, The Derailers (who opened for Keen in Ft. Worth) announced their upcoming album on Sony Lucky Dog, “Here Come the Derailers.” Their brand of honky tonk is infectious, making everyone want to dance. The weather, which had to be 100 degrees in the shade, did not deter the picnic crowd. Nathan Hamilton performed his own collection of songs dealing with gunfighters and true love. He may be the next songwriter of note to burst forth from this scene of new young guns in Texas. Houston Marchman and Susan Gibson (formerly of The Groubees) completed the day on the Levi stage.

Now for the grand finale – Willie Nelson and family take over the stage; a huge flag of Texas unfurls and he’s off and running. He runs through the classics, he plays some blues and jazz, he showcases guitarist Jackie King. Willie Nelson does it all – with style and grace. The hat show begins as the first straw hat is thrown on the stage. He seems to be willing to wear whatever comes his way. Long braids hanging down, the red bandana in place, the finale reminds us all the Texas music is not complete without a Willie Nelson Picnic. 

Waving at people in the first row, Willie was as personal in a show as he’s ever been. His total involvement with the music was readily apparent. Jackie King, jazz guitar legend, took many of the leads, and Willie seemed to be showing off a few new licks himself. Willie, like Bob Dylan, reinvents himself at each concert even though the songs may remain the same. 

Pat Green joins Willie on “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “I’ll Fly Away.” The show included “Seven Spanish Angels,” “City of New Orleans,” “To All The Girls I’ve Loved,” “Whiskey River,” (the American flag unrolled across the back of the stage), “Milk Cow Blues,” and “Pancho and Lefty.” Willie announced, “I’m doing this song as a tribute to both Townes Van Zandt and Merle Haggard.”
Willie kept asking the crowd, “Do you have time for one more?” And he delivered several Hank Williams’ classics. 

The schedule at the Verizon includes Tim McGraw on August 18, John Mellencamp with The Wallflowers (Dylan’s boy) on August 22; Gipsy Kings on August 24; James Taylor on August 25; Crosby, Stills and Nash on September 4; Clay Walker on September 8. Get tickets at  Kathleen




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