Willie Nelson’s Country Throwdown Picnic

2006 picnic

by: Preston Jones

Slather on some sunscreen and break out your most patriotic attire — Uncle Willie’s comin’ home for the holidays.

It’s been five years since Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic was last held in the Stockyards, and there will be a few new twists. For the 2011 edition, it will take place inside and outside Billy Bob’s Texas, as the headlining acts (such as Nelson, Jamey Johnson, Ray Price and David Allan Coe) perform on an outdoor main stage in Rodeo Plaza, with more music unfolding inside, on Billy Bob’s main stage.

In addition, the picnic is joining forces with the ongoing Country Throwdown tour (of which Nelson’s currently a part) to bring even more talent to the Stockyards. The picnic marks the grand finale of this year’s Country Throwdown tour. The first performer gets going at noon Monday.

“Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic is a long-standing tradition, and we’re thrilled to be a part of it,” Country Throwdown promoter Kevin Lyman said in a statement. “We couldn’t think of a better way to end this tour than by bringing together the legendary picnic talent with the big-name artists performing throughout the Country Throwdown Tour. Billy Bob’s … is known as the World’s Largest Honky Tonk, so I can’t think of a better place to host this year’s finale.”

Given this year’s two-stage setup, it will mark the first time in the picnic’s Fort Worth history that organizers are setting a limit on the number of attendees, which will be well below 10,000, according to organizers.

“We are really excited, for us [and most of Texas], the Fourth of July is not only a time to celebrate our nation’s birthday, but it means ‘Willie’s picnic,'” says Pam Minick, marketing director for Billy Bob’s Texas.

Here are five must-see acts at this year’s shindig (excluding Nelson, because c’mon, it’s his picnic):

Jamey Johnson: The reigning trad-country king (sorry, George Strait) whose songs cut to the bone while maintaining an old-school aura. His most recent effort, last year’s double LP The Guitar Song, earned him near-universal acclaim — Allmusic.com’s Thom Jurek called it ” the country album of 2010″ — and three Grammy nominations. Expect a reverent yet rowdy crowd.

Leon Russell: This Oklahoma singer-songwriter, fresh from his triumphant 2010 tour with superstar Elton John, is once again a popular draw, just as he was in his ’70s heyday. Russell’s collaboration with John, the T Bone Burnett-produced The Union, was his best-received record in years. There should be a healthy crowd turning up to see Russell work his not quite-country, not quite-rock magic.

Randy Houser: Small world — Houser co-wrote the notoriously goofy (and wildly popular) Honky Tonk Badonkadonk with Jamey Johnson, yet has also made a name for himself as a fire-breathing throwback to the way country music used to be. The Mississippi native released a new single, In God’s Time, earlier this year, as an appetizer for his as-yet-incomplete third studio album.

Lukas Nelson & the Promise of the Real: Yeah, there’s a bit of nepotism in the picnic line-up (Willie’s sister Paula will also perform a set), but Lukas has done pretty well for himself without too much help from the old man. The group’s debut LP dropped at the end of 2010, so most of this year will be spent on the road, honing the eclectic tunes inspired by everything from reggae to rock.

Caitlyn Smith: Minnesota native Smith name-checks a variety of artists important to her artistic development: Patty Griffin, Alison Krauss, Wilco and Keane are just some of the folks that inspire her. Smith is part of the “Bluebird Cafe” stage, which is part of the Country Throwdown tour. It’s an area designed to highlight up-and-coming singer-songwriters; stop by throughout the day and you may just find a new favorite.

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