“I attended this heat wave with a buddy and let me tell you… We set out for what was being called Willie’s last picnic. We made the mistake of setting out on bicycles from Houston the day before the concert. We made good time on the 3rd. It was so hot we had to get off highway 290 and find a lake. We ended up in snake country on Lake Somerville near Burton. As it was night time we couldn’t find the lake. Ended up drinking cold beer at a country store. Just as well, there we learned of the cotton mouths. Unable to sleep anywhere we decided to continue riding.
Drunk and stoned we made it back to 290 thanks to one generator light on my buddy’s bike. There we passed out in the ditch. Woke up by the sun and feeling like shit we continued on. We made it to Bastrop and realized we were going to be late. Started hitch-hiking with 2 bicycles and by god, got a ride. Classic old timer in a 50’s pick-up got us damn near the rest of the way. With about 10 miles left to ride people were dragging coolers and walking due to parking issues. Had many offers to buy our bicycles. No way! As we were a little late we had made it. I remember looking up and seeing the red cross choppers hauling people away from heat exhaustion. I remember wondering how I could get on one.
I think we had to be the hottest ones there. After getting right to the gate we didn’t budget enough money to get in. Had just enough but no extra. Discouraged but not to worried. Thanks to some bikers that bolt cut the fence behind the porta johns we were able to slip in. Got up close and got some great pictures of Willie. Still have them. Managed to see a good part of the concert. As we decided to hike back to where we locked our rides to a telephone pole we encounter a run in with some shine. Made it to the telephone pole and woke up on the 5th. It looked like a war zone. Only thing left was a massive clean-up. We helped just the same. After all we did get in free. I’m sure Willie would’ve had us back stage had he knew how hard we worked to get there.”
(Love to hear picnic stories! Thanks, Rick.)
photo: Janis Tillerson
Love this moment when Willie Nelson turns around and shakes Paul English’s hand, after the band plays, “Me and Paul.” Hard to capture sometimes, but Janis did a good job on the 4th of July
This was my first time seeing Chris Stapleton perform. He and his band, which includes his wife Morgane, performed at Willie Nelson’s 4th of July picnic. The picnic is always fun because you get introduced to other great music that you might not normally hear. They were great.
Kentucky-born singer, songwriter and producer Chris Stapleton is one of Nashville’s most revered craftsmen, with a 15-year career that includes No. 1 hits, Grammy Award nominations, feature film contributions, the respect of his peers and, now, a new album.
Stapleton will release his highly anticipated debut “Traveller” on May 5. The Mercury Records Nashville release is the rare mainstream country album eagerly awaited by fans on both sides of the dial.
Blessed with an otherworldly voice, Stapleton earned this respect in numerous recording studios and anonymous writing rooms on Music Row and on stage as a touring headliner and opener for the most popular acts in the genre.
He has written five No. 1 songs for George Strait, Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney, Darius Rucker and Josh Turner and contributed cuts to several major motion picture soundtracks. He’s also been nominated for three Grammy Awards and won the International Bluegrass Music Association Emerging Artist of the Year award as a member of The SteelDrivers.
His songwriting credits span all genres and artists from Adele to Jason Aldean and he’s recorded with everyone from Miranda Lambert to Don Williams.
Check out their album, and learn more about the band at: www.christStapleton.com
Willie Nelson’s picnic had all the good things we go to the picnic for: Willie Nelson & Family live on stage, his kids and grand kids and extended family members performing with their bands, several great Texas musicians and other picnic regulars from out of state, Kinky Friedman, and a big-name touring country star to mix it up and bring in those young new country music fans.
It wasn’t on the back forty at Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth — this year they brought the picnic back to Austin for the 4th of July celebration. Not back to a large field like Dripping Springs, but to the state-of-the art Austin360 amphitheater, set inside a giant race track.
Fourth of July celebrants packed the place. There was such a collection of great music.
There were two stages, to accommodate all the artists on the line up. One was on a grassy knoll (I named it that), with picnic tables and room to stretch out. The other side was the amphitheater, with a concrete pit area for standing room only in front of stage, then chairs an behind that, a grassy area. It was huge.
My unscientific survey found that everyone especially liked the smaller stage area, comfort-wise speaking, and access to the performers. There was a grassy lawn in front of a stage with a low railing in front. People could spread out and stretch their legs, there was room for dancing. Families sat at one of a hand full of picnic tables and ate their lunch.
