Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic

by Jason Mellard / Center for Texas Music History at Texas State

Episode #10 – Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic / produced by Jack Anderson

On July Fourth, 1973, fifty years ago this week, Willie Nelson staged his first Fourth of July Picnic, an annual concert gathering a few thousand of his closest friends to celebrate the country’s birthday.

The first picnic arrived at a pivotal moment for the Austin scene. The Armadillo World Headquarters attracted national attention, KOKE-FM branded the Austin sound as “progressive country,” and the 1972 Dripping Springs Reunion concert showed the promise of a “country Woodstock.” Willie and the Armadillo returned to the Dripping Springs site in 1973 for a messy but glorious Fourth of July concert featuring Rita Coolidge, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, John Prine, and Doug Sahm. They did it all again in 1974 in College Station with Michael Murphey, Leon Russell, Jerry Jeff Walker, and a documentary film crew in tow. By July 1975, the legend continued to grow with as many as 90, 000 fans in attendance at the gathering.

Subsequent picnics took place in Gonzales, Dallas, Carl’s Corner, outside Texas in New York and Washington state, a few years in Luckenbach, but most often of late in Willie’s adopted Austin home. And that’s where it is this year, as Willie Nelson presides over the granddaddy of the state’s booming festival circuit, his Fourth of July Picnic at Q2 Stadium with Tyler Childers, Dwight Yoakam, Shakey Graves, Asleep at the Wheel, and more.

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