Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic, 1974.

Willie 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 sang “Whiskey River / Stay All Night.”

Here is his 1974 performance on the first-ever episode of Austin City Limits.

Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Leon Russell sang “Jambalaya.”

Here’s Leon singing and playing it nine years earlier on Shindig with Glen Campbell, Jerry Cole, Russ Titleman and Most of The Wrecking Crew. 

Leon Russell introduced Doug Kershaw.

Doug Kershaw performed “Orange Blossom Special” and “Cajun Joe, The Bully of the Bayou” and “Diggy Liggy Low.” 

Waylon Jennings performed “Good Hearted Woman,” “Sick and Tired,” “Willie the Wandering Gypsy and Me,” and “This Time.”

Jerry Jeff Walker & The Lost Gonzo Band performed “Up Against the Wall / Redneck Mother” with Ray Wiley Hubbard.

Jerry Jeff Walker & The Lost Gonzo Band played “London Homesick Blues” with Gary P. Nunn.

Willie Nelson sang Leon Russell’s “A Song for You.”

Willie Nelson and Leon Russell sang “Funny How Time Slips Away / The Night Life.”

Willie Nelson, Leon Russell and the whole gang sing, “Goodnight Irene.”

Read this interview. One of the cars that catches fire in the parking lot belonged to Robert Earl Keen.

Fire Willie Nelson Picnic


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Willie Nelson Picnic people 001 Willie Nelson Picnic Autograph

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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.

07/04/2019 – Editor’s Note: As the of the videos have been removed from YouTube, this post has been updated below with relevant video content.

07/04/2020 – Editor’s Note: The 1974 footage has been posted to Daily Motion.

Willie Nelson performs July 5, 1983 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Robert Earl Keen’s car is on the right. He tells the story on No. 2 Live Dinner.