40 years of spending the 4th of July with Willie


When Willie Nelson tired of a Nashville music scene that forced him to wear a suit and tie and cut his hair short, he subsequently moved to Austin back in 1972.

Broke and without shelter, he moved in to the English Aire apartments off of Burton, which is located between Oltorf and Riverside drives.

His one bedroom apartment was a couple of doors down from my father’s place.

Now, my dad could make friends with anyone, so when he bumped into this red headed stranger at the mailbox or laundry room, they would strike up conversations and became acquaintances.

Don’t know how much my father had to do with it, but the Outlaw Country movement was started right there at the English Aire apartments.

There was a club at the apartment complex called The Cricket Club, that Willie played practically every night and it didn’t cost a thing to get in and you probably could have heard “Whiskey River” for the very first time.

Nelson Nelson When Willie was planning his first 4th of July Picnic to be held in Dripping Springs, he gave my dad two passes and a poster, which of course he passed on to me.

Being a hard rocker, I had never heard of this Willie Nelson and wouldn’t have known him if he was sitting on my father’s couch (which he was).

I remember seeing his name in label maker print on his mailbox.

I always regretted not attending that historical musical event that united 40,000 hippies and rednecks forever, but I do still have the poster.

However, when the opportunity to attend one of his soiree’s came up again, I jumped at the chance.

Fast forward seven years later, the last of the two times he held it as his personal Country Club out at Pedernales. This was of course before the IRS got ahold of it.

Slim Pickens left a lasting impression with his Hollywood stories. Slim Pickens left a lasting impression with his Hollywood stories. Through a good friend of mine, Waylon (Allen, that is, not Jennings) and then-fiance/ now wife Valerie, we were able to attend the 1980 version of the picnic and with backstage passes in our possession.

The estimated crowd of that year’s picnic was estimated between 75,000 and 100,000 people, which would make it the largest, or one of the largest of Willie’s picnics, depending on which count was correct.

The truth is, nobody knows, because Willie’s people didn’t really keep up with numbers very well, which in turn, is probably what got him in trouble with the IRS in the first place.

It was also a special occasion because Willie’s debut in a lead role in a movie, Honeysuckle Rose, had just come out, which spawned one of his most popular concert hits, “On The Road Again”.

Honeysuckle Rose was co-written by Austinite Bill Wittliff (Lonesome Dove).

Because we had the backstage passes, we avoided dealing with the sweaty masses and were able to take a boat up the Pedernales which dropped us off right behind the stage.

The pass (which I still have) has a running shoe with a spur on it and is stamped “CBS VIP”.

We had access to the swimming pool, pool house, club house, tables of food and alcoholic beverages and coolers upon coolers of drinks.

There was also an ample supply of Willie’s favorite recreational choice, but we won’t get into that here.

We had access to the stage, which we could enter or exit at our convenience. During one of the breaks, we made Valerie walk out to the edge of the stage and she got hooted and hollered at by 100,000 people.

Because there was a movie premiere involved, there were a couple of stars hanging around, Dyan Cannon and Slim Pickens, who co-starred with Willie in the flick.

Most of the attention was understandably focused on Dyan Cannon, who, while being followed around a little too closely, was tripped by someone who shall remain nameless.

I propped down in front of Slim Pickens who was sitting on an overturned bucket outside the luxurious country club pool house telling stories about Hollywood, which he had been a part of since 1950.

The former rodeo clown had a captive and rapt audience as he shared his experiences working with John Wayne, Steve McQueen, George C. Scott, Stanley Kubrick and Mel Brooks. He told us to call him Louis (Lindley), his real name. His younger brother tried acting for a while and went by the name Easy Pickens.

You might think that Slim hailed from Stephenville or Amarillo, but he was born and raised outside Fresno, California.

Slim...er, Louis’ tales and fables of Hollywood were enthralling and unique to say the least, like Mark Twain talking about the Mississippi.

After his turn as the iconic figure Major Kong, riding the nuclear bomb into oblivion at the end of Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, he said, “The trailers and the paychecks got bigger.”

It’s the thing that I will remember most about that day. It made the experience a keeper.

I can hardly remember any of the musicians on hand that day, it was the usual suspects, Ray Price, Faron Young. No Lynyrd Skynyrd (they played the Tulsa picnic in 1977 before their plane crash) or Bob Dylan.

Despite the fact that the 1980 picnic actually made money, there wasn’t another one until 1984, which was held at the Southpark Meadows in Austin.

Southpark Meadows is now a shopping center and Slim Pickens is the name of a musical group from Australia.

This week on July 4th, the picinc will celebrate its 40th birthday in Fort Worth at Billy Bob’s. Tickets are a whopping $55.

To think that at the first one, people just tromped through the woods and plopped down in front of the stage for free.

There are rumors floating around this may be the last. For one thing, ol’ Willie just turned 80.

Oh well, Slim, er, Louis is not around any more either to make even one trip to Willie’s Picnic a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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