by Carl Hoover
July 5, 1987
CARL’S CORNER — The head count for the first Willie Nelson Fourth of July Picnic held here was varied and its benefit to America’s truckers unknown, but the turnout was enough to please Carl’s Corner owner Carl Cornelius and Nelson who promised to bring his picnic back next year.
Estimates of the crowd size varied from 25,000 by the Associated Press to roughly 40,000, the latter figure announced from the stage.Â However, Cornelius said the bottom line was happy people and he said he saw plenty of those.
“I think it’s a total success ’cause every body’s happy,” he said.Â “It didn’t cost me anything — except $1,071.000.
Nelson, speaking at an impromptu press conference midway through the picnic, said it that he planned to return to Carl’s Corner next year with another picnic.
“I really feel at home here,” he said, noting that his hometown of Abbott was only a short drive down Interstate 35 from Carl’s Corner.Â “The house I’ve been living in lately is about one block from where I grew up… I’m having a lot of fun.”
Much of Nelson’s remarks to the press concerned his Farm Aid III, which will be held Sept. 19 in Lincoln, Nebraska, and will feature a tentative lineup of Bruce Hornsby and the Range, Bon Jovi, Neil Young, John Cougar Mellencamp, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard and Emmylou Harris.
He said the first Farm Aids had raised roughly $8 million that was disbursed in loans, grants and supplies for needy farmers.
Although this year’s Fourth of July picnic was dedicated to the truck drivers of America.Â Nelson noted, “Truckers are having the same sort of problems making a living.”
Drawn by a lineup promising Bruce Hornsby and the Range, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Joe Ely, Asleep at the Wheel, Roger Miller and Kris Kristofferson, thousands of spectators showed up hours before the picnic officially kicked off at 10 a.m.
Among the celebrities int he audience, according to pronouncements from the stage, were McLennan County District Attorney Vic Feazell and State Attorney General Jim Mattox.
Security personnel stationed at the numerous ticket entrances kept spectators from bringing in alcohol, as well as metal and glass containers — a policy that forced some groups to finish off their beverages outside the gates before the concert started.
Welcoming the crowd to “Willie What’s-His-Name’s Picnic,” Nelson, dressed in a black Farm Aid T-shirt, black jeans and a headband, took the stage shortly after 10 a.m..
Before starting the music, however, he introduced Wayne Johnson, pastor of Abbott United Methodist Church, the church Nelson attended as a boy.
Johnson led thousands of concert goes in the Pledge of Allegiance and prayer punctuated by whoops and applause from those agreeing with the sentiments, if not the spirit, of the prayer.
Nelson and his band then rolled into “Whiskey River,” the start of a 30-minute set that featured “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Good Hearted Woman,” “Blue Eyes Crying’ in the Rain,” a romping, rollicking instrumental for “Under the Double Eagle” and “Blue Skies.”
Texas bands filled much of the days’ schedule with headliners playing during the night, a fact that irritated many spectators who endured a day of sun and heat in order to hear the likes of Bruce Hornsby, Roger Miler, Kris KristoffersonÂ and Asleep at the Wheel.
Temperatures were in the 90s for much of the afternoon, but occasionally overcast skies and a constant breeze kept the heat bearable for almost of the picnic goers.Â Â Free cups of Gatorade were provided on tables near the rear of the audience, but 150 water spigots drew the biggest crowds, as hot listeners loaded up cups with free water and doused themselves and neighbors.
By late afternoon 110 persons had received first aid, primarily for heat-related problems, said Bruce Whitten, a medical supervisor from Allyn Ambulance Service in Houston.Â For were taken to area hospitals for treatment, one for a drug overdose, one for an ankle injury and the others for dehydration, he said.