Submitted by hippie on July 6, 2005 - 12:41am.
Transcendence Achieved at Willie Nelson's Not-so-Outlaw Picnic With old and newcomers alike, hot day ends with feel-good vibe By Dave Thomas AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF Tuesday, July 05, 2005 FORT WORTH — More than 18,000 people broiled under the July 4 sun on Monday, waiting patiently at the Stockyards here for that small moment of transcendence that makes Willie Nelson's Fourth of July Picnic worth all the money, heat and trouble. And if folks hadn't found their moment when Willie hit those familiar chords and sang, "Whiskey river take my mind," well then, they had spent a long time in the wrong place. Bob Dylan took the stage at 9:30 p.m. and for 45 minutes the 18,000 were spellbound. Well, half of 'em were spellbound. The other half were just trying to figure out what on Earth he was saying. Then he launched into "Like a Rolling Stone" and the floodlights came on at just the right spot, cutting through the floating dust to give the whole crowd a ghostly appearance. There's your transcendence. For some it came as early as 2 p.m. when Pauline Reese sang her song about "Mama Locke and her yellow wine" — Poodie Locke's mother and her fondness for tequila. And look, up there on the Jumbotron, there's Mama Locke. For others it came when Willie joined Johnny Bush on stage for "I Gotta Get Drunk." It was after 3 p.m. and the picnic was picking up steam. Spontaneous dancing broke out throughout the sun-baked crowd. Much of the younger crowd found their transcendence when Cross Canadian Ragweed kicked it into gear a little after 5 p.m. Others were there for Dylan or David Allan Coe. For the most part, the crowd was in just the right place. The usual mix of hippies (young and old), cowboys, yuppies, college kids and oddballs — they were out in force. By sundown the crowd had accumulatedall the characters you'd associate with a Texas outdoor fest: The dude high-fiving random people, the girl in the Texas flag bikini who looks like she doesn't know where she is, the woman dancing to a whole 'nother tune, the big, shirtless guy whose sunburn is only matched by his eyeballs. "Whoooooooo! (Expletive) and beer!" That's what a young Dustin Hughes told me when I asked why he was at the picnic. I'd been watching him for awhile and by the time I interviewed him, he'd lost his hat and was down to one beer at a time. Still, the Hillsboro resident, who's been hitting the picnics since 1997, was just having fun. He planned to stay for the whole show, Dylan and Willie were his third and fourth reasons for coming this year. Other fans were a bit more reserved. "I'm old. I don't do crowds. But my friend some how convinced me to go," picnic first-timer Alexis Dillard said in the heat of the afternoon. "And Willie is the best there is." Down from North Carolina, she was eager to see Los Lonely Boys and former schoolmate Leon Russell. With a stiff breeze kicking up dust and the national anthem played (and the crowd reminded that Best Buy is the "official electronics retailer of the picnic" — I'm glad we're all straight on that), the Troubadillos kicked off the picnic 9 minutes early from the north stage. The two-stage approach — first used at the picnic last year — cuts down on waiting for the bands to change out their equipment and cuts down on bad jokes from the emcee, but it's a strange phenomenon nonetheless. Serious picnickers figured out that the south stage was where'd they see Leon Russell, Ray Price, Los Lonely Boys, Dylan and Willie, so they set up camp there. They spent half the show with their backs to the performers on the north stage. By 1 p.m., the crowd at the south stage was a couple thousand or more deep. That included Bobby and Cheryll Yow, who made the 50-minute drive from Tom Bean (north of Dallas) for their first picnic. They were in line by 8:30 a.m. to get their prime spots front and center. Despite the early arrival, they said they planned to stay through the grand Willie finale. "That's who we came for — and he don't play 'til the end," Bobby said. By contrast, the north stage only had about a hundred folks set up — mostly younger fans of Cross Canadian Ragweed, who played their set a little after 5 p.m. Some picnickers took the middle road: Josh Sorenson, an Aggie who traveled from Wyoming for his second picnic "and a few other things," set up in the middle of the 27-acre site, "so we can see both stages." Others carefully positioned themselves along fence lines, in the shade, near a beer tent, to avoid the crush of the crowd that peaked in early evening. The early afternoon of the picnic proceeded without incident and on schedule, though by mid-afternoon the schedule was pretty much shot after Willie spent an hour jamming with Marty Dread and Los Maui Boys. By 11 p.m., there were still three bands to go and a steady stream of folks heading out the gate. Independence Day here revealed no shortage of capitalism, with hamburgers selling for $6, water going for the ought-to-be-criminal price of $3 a bottle and beer sales limited to Budweiser products. Sponsor Bud Light flaunted their monopoly with beer going for $4 