Last Night: Willie Nelson's Fourth of July Picnic at Billy Bob's Texas

Willie's Picnic
Billy Bob's Texas in Fort Worth
July 4, 2011

Better than:
A real picnic out in the blazing heat all day, with fire ants and dirt and things.

IMG_5449editsmall.jpg
Rachel Parker
In a concession to July, Willie Nelson's iconic Fourth of July picnic became this year an indoor/outdoor affair at Billy Bob's Texas. 

It's not the raunchy bacchanalia it was in the old days either -- there was barely any smell of weed in the air -- but the event nonetheless drew an enthusiastic sellout crowd of 6,000, some arriving as early as the day's 11 a.m. start and staying until Willie's last warbling notes at about 12:30 the next morning. 

Shows moved among three stages and mostly didn't overlap, so when one show finished, there was a slow, cattle-like plod from the outdoors in, or vice versa.

In all, the crowd definitely put the "honky" in honky-tonk, but it was nice to see young and nubile people partying happily alongside old and not-so-nubile.

Willie's kids and their bands each took one stage or another, but the highlight progeny was Lukas Nelson with his band Promise of the Real. Lukas has his daddy's voice and wailing guitar skills (behind-the-back guitar playing lives on), and the band even pulled off a raucous drum/conga solo that didn't suck at all.

The young bucks on the outdoor stage tried to sound badass: "The title of this song is 'Beer'" said Lee Brice, promising something the lackluster song didn't deliver. 

But the true outlaw was old Billy Joe Shaver, who sang, "the devil made me do it the first time, the second time I did it on my own," with a grin that said he wasn't lying. He told the true story about shooting a guy "right where you say 'fuck you'" before launching into "Wacko from Waco," sans Willie, though they recorded it together. 

Indoors, an elderly Ray Price stood practically immobile, but still had his creamy croon and he ran through his heartbreak hits for an adoring crowd.

After Ray Wylie Hubbard (looking like a blonde Ozzy Osbourne) finished up on the outdoor stage, the outdoor stage shut down and everything moved indoors where the final, interminable wait for Willie began. 

Few seats were provided, so the crowd planted its asses wherever it could find room on the none-too-appetizing floor. At one point, during Jamey Johnson's tedious outlaw-ish set, it felt the wait for Willie would never end.

And then finally, finally, after an introduction by the venerable Bill Mack -- and then more waiting -- he was on the stage, dressed all in black, his trademark braids growing back since last year's haircut. The formidable Ray Benson (whose band Asleep at the Wheel had performed earlier) towered at stage left, a throng of Willie's friends and family filled every available space, and they all got together to make what was, for the most part, a racket.

It started well enough with "Whiskey River," before the band launched into a speed-twang rendition of "Good-Hearted Woman" and deconstructed into a medley that sounded like Willie's mind wandering and everyone else trying to follow it -- a cacophony, up from which familiar lyrics would drift.

"Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys" was a singalong, "Me and Paul" jumbled by. Then "On The Road Again," "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground," all his hits, and a few of Hank Williams' too, before all the day's musicians back on stage for an oddly awkward gospel closer of "I'll Fly Away" and "I Saw the Light."

Then, as July 4th became July 5th, despite all signs that the show was over, Willie and his core band played on, and the show improved mightily, with a speedy "Bloody Mary Morning," a nice "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain," a couple of new numbers (including a nice little ditty, "You Don't Think I'm Funny Anymore") and, finally, "Gotta Get Drunk," which closed the show out for real.

Redemption. And then, independence. 

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
If it had been anyone else, I probably wouldn't have stayed through such a musical mess.

By The Way: The style du jour for girls was Daisy Dukes or short summer dresses and cowboy boots. Bandanas worn Willie-style crossed genders, and the guys ran more of a gamut stylewise. Special shout-out to the guy in the Scooby-Doo T-shirt and mullet, and the old guy wearing a shirt patterned with flags and star-spangled bass. That's right. Fish. God bless America. 

