Archive for the ‘Picnic’ Category

“We set out for what was being called Willie’s last picnic” (7/4/1980)

Friday, July 24th, 2015
scan of a July 4, 1980 Willie Nelson picnic ticket  --  Credit required: From the collection of Buddy "Budrock" Prewitt

scan of a July 4, 1980 Willie Nelson picnic ticket — Credit required: From the collection of Buddy “Budrock” Prewitt

“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.”

— Rick

(Love to hear picnic stories!  Thanks, Rick.)

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Willie Nelson and Paul English

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

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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

Chris Stapleton at Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic in Austin

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

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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.

Morgane Stapleton

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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.

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Check out their album, and learn more about the band at: www.christStapleton.com

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Same Picnic, New Venue: Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Celebration in Austin @Austin360 Amphitheater

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

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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.

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Fourth of July celebrants packed the place.  There was such a collection of great music.

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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.  

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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.  

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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.

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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.

The Raelyn Nelson Band at Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic 2015

Sunday, July 12th, 2015

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Raelyn Nelson and her band brought their rocking garage country rock music from Nashville for her Granddad’s 4th of July celebration.

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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.

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They were so much fun to watch and so talented.  And she is as cute as a button.

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She filmed her aunt Amy’s set with Folk Uke. And her Aunt Amy filmed her. I’ll pay to see that movie!

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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.

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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”

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Here’s the video, and you can purchase the song on iTunes.

Saturday, July 11th, 2015

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Amy Nelson and Cathy Guthrie and Folk Uke at the Fourth of July picnic

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

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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.

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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.

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Merle Haggard at Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

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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.

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photo: Janis Tillerson

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photo: Janis Tillerson

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Thank you, Janis from Texas for your great photos.

Because we’re happy! More fans, more friends, more Willie Nelson 4th of July Picnic fun

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

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Lots of happy people at Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic

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These two fans drove all the way from Pennsylvania to go to Willie’s picnic.

Eric Church at Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic in Austin

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

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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.

Springsteen!

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Thanks to Janis from Texas for her photos of Eric Church and his band at the picnic.

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Willie Nelson and Family on the 4th of July in Austin

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

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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

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Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

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Thanks, Janis Tillerson for your photos from the 4th of July picnic.

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Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic (unforgetable)

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

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http://thewordwebzine.weebly.com
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

Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard on the Fourth of July 2015

Monday, July 6th, 2015

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photo: Janis Tillerson

Willie Nelson thrilled the picnic crowd when he joined Merle Haggard at the end of his set and sang, “Poncho and Lefty” and “It’s All Going to Pot”, and one other song I can’t remember right now.

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photo: Janis Tillerson

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photo: Janis from Texas

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photo: Janis Tillerson

Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic 2015

Monday, July 6th, 2015

erikarich2photo:  Erika Rich
See more great photos from Erika here.

http://music.blog.austin360.com
by: Peter Blackstock

For a solid 10 hours, everything went off without a hitch Saturday at the first Picnic at the Racetrack. Returning to Austin for the first time in five years, Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic booked a remarkably strong lineup at Circuit of the Americas, and around 20,000 fans turned out to join in the celebration.

After the sun went down, though, everything went a little haywire. The Picnic crew had made it through 20 acts without ever falling more than 10 minutes behind, admirably shuffling short sets by the first 10 performers from 11:15 a.m. to just past 3 p.m. on a makeshift stage in the venue’s Grand Plaza. A wide grass lawn offered plenty of room for standing or sitting, plus quite a few picnic tables in back.

After 3 p.m., sets began rotating between the plaza and the main Austin360 Amphitheater stage. Things stayed on track for another six hours, as legends such as Kris Kristofferson, Leon Russell and Billy Joe Shaver split time with a superb cast of rising stars including Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell and Kacey Musgraves.

It was after Musgraves’ terrific 8 p.m. set that the back-and-forth shuffle between the two stages ceased, and the crew couldn’t keep up with the pace the rest of the way. A scheduled 15-minute reset on the main stage between Musgraves and Merle Haggard stretched to almost 40 minutes. By the time a scheduled short fireworks display followed Haggard’s set, the show was a full hour behind.

Adding to the down side was the necessity of sitting through an hour of Eric Church before Willie and his family band brought the show to its natural apex. Context is everything: When Church played the iHeartRadio Country Festival at the Erwin Center last year, he stood out as one of the night’s better acts, sounding about as good as mainstream country radio has to offer. But set against the likes of the Picnic’s otherwise brilliantly assembled lineup of songwriters, his songs about drinkin’ a cold one, drinkin’ a product-placement brand of whiskey and just drinkin’ the drink in his hand revealed him to be an empty suit.

For brief moments, he tried to break out, such as when he prefaced his quasi-anthem “Springsteen” with a heartfelt run through the first verse and chorus of Robert Earl Keen’s “Corpus Christi Bay” that begged for a full rendition. And he chose wisely in his set closer with The Band’s “The Weight,” inviting late-afternoon main stage highlight Chris Stapleton back out to sing one of the verses.

It was with Stapleton’s 4:40 p.m. set that the Picnic fully hit its stride. Kris Kristofferson had played the first set on the Amphitheater stage immediately before, performing solo with no fanfare but setting a proper tone that if you’re going to play Willie’s Picnic, you better bring along some top-shelf original songs. Stapleton, who’s written a lot of hits for other artists but is just now getting his shot in the spotlight with his acclaimed album “Traveller,” proved up to the task, shining with a soulful backing band that brought out the drama of songs such as “Nobody to Blame” and the record’s title track.

Next on the big stage was Sturgill Simpson, whose recent sold-out Stubb’s shows and “Austin City Limits” taping showcased a 2014 breakthrough album “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” that brilliantly synthesizes country and psychedelia. Simpson mostly avoided the latter on this day, choosing instead to delve more into his bluegrass roots — “I know we’re in Texas, but I’m from Kentucky!” he explained — in a 40-minute set that spotlighted his full-throated vocals and his band’s hot picking.

From a pure songwriting perspective, no one beat the main stage’s next performer, reigning Americana Music Association Artist of the Year Jason Isbell. As much as his 2013 album “Southeastern” sparked a career peak, it’s his upcoming “Something More Than Free,” due July 17, that stands to launch him into another league, judging from Saturday’s renditions of the album’s passionate title track and the spectacular first single, “24 Frames.” Isbell also reached back to his Drive-By Truckers days for “Outfit” and “Decoration Day,” both of which offered fitting alternate-view perspectives on the Independence Day atmosphere.

Amid this auspicious stretch of main stage up-and-comers was a strong anchor of sets from Picnic mainstays on the smaller stage. In succession, the swelling plaza crowd was treated to the classic honky-tonk of Johnny Bush, the outlaw mysticism of Billy Joe Shaver, the piano Hank-and-Stones shuffle of Leon Russell and the western swing revival of Asleep at the Wheel. Closing out the Plaza Stage run just before sundown was Jamey Johnson, who smartly kept the backing low-key so his vocals could shine on stirring covers of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” and George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”

That was a perfect segue into the big-stage performance of Musgraves, who’s all the rage even in mainstream country circles these days but is smart enough not to lower herself to that common denominator. Dressed for the part in a spangly starred white outfit that played off her new album’s “Pageant Material” title, Musgraves proved fully worthy of a Picnic headlining slot with smart songs such as “Mama’s Broken Heart” and “Step Off” that pointedly refrained from Nashville bombast-and-cliche. And when she got to her smash hit “Follow Your Arrow,” it was a perfect fit for Willie’s Picnic, with its sly little exhortation in the chorus to “roll up a joint.”

It was all downhill from there, with the way-too-long pause before Haggard’s decent but unremarkable set sparked primarily by Willie’s cameo at the end for Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho & Lefty” and the novel single “It’s All Going to Pot” from their chart-topping new duo album. The fireworks, and Church’s lack thereof, chased some of the crowd home before Willie finally took the stage at 12:23 a.m. on July 5 – though the vast majority of the crowd did stick around in a heartfelt show of solidarity for their beloved host.

He and his Family Band — pianist Bobbie Nelson, harmonica player Mickey Raphael, bassist Kevin Smith and drummer/percussionists Paul and Billy English — rewarded them with about an hour of trademark Willie, from the obligatory “Whiskey River” and “On the Road Again” to medleys of his own timeless classics (“Funny How Time Slips Away”/“Crazy”/“Night Life”) and those of Hank Williams. Around 1:15 a.m., an official came onstage and apparently obliged them to wrap things up, so Willie invited out performers still on hand backstage including Kristofferson, Johnson and Church for “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “I’ll Fly Away” before a finale that he described as “my new gospel song” — “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”

A quick look at early-afternoon highlights, which featured 15-to-20-minute sets from a cross-section of performers:

Three-named Texans Ray Wylie Hubbard and David Allan Coe got the Picnic faithful smiling and dancing with hallmark numbers such as “Screw You, We’re From Texas” and “Take This Job and Shove It,” respectively. A trio of Nelson family acts helped the crowd ease into the heat of the afternoon, with Paula Nelson paying tribute to Waylon Jennings and Mickey Newbury after Raelyn Nelson rocked out on Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” and the duo “Folk Uke” (Amy Nelson and Cathy Guthrie, Arlo’s daughter) sang comic songs that were mostly unprintable but quite entertaining. Sirius/XM DJ Dallas Wayne, a fine songwriter in his own right, played two excellent tunes and deserved more time. Armadillo World Headquarters veterans Greezy Wheels played a short but energetic set that helped put the Picnic in historical perspective. And Hudson Moore, Amber Digby and Pauline Reese provided a spark for those just arriving to the Circuit of the Americas grounds before noon.

Despite the late-night scheduling snafu, COTA proved a good spot for the Picnic, though its outrageous concessions prices are a failing grade on an otherwise strong report card. If a family of four spent the full day at the picnic and needed two meals, a couple of snacks, a few beers and sodas, and consistent hydration from bottled water — there are a few water fountains on site, but they’re tucked away — just the cost of those essentials could easily run $200-$300 for the day. With no food or drink allowed in, that amounts to racetrack robbery.

American-Statesman/Austin360.com staffer Dave Thomas contributed to this report.