The venue was so big, it was hard to to move from stage to stage to see the different acts, once they started alternating acts on the two stages. Especially once they opened up the large stage area, and people parked themselves in the pit, holding on to those coveted front row spots. And it was hot for hustling between stages, for some (me). Some chose one stage or the other, and parked themselves there, until the small stage area closed, and there was only one performer at a time on the big stage.
There was an air-conditioned bathroom a few feet away. It was nice. It let the fans get up close and personal with the bands that played that stage. I know, there were too many people in the evening to spread out like that, but a grassy field up front instead of concrete would have been nice.
VIP guests, and photographers, got to enjoy Bobbie’s Lounge, which had places to sit, misting fans, and a private bar. There was a similar bar, honoring Paul on the other end of the venue, for the VIP. It was so hot, it saved me a couple times.
The picnic has changed venues before, of course, it hasn’t always been at the Stockyards, or even in Texas. I’ve celebrated the 4th with Willie in Michigan, and in Washington state. But for the past few years it has been at Billy Bob’s, and we had our routines down. New venue, new challenges. There were complaints and there were compliments about the new place, but mostly there were people having un and enjoying the music and chance to spend the 4th of July with Willie Nelson & Family.
Thanks for another great picnic, Willie.
Raelyn Nelson and her band brought their rocking garage country rock music from Nashville for her Granddad’s 4th of July celebration.
These kids made a lot of new fans on the Fourth of July. They have played at Farm Aid, but not at picnic, as far as I can remember, which means less and less these days.
They were so much fun to watch and so talented. And she is as cute as a button.
She filmed her aunt Amy’s set with Folk Uke. And her Aunt Amy filmed her. I’ll pay to see that movie!
The band is composed of the talented and lovely Raelyn Nelson, and the handsome and talented Jonathan Bright on guitar and vocals, Paulie Simmons and Preach Rutherford.
Raelyn and her talented band have an album out, and are also releasing new songs, along with videos. Most recently, they created a video from their song, “Boyfriend”
Here’s the video, and you can purchase the song on iTunes.
There were so many artists lined up to perform at Willie Nelson’s picnic, that one stage wasn’t enough. It wasn’t like the Stockyards in Forth Worth, either, with two stages at the ends of the Back 40, but it was two separate permanent stages, where you could turn around and watch the other stage, or at least listen. One was smaller, and lots of grass and picnic tables. The other is a bigger stage under a giant tower called the Mullett (a tall tower, used during races held on the track that surrounds the two stages.) That stage has a large concrete area “the pit”, surrounded by chairs, then grass at the back. It was hard, to impossible, to get to both stages to see the acts. They had a big screen on the side of smaller stage, so you could watch the other acts, but not visa versa. In the evening, the smaller stage area closed, and everyone came to the big stage area to watch the headliners perform into the evening.
Amy Nelson and Cathy Guthrie performed on the grassy knoll stage (I made that name up myself), and it was nice because it let fans get up and close and personal with them. Their set was as good and fun and irreverent as ever. They are so talented, and people are so entertained by their naughty lyrics and songs so much, I think we forget how really good they sound together. They sang their hits, and introduced a new song, and the fans loved them all.
photo: Janis Tillerson
It would be incredible enough to get to spend the fourth of July with Willie Nelson and his family, and hear the play music, but he always piles it on and turns it into a magical gathering of great musicians. This year, he invited Merle Haggard to perform, and joined him at the end of his set to perform. These photos are from Merle’s set, taken by Janis.
photo: Janis Tillerson
photo: Janis Tillerson
Thank you, Janis from Texas for your great photos.
Eric Church sang his hits and entertained everyone at the Picnic. His fans went crazy. He is animated, and so cute and fun to watch. He sang his hits and was a real crowd pleaser. He stuck around for the entire show, and came out and sang with Willie Nelson and his family at the end of the picnic.
His band is talented, and just as animated.
Thanks to Janis from Texas for her photos of Eric Church and his band at the picnic.
< img src="https://farm1.staticflickr.com/497/19516021372_8c9f57c726.jpg" width="500" height="333" alt="IMG_2703">
So great to get to get to see Willie Nelson on nd Family or so delay around Merle Haggard’s set, Willie and Family did not come on until late, very late, worth the w
img src=”https://farm1.staticflickr.com/365/19286965449_3cfc0a2405.jpg” width=”333″ height=”500″ alt=”IMG_2861″>
by: Julian Spivey
Willie Nelson’s 42nd annual Fourth of July Picnic was good for my soul.Imagine if nearly every one of your favorite current artists could be at one music festival on the same day doing staggered sets so you could see absolutely every one of them. It sounds like a dream, doesn’t it?
