It wouldn’t be the 4th of July without Willie Nelson's moveable ‘picnic’

Mon Jul 4, 2016 5:36am EDT
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By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN, Texas - It is an on again, occasionally off again American tradition from the 1970s that has filled football stadiums and sun-baked Texas ranches, with one constant - country music legend Willie Nelson celebrating Independence Day with a music-packed picnic.

Nelson’s first blowout picnic in 1973 was a combination of Woodstock hippy love and cowboy hoedown of more than 40,000 people in Dripping Springs outside of Austin that raised the ire of police, who received complaints about noise, nudity and dazed people wandering around.

As Nelson has aged, the event has mellowed. About 10,000 people are expected at this year’s version, which will feature 20 acts, including some Texas troubadours who appeared at the first picnic, and will be held at a race track in Austin, which is the only U.S. stop for global Formula One racing.

Nelson said he got the idea for the picnics from the 1969 Woodstock music festival and wanted to bring that feeling to the Hill Country west of Austin.

"I was looking at (Woodstock) and was realizing the same thing might happen in Texas if it were promoted right and had the right talent," Nelson said in an interview with Reuters.

"It is a national holiday for national independence and I felt like a lot of people would like to get together and celebrate. It was a no-brainer,” said Nelson, 83.

The early affairs were raucous events, drawing crowds of over 80,000. They often lasted for days, often at places not prepared for the onslaught.

“If we had arrested all the naked and drunk people I saw, we’d have filled our jail and yours and all of the jails from here to Dallas," a deputy in Williamson County, north of Austin, told the Austin American-Statesman after the 1975 event, which attracted about 70,000.   Continued...

Singer Willie Nelson performs during a concert honoring him as the recipient of the Library of Congress' Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in Washington, U.S. on November 18, 2015. To match Feature USA-INDEPENDENCEDAY/NELSON      REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo