[We have to confess, we’ve never actually attended Willie’s Fourth of July Picnic ourselves. But with the number of times we sang along to the Outlaws album, it kind of felt like we had our own in that RV every summer.]
Willie Nelson is an iconic image in Americana, and through his historic and wildly popular annual music festival, he was a pioneer who paved the way for country music events and collaborations of like-minded musicians.
The first annual Willie’s Fourth of July Picnic was held in 1973 in Dripping Springs, Texas. Willie had been inspired by the grossly under-attended Dripping Springs Reunion event he played at the Hurlbut Ranch the year before. While that festival was a bit of a flop due to poor promotion, it sparked the idea for Willie that he could gather some of his fellow musicians and friends and put on a three-day festival over Independence Day. (Fitting, because we’re not sure if it’s his signature red-and-white bandana or his denim jacket, but somehow, Willie just screams U.S. of A.)
1973 WIllie's Picnic in Dripping Springs by Camphouse Concerts
The Picnic was initially well-received and well-attended, topping out at an estimated 80,000 attendees. But it wasn’t long before the wild Willie fest caught a bit of a bad rap. Toward the late ‘70s the festival struggled to find venues willing to host the event because it was developing a reputation that it wasn’t safe for concert goers. (Somewhat unsurprising – it’s tens of thousands of outlaws!) They soon rectified the situation by beefing up security and fencing in the festival. Their reputation was restored and they were welcomed back to the Lone Star State. All but three of the annual events have been hosted in Texas, with most of the 1990s being held in Luckenbach and most of the early 2000s taking place at Billy Bob’s in the historic Fort Worth Stockyards.
It’s uncertain what social distancing will mean for Willie’s Fourth of July Picnic in 2020, but we imagine that even if it’s virtually, the party will go on. Where there’s a Willie, there’s a way.
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