It truly was.
When I heard that Willie Nelson’s annual Fourth of July concert would include Merle Haggard, Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Jamey Johnson, Kacey Musgraves and Eric Church I just knew that I had to buy tickets and make the trek from Central Arkansas to Austin, Texas (eight hours each way).
It was worth every second and penny.
In a time where country music is utter bullshit featuring talentless hacks like Sam Hunt, Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan wreaking havoc on the radio it was nice to be able to go to a place where you could hear real country music and real songwriting talent. For 14 ½ hours on Saturday, July 4 I was in music heaven. It truly was Independence Day and the best one I’ve ever had and probably ever will.
More than 20 artists took the stage on Saturday at the Austin360 Amphitheater just outside of Austin, Texas on two separate stages to perform sets that ranged from as a few as two songs to about 75 minutes.
Because of the way the sets were staggered and the close proximity of the stages I had the great pleasure of seeing every single performance at Willie’s annual party.
It was blistering hot in that central Texas heat on Saturday, but I didn’t care about a little sunburn or slight heat exhaustion with the talents of Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Jamey Johnson and on and on singing their hearts out for the biggest concert crowd I’ve ever seen.
How do you even go about reviewing something this massive?
Maybe just the highlights …
The best thing of the entire day was seeing Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson perform three songs together at the end of Merle’s set. When Willie came out on stage to join Haggard on their classic early ‘80s duet “Pancho & Lefty,” written by the great Townes Van Zandt, it was easily and automatically one of the three greatest concert moments I’ve ever seen and honestly was almost enough to have me crying tears of joy had every ounce of liquid not already escaped through my pores in that sweltering Texas sun earlier in the day.
Merle might be 78 and Willie might be 82, but they are still better than just about anybody else you’re ever going to see. It was my third time seeing Haggard and my fourth seeing Nelson and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything else in the world.
At one point in his set Haggard performed Johnny Cash’s iconic “Folsom Prison Blues” and his classic “Mama Tried” back-to-back and I turned to my wife, Aprille, and said: “He just freakin’ played two of the three greatest country songs ever written in succession.”
Speaking of hearing one of the greatest country songs ever written … Jamey Johnson covered George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” the song many experts rank as the greatest country song ever recorded, during his set at the smaller Budweiser stage and it was breathtaking. Johnson did both the song and Jones proud.
Saturday marked the fourth time I’d see both Nelson and Eric Church, my third time seeing Haggard, Johnson and Jason Isbell and my second time seeing Kacey Musgraves. I’ve been truly blessed to see so many terrific artists over this last decade of my life … but I’d never seen Kris Kristofferson (who might be the greatest songwriter country music has ever known).
I didn’t think I’d ever see him. He wasn’t initially supposed to be part of Willie’s Fourth of July Picnic this year.
But, just a couple of days before leaving for Austin I saw online that he’d been added to the lineup. A bucket list moment I hadn’t even expected is what this resulted in. Kristofferson, just equipped with his guitar and the wrong harmonica (which unfortunately cut “Me & Bobby McGee” slightly short), took the stage and sounded amazing (which frankly surprised me because oftentimes when I’ve seen him perform on TV he’s been honestly incoherent).
Kristofferson wrote “Me & Bobby McGee” (made famous by Janis Joplin), “Sunday Morning Comin’ Down” (made famous by Johnny Cash), “Help Me Make It Through the Night” (made famous by Sammi Smith) and “For the Good Times” (made famous by Ray Price) all in the span of about a year and they became massive hits for those respective artists in about the same time. I can say with absolute certainty that no songwriter has ever had that kind of output in such a short amount of time. On Saturday I got to see the genius behind every one of those songs. Unfortunately – and this is one of the few complaints I had on Saturday – some ignorant woman right behind me talked throughout Kristofferson’s entire set (which was quiet with just his voice and acoustic guitar) about how she only came to Willie’s festival to see her favorite David Allan Coe and how great he was (he wasn’t). Kristofferson is a legend. Coe just thinks he is. I couldn’t believe this woman didn’t give a damn about the legend on stage.
