Now in its fortieth year, Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnics are the barbecue to end all barbecues. Though each year is legendary in its own right, today, I’d like to focus on the 1974 celebration which looms large in its legend. Nelson was inspired to start a yearly festival by the 1972 Dripping Springs Reunion, where he was a part of the lineup. In 1973, also in the same town, Dripping Springs, Texas, he held “Willie Nelson’s First Annual 4th of July Picnic,” inviting famed rock ‘n roll photographer, Jim Marshall along to photograph the whole thing. The lineup included Earl Scruggs, Hank Snow, Sonny James, Tom T. Hall, Tex Ritter, Roy Acuff, Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson. In its aftermath, the people of Dripping Springs called the festival “moral pollution.”
No less debaucherous*, the 1974 festival took place over three days in College Station, Texas at the Texas World Speedway. Waylon Jennings, Jimmy Buffett, Michael Martin Murphey, and Jerry Jeff Walker were among the lineup of musicians that attended. Leon Russell was emcee.
Though I remember learning of its screening at New York’s Anthology Film Archives, for whatever reason, I missed seeing the film version, A Willie Nelson 4th of July in 2009.
Compiled here is every YouTube clip I could find from Willie Nelson’s picnic, 39 years ago, today.
Super 8 footage of many of the performers. Unfortunately, this video is not accompanied by sound.
Willie Nelson sings “Whiskey River / Stay All Night.”
Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Leon Russell sing “Jambalaya.”
Leon Russell introduces Doug Kershaw, as only he can.
Doug Kershaw performs “Diggy Liggy Low.”
Doug Kershaw performs “Orange Blossom Special.”
Doug Kershaw sings “Cajun Joe, The Bully of the Bayou.”
Waylon Jennings plays “Good Hearted Woman.”
Waylon wails on “Sick and Tired.”
Waylon performs “Willie the Wandering Gypsy and Me.”
Waylon sings “This Time.”
Ray Wiley Hubbard, Jerry Jeff Walker, & The Lost Gonzo Band perform “Up Against the Wall / Redneck Mother.”
Gary P. Nunn, Jerry Jeff Walker, & The Lost Gonzo Band sing “London Homesick Blues.”
Willie sings Leon Russell’s “A Song for You.”
Willie and Leon duet on “Funny How Time Slips Away / The Night Life.”
Willie, Leon, and the whole gang sing, “Goodnight Irene.”
According to this interview, the car that catches fire in the parking lot is Robert Earl Keen’s.
Happy Fourth, Willie.
*For a gallery that contains a few photos from the picnic that are not safe for work, visit Buddy Magazine.