a can or $5 for an "aluminum bottle" straight out of sci-fi. (A Willie Picnic without Lone Star beer? That's just as wrong as an Austin City Limits festival without Shiner Bock.) The Doobie Brothers (pick any of their greatest hits CDs and play half the songs at random and you've a fair shot at nailing their set list) were a crowd favorite, but Lynyrd Skynyrd has nothing on them for stretching a jam. Ray Wylie Hubbard followed the Doobies surprisingly well, at one point sharing his stage with Cody Canada of Cross Canadian Ragweed and members of the Lost Trailers — Hubbard is the new king of cool in Texas. Too bad he was upstaged by his son, a young Lucas Hubbard — all hair and guitar – who joined him on guitar for "Wanna Rock & Roll." Billy Joe Shaver followed Dylan with his typical set, providing the crowd with the oddest juxtaposition of top-notch songwriters that any picnic could muster up. Looking back at picnic history, if the 1970s was the outlaw era and the 1980s was forgotten along with most of Texas music and its trappings, then the Willie Nelson's Fourth of July Picnic was reborn in 1995 as the not-anywhere-near-as-outlaw-but-in-the-same-spirit-picnic in Luckenbach. For a five-year stand, the picnics — also called "pignics" by some old-timers for their heavy-duty police presence — had a certain outlaw spirit, even if they were, in reality, as tame as the Gillespie County sheriff's department could make them. The revival in spirit was spurred by a revival in Texas music, spurred in turn by artists such as Robert Earl Keen — who stole the show in 1995 and 1996. That, and, Luckenbach itself added a certain rustic "good Lord, where on Earth is the nearest motel" feeling to the whole thing. The 2000 picnic at Southpark Meadows was hardly memorable. And the 2003 picnic at Two River Canyon Amphitheater in the Hill Country west of Austin was an odd blip on the picnic radar. The first two-day picnic in decades, it fit all the bills: Rural location, great music lineup, stunningly sensible beer and food prices — the picnic could have found a new home, but instead was the victim of a massive July 4 traffic jam. (Maybe adding the Dead — no longer Grateful after the demise of Jerry Garcia — wasn't that smooth a move.) Fred Johnson, a gray-bearded gentleman who's been to a dozen picnics starting in 1978 says the new version of the picnic is a far piece from back when. When I ask him what's the biggest difference, he says quickly, "more security," with the tone of a guy who would appreciate a little less. "There's a lot more rules and it's not as much fun," he says. "But it's still fun." And that's why he's here. It's undeniable, in the post-Luckenbach era, the picnics have aged quickly. They made that inevitable turn at Fort Worth in 2004. Fort Worth, the Stockyards and even Billy Bob's carry the heft of Western authenticity. However the picnic here is assuredly a corporate event far removed from the lawsuits of Liberty Hill (1975) or the 140-odd arrests of Gonzales (1976) or the whole outlaw spirit of the 1970s. The question picnicgoers have to ask themselves is: Is that a bad thing? Surrounded by hotels, air-conditioned bars and restaurants, and with medical facilities and public transportation close at hand, the picnic is served well by its North Forty location as it enters its twilight years. Twilight? Sure, the picnic could double for an AARP convention. There's Willie at 72. Johnny Bush at 70. David Allan Coe and Billy Joe Shaver at 65. Youngster Leon Russell is 63 (as is special guest Bob Dylan). And Ray Price tops them all at 79 years old. If you came of honky-tonking age during the Luckenbach era of the picnic, old-timers told you that it wasn't like it used to be. These days, young honky-tonkers just have to accept that it's a picnic sponsored by Best Buy and Maui Jim Sunglasses. By contrast, the Luckenbach picnic sponsors included Texas Music magazine and . . . well, that's most of them. "We gave 'em a booth and they gave us an ad," former Luckenbach mayor VelAnne Howle told me. "There was no money exchanged." Some things about the picnic haven't changed. Leon Russell still performed "Jumping Jack Flash." Bob Cole was still emcee for a good bit of the show. It was still hot — though the breeze helped out a lot. Joe Wascomb of Huguley Memorial Medical Center said there had been no ambulance calls (as opposed to six last year) and about 100 cases of heat exhaustion. "We've been really lucky," he said. "And folks have been a lot smarter this year about drinking water. Sgt. Billy Samuel of the Fort Worth Police Department said at 7:30 p.m., that the crowd had been impeccable. "Zero arrests," he said. "We haven't even escorted anybody out." It wasn't an outlaw picnic. Not by a far sight. It was a picnic of happy tourists, pretty much summed up by Kelli Greenleen, a young picnicker from New Braunfels: "I'm a big Willie Nelson fan and I wanted to see him before he got too old to play. "I wasn't sure who a lot of the other artists were, so it was pretty cool to see them, too." by The Austin-American Statesman; great, again Willie; hippie
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