Kristofferson’s songwriting is potentially equaled in greatness by Americana darling Jason Isbell – who without a doubt has been my favorite singer-songwriter of the last three years. Isbell is always perfect on stage and his vocals are always exquisite. The highlight of his half hour set on Saturday was two songs I absolutely adore of his that I hadn’t had the pleasure of seeing him perform the two previous times I’d seen him: “Dress Blues,” about a young soldier killed in a pointless war (which I thought was a perfect tune for the Fourth of July), and “Decoration Day,” truly one of the greatest story songs of the last dozen or so years. I don’t believe I belted out songs along with the artists louder than these two all day …
Well, maybe I did when Sturgill Simpson performed “Living the Dream” from his excellent 2014 album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, which I have no doubt was the best written and recorded country song released last year and topped my annual list. Simpson is a revelation in a day and age where country music just doesn’t sound like country music anymore. He gives 100 percent every second he’s on stage both vocally and musically and his vocals when he really ramps them up are Waylon Jennings-esque. Sturgill is the real deal and I’m glad he’s developed a cult following of us fans pissed at country’s current state and is selling out venues all across America. He was worth the price of admission alone.
Jamey Johnson was billed as “Tradition & Truth” on the T-shirt bearing his likeness that I just had to purchase on Saturday and that’s an apt description. This true and talented songwriter loves real country music and loves to cover it. Every time I’ve seen him he fills his shows with great covers and I previously mentioned him doing George Jones justice, but one of the truly American things I saw on the Fourth of July at this festival was him covering Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” with the jam-packed crowd singing along in unison.
Saturday’s festival was chock full of badasses on the stage. But, when it comes to badassery it’s damn hard to top both Ray Wylie Hubbard and Billy Joe Shaver. These men are the real deal and I thoroughly enjoyed every single second of both of their sets. There were certainly better songs performed during this day (it’s hard to top Merle Haggard, after all), but the one that truly got itself wedged in between my ears was Hubbard’s “Snake Farm” – who’s joyfulness in performing truly shines through on stage. I’m of the feeling that Jason Aldean is perhaps the biggest poseur in the history of country music with his supposed bad boy schtick that all of real outlaw music fans can see straight through and needs to be kicked down a notch or two (or even six feet below), so hearing Billy Joe Shaver do “Hard to Be An Outlaw” with its lines like “some super stars nowadays get too far off the ground/singing ‘bout the backroads they never have been down/they go and call it ‘country’, but that ain’t the way it sounds/it’s enough to make a renegade want to terrorize the town” really made my day.
Eric Church is a guy that I swear gets a bad rep from some of those “saving country music” guys, but this one right here sees he’s the real deal. It only takes a little deeper listening to realize this. There’s more to his music both lyrically and musically than those other bro-country dudes ruining the genre and I’m surprised people don’t get or hear this in his music. Saturday night was the third time I’ve see “Chief” do “Springsteen” in person and the song still gets me every time. It’s the best mainstream country song since Jamey Johnson released “In Color.”
Kacey Musgraves is my favorite current tomato in country music. Anybody who doesn’t get that reference hasn’t really been paying a whole lot of attention to the state of country music lately and ignorant comments made by executive Keith Hill who claimed if country radio wants to thrive it must eschew all female singers. Musgraves is a little too real for mainstream country, but that’s why she fits in so well with the crowd at Willie’s festival. Musgraves has this cutesy, but at the same time tough as hell thing
(Loretta Lynn had that), about her that works for her so well. Her new album Pageant Material is going to be one of the best albums of the year and she was a real ball of fire on Saturday evening.There were other highlights on Saturday – hearing real Texas Swing in Texas thanks to Asleep at the Wheel, hearing Chris Stapleton belt a tune like no other, watching Willie’s granddaughter Raelyn Nelson rock out to Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” and more – but if I were to write about every great thing I saw and heard on Saturday we’d be here all day.
I’ll just say this – if you weren’t at Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic this past Saturday you missed one of the greatest shows there’s ever going to be.
