Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic, 1974.

willie nelson picnicWillie Nelson, Texas World Speedway, July 4th, 1974.

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 ScruggsHank SnowSonny JamesTom T. HallTex RitterRoy Acuff, Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson. In its aftermath, the people of Dripping Springs called the festival “moral pollution.”


Willie Nelson Picnic Speedway Willie Nelson Holiday InnNo less debaucherous*, the 1974 festival took place over three days in College Station, Texas at the Texas World SpeedwayWaylon Jennings, Jimmy Buffett, Michael Martin Murphey, and Jerry Jeff Walker were among the lineup of musicians that attended. Leon Russell was emcee.

Leon & Willie Sunrise 73Leon Russell and Willie Nelson perform first thing in the morning at Willie’s Fourth of July Picnic, 1974.

Willie LeonNelson with the picnic’s Emcee, Leon Russell, 1974.

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.

Fire Willie Nelson Picnic



Willie Nelson Picnic people 005


Willie Nelson Picnic people 001 Willie Nelson Picnic Autograph


Willie Nelson Picnic 002


Willie Nelson Leon Pic-nic'n at its best Willie Nelson Willie Nelson Billy Joe Shaver Billy Joe ShaverWillie Nelson Tentative Schedule Willie Nelson Picnic Official Program


willie nelson picnic people 2  Willie Smiling On Stage Waylon on stage willie nelson picnic people 1 Willie Leon 2

Willie B&WAnd though it’s mostly unrelated, because it is the Fourth of July, and because his version of Paul Simon’s “American Tune” is my favorite, I will leave you with this.

Happy Fourth, Willie.

paul simon willie

*For a gallery that contains a few photos from the picnic that are not safe for work, visit Buddy Magazine.


  1. I moved to Austin in the late 70s, but before doing so I attended Willies 4th in College Station. It was my birthplace and home until I moved to ATX to attend school.

    Robert Earl Keens car was definitely one that caught fire. Actually quite a few before the fire was put out. They were joking about it on stage. In the local paper afterwards they said it was because the grass was dry and was more than likely a hot exhaust pipe started it, but it could have been anything. I do remember it was terribly hot.

    I was surprised to find this page searching it out for some “good ole times” flashback to my youth. You have it all!!! Congrats!!!

    Drew, ATX

  2. Drew,

    So glad you found this post. You have no idea how I wish I could’ve been there. Thank you for stopping by. You’re welcome back anytime.


  3. Max,
    I just found this and want to thank you so much!
    I was indeed there – my boyfriend at that time Mitch and I drove down to College Station from Dallas, where we were living and working. My memory says we only made it for one day and night, though – if the tentative schedule is accurate, it would’ve been Friday. I’ll never forget Willie & Leon Russell, or Doug Kershaw playing “Orange Blossom Special” – wow!
    As Drew wrote above, it was indeed terrifically hot. No shade, and night falling didn’t even help much.
    I do wish we’d been there for all three days, Sunday in particular as we both went to high school with Willis Alan Ramsey and it would’ve been a special thrill to see him up on that stage. (And for all I know, memory isn’t fully serving and I was there!)
    I’m looking forward to watching all these YouTube clips you put up – what a labor of love! Again, thank you.

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