Random Note: The DJ from KPLX-99.5 FM The Wolf exhorted the crowed to "Give it up for all the people who fought and died for this country for 235 years!" And the crowd went "WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"
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21 comments
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CATHY
CATHY

I was there and I was excited for another Willie Picnic at Billy Bob's I had been to the previous three there as well as two more at other locations.  Willie Nelson was and is an experience.  I thought Jamey Johnson would never end.  Billy Bob's did bring poor planning to a whole new standard.  You could buy a water outside but couldn't drink it inside.  Inside water was free but you couldn't bring it outside.  You could buy lemonade outside with a deal on refills but had to stay outside with you cup LOL.  After 5 hours and watching 6000 people going in and out of one set of doors it became an episode of picking which stage it was best to sit down in front of.  No chair was stupid.  If you won't give us a chair allow us to bring in our own.

The talent was awesome.  The highlights for me were Lukas Nelson, David Allen Coe, Billy Joe Shaver, and Asleep at the Wheel.  Love the picnic hated the venue

CHRISTY!!!
CHRISTY!!!

I had the best time of my life! All these people complaining crack me up! It's what you make it guys. Stop complaining about good texas music and stay home next time!! There was cold beer! Air conditioning! Great music....what more could you ask for? Thanks Willie and family! Thanks Fort Worth!

po'd
po'd

A decent chair.........A $100 chair, not a ca-ca chair in front of a TV screen.....I have that at home.............

Turftoe1
Turftoe1

6000 people and 150 chairs...SUCKED!Asleep at the Wheel was the best act of the day!

CHRISTY!!!
CHRISTY!!!

let me guess....you had a vip ticket too!!! HAHAHAHA 

Dananecaise
Dananecaise

What was the the name of the surprise guest, sat beside Willie all night?

TheBigShiz
TheBigShiz

Sounds like the author should of went to a Taylor Swift or Rascal Flatts concert!

po'd
po'd

I paid  the$100 VIP ticket price and at 9:30 p.m. got a little chair plunked in front of a wide screen TV .....didn't stay for Jamey or Willie......will never go back to Billy Bob's..............big fat ripoff...........big hot mess.............

CHRISTY!!!
CHRISTY!!!

next time pay $30 and enjoy the whole show from all over the building. vip at a willie nelson picnic...HAHAHAHA U NERD!

Kris
Kris

I paid for the VIP too and spend the whole day backstage with all of the band members. Just had to know where to go people. Fantastic experience!

Picnicologist
Picnicologist

I wish he had closed with "Gotta Get Drunk," but he kept playing after that, going into "Rolling in My Sweet Baby's Arms" as I limped away after 13 hours. Come on, poetic license and all that, but don't just make something up. (But you're right about Jamey Johnson, who has considerable talent, just not a real grasp on how to parlay that into a Picnic performance).

Claire
Claire

This was clearly a grown up event, should've sent a grown up to write about it.

TheBigShiz
TheBigShiz

I agree!! What was this guy doing there!

Kelly D
Kelly D

Wow. I'd never use tedious or "ish" to describe Jamey Johnson. I wasn't there for this show, but modern country music would be a far more tolerable place with more artists of his caliber.

TheBigShiz
TheBigShiz

I'm guessing the author is a young kid that like Justin Bieber. Sounds like he was out of place

Li
Li

If Kelly D liked Jamey this year...he should have seen him at the picnic last year!

WillieFan
WillieFan

I was there. Johnson's performance was exactly as the author describes - tedious. I would add droning, as in it droned on and on and on. The one high point of the set was when Lucas Nelson took over for a searing electric guitar solo. To sum up, Johnson totally sucked the energy out of the place, after great performances by Asleep At The Wheel, Lucas and Promise Of The Real, and Micah Nelson's band, which was a surprise great performance for me, since I was not really aware of his music before. As far as your theory that only a young kid would criticize Johnson's performance, I'm 54. Flew all the way from Michigan to attend The Picnic. Sorry, Johnson's performance was the lowpoint of the entire day. Oh, and the acoustics inside Billy Bob's are atrocious. They really need to fix that. All in all, though, a very great day, though. Hope to do it again next year. Enjoyed partying in the Stockyards on Saturday and Sunday, too. Great job, Fort Worth!!!

GusMitchem
GusMitchem

Not too sure its the acoustics, the family band seems to all have different timing just as described in the review. If you are truly Willie Fan you know that Willies personal music taste varies so much that he has to be tired of playing all the songs the gen pop has to have, thus the fast medlies.

I think Willies talents lie more in the jazz arena as basicaly they are just a standard jazz band. If I could time travel Id pick the Teatro years but thats just me

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