100 Best Performances From Willie’s Fourth of July Picnic:1. Pancho & Lefty – Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard
2. Mama Tried – Merle Haggard
3. Folsom Prison Blues – Merle Haggard
4. For the Good Times – Kris Kristofferson
5. Decoration Day – Jason Isbell
6. Me & Bobby McGee – Kris Kristofferson
7. It’s All Going to Pot – Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard
8. Dress Blues – Jason Isbell
9. Living the Dream – Sturgill Simpson
10. He Stopped Loving Her Today – Jamey Johnson
11. Sunday Morning Comin’ Down – Kris Kristofferson
12. Springsteen – Eric Church
13. The Weight – Eric Church & Chris Stapleton
14. Long White Line – Sturgill Simpson
15. Hard to Be An Outlaw – Billy Joe Shaver
16. Listening to the Rain – Sturgill Simpson
17. Snake Farm – Ray Wylie Hubbard
18. Whiskey River – Willie Nelson
19. The Pilgrim – Kris Kristofferson
20. Outfit – Jason Isbell
21. Big City – Merle Haggard
22. Stockholm – Jason Isbell
23. Life of Sin – Sturgill Simpson
24. This Land is Your Land – Jamey Johnson
25. Silver Wings – Merle Haggard
26. Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain – Willie Nelson
27. Super 8 – Jason Isbell
28. Follow Your Arrow – Kacey Musgraves
29. Bad Reputation – Raelyn Nelson Band
30. Traveller – Chris Stapleton
31. Are the Good Times Really Over? – Merle Haggard
32. I Think I’ll Just Stay Here & Drink – Merle Haggard
33. That Lonesome Song – Jamey Johnson
34. Old Chunk of Coal – Billy Joe Shaver
35. Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother – Ray Wylie Hubbard
36. Route 66 – Asleep at the Wheel
37. Merry Go ‘Round – Kacey Musgraves
38. Always On My Mind – Willie Nelson
39. Bob Wills is Still the King – Asleep at the Wheel
40. Roll Me Up (And Smoke Me When I Die) – Willie Nelson
41. This Town – Kacey Musgraves
42. The Bottle Let Me Down – Merle Haggard
43. The Trailer Song – Kacey Musgraves
44. These Boots – Eric Church
45. Railroad of Sin – Sturgill Simpson
46. Set ‘em Up Joe – Jamey Johnson
47. What She Said Last Night – Billy Joe Shaver
48. High Time – Kacey Musgraves
49. Tennessee Whiskey – Chris Stapleton
50. Mama’s Broken Heart – Kacey Musgraves
51. Help Me Make It Through the Night – Kris Kristofferson
52. On the Road Again – Willie Nelson
53. Reasons to Quit – Merle Haggard & Willie Nelson
54. Why Me – Kris Kristofferson
55. Pageant Material – Kacey Musgraves
56. Smoke a Little Smoke – Eric Church
57. Good Hearted Woman – Willie Nelson
58. Something More Than Free – Jason Isbell
59. 24 Frames – Jason Isbell
60. Get a Room – Raelyn Nelson Band
61. Creepin’ – Eric Church
62. Georgia On My Mind – Willie Nelson
63. Ride Me Down Easy – Billy Joe Shaver
64. Can’t Cash My Checks – Jamey Johnson
65. Wanna Rock & Roll – Ray Wylie Hubbard
66. Knock Me Up – Folk Uke
67. These Boots Are Made for Walking – Kacey Musgraves
68. Me & Paul – Willie Nelson
69. Loving Her Was Easier – Kris Kristofferson
70. Over When It’s Over – Eric Church
71. Screw You, We’re From Texas – Ray Wylie Hubbard
72. Jambalaya (On the Bayou) – Leon Russell
73. Hank Williams Medley (Jambalaya, Hey Good Lookin’ & Move It Over) – Willie Nelson
74. Still is Still Moving to Me – Willie Nelson
75. That’s The Way Love Goes – Merle Haggard
76. Homeboy – Eric Church
77. If You’ve Got the Money (I’ve Got the Time) – Willie Nelson
78. The Silver Tongue Devil & I – Kris Kristofferson
79. I Got a Woman – Leon Russell
80. Just to Satisfy You – Paula Nelson
81. Jumpin’ Jack Flash/Papa Was a Rolling Stone – Leon Russell
82. Twinkle, Twinkly Lucky Star – Merle Haggard
83. Outlaw State of Mind – Chris Stapleton
84. Cold One – Eric Church
85. Orange Blossom Special – Greezy Wheels
86. Like a Wrecking Ball – Eric Church
87. Daddy Frank (The Guitar Man) – Merle Haggard
88. I’m Getting Stoned – Eric Church
89. Crazy/Night Life/Funny How Time Slips Away – Willie Nelson
90. Jack Daniels – Eric Church
91. Georgia On a Fast Train – Willie Nelson
92. Drink In My Hand – Eric Church
93. Step Off/Three Little Birds – Kacey Musgraves
94. There Stands the Glass – Johnny Bush
95. Will the Circle Be Unbroken?/I’ll Fly Away – Willie Nelson
96. Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends – Kris Kristofferson
97. Stranger in a Strange Land – Leon Russell
98. Stupid – Kacey Musgraves
99. Fire Away – Chris Stapleton
100. You Can’t Always Get What You Want – Hudson Moore