Since 1972, Willie Nelson has been hosting an annual Fourth of July Picnic. His inspiration came by way of the Dripping Springs Reunion of 1972. Music promoters wanting to put on a country music festival decided to ask Willie Nelson, Sonny James, Tom T. Hall, Earl Scaggs, Kris Kristofferson, Rita Coolidge and many other to come to Dripping Springs, Texas. Unfortunately due to money woes, the concert had poor promotion. This caused the festival to only get about 40,000 people in attendance versus the 180k to 225k they expected. This was actually a blessing because there was very little electricity or places for fans to park. The medical staff volunteers spent most of their time caring for those succumbing to heat exhaustion.
Willie Nelson liked the idea of hosting such an event and knew he would be able to do a much better job than the 1972 music festival. College Station, Texas at the World Speedway was home to his first picnic in 1947. The lineup once again was impressive with Jimmy Buffet and Waylon Jennings just to name a few. This concert effectively kicked off the annual event. For the next concert over 90k people came out to enjoy the event and before the concert started; July 4th of 1975 was named “Willie Nelson Day.” With all the good that Willie intended by having the concert; the fans left so much trash around the town that he was fined $1000 for disobeying the Texas Mass Gathering Act. Ironically, this law was passed due to problems at the previous picnic.
The picnic/concert continued to get a bad name due to additional problems in the late 70’s. A concert in 1976 had over 80k people attend, but the concert had to be stopped prematurely due to the PA systems malfunctioning. Neither Willie or Waylon got an opportunity to perform that year. Subsequently, someone drowned, four others were stabbed, 140 were arrested, four were kidnapped and three women were raped. Because of all the trouble surrounding the concert, Willie was sued by the owner of the ranch and some of the picnic goers.
Mr. Nelson improved security in the 1980’s which helped to change everyone’s perception of the picnic. During this time successful concerts were held in Austin, Texas which also did double duty as a host for Farm Aid. They fenced the area and had less incidences. The location changed in the 90’s to Luckenback, Texas. From 2000 through 2011, the picnic traveled throughout the Lone Star state. The picnic has continued to be a success and something that loyal Willie Nelson fans continued to look forward to.
So here it is 2012, and Willie and friends are in Fort Worth, Texas. The show which is being held at Billy Bob’s is set to be another amazing event. The lineup includes Cory Smith, Deadman, and Whiskey Myers. The great thing about this picnic is you never know who may show up. Although Willie had many difficulties throughout the years trying to keep his annual picnic alive, it has been well worth it; not only to Mr. Nelson, but also to his loyal fans.