NOTE: I continued to file blog reports throughout the day with a laptop at the Picnic. This year, I got a little better at it. The following appeared on statesman.com and austin360.com in 2012.
Live blog: Willie Nelson's 2012 Fourth of July Picnic in Fort Worth
By Dave Thomas
Update: 1:18 a.m.
Twelve hours and 31 minutes after the Picnic kicked off, Willie Nelson hit the final chords of his reprise of "Whiskey River" and the countdown began to his 40th Fourth of July Picnic.
Willie was in fine form, starting just a few minutes after his scheduled time of 11 p.m. and sounding a lot better than he did at last year's Picnic.
The first 40 minutes of his set, however, may have been identical to last year, rolling through "Still is Still Moving," "Beer for my Horses" and the "Ain't it Funny," "Crazy," "Night Life" medley. I'm pretty sure that Willie even gave Lukas a solo turn on "Texas Flood" last year, too.
No complaints from the crowd, however. They finally gathered all in one place to honor their host, who gave us a few hits from his new album — "The Scientist," "My Window Faces the South" — before returning to the tried-and-true favorites.
Once-feared, now-beloved drummer Paul English, joined Willie for several songs, including "Me and Paul."
Willie brought out the remaining stars in the house — Jamey Johnson, Randy Rogers, Wade Bowen, and his kids — for the big finale (a few gospel songs, followed by "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die" and "I Saw the Light"). Then, in true Willie fashion, he kept on going.
We even got "To All the Girls I've Loved Before," before Willie ended the day at 12:34 a.m.
All in all, the Picnic delivered what it promised, ran smoothly, encountered no logistical problems (that the crowd would notice, anyway) and could be considered a success on all counts except ticket sales.
Picnic purists, if there is such a thing, might argue that this Picnic was too small, too indoors, too short on both traditional performers and added star power to qualify as a Picnic.
But Willie isn't having any of that. In an earlier interview he was asked if the days of the big outdoor Picnics are done:
"I don't know, the thing about those is that they're expensive to put together. Especially when you have 'em out in somebody's pasture. It was a great idea 40 years ago, but I think people now are accustomed to their comforts."
And Fort Worth offered plenty of comfort, from predictable schedules to air conditioning and cab rides home.
Only 364 days until the 40th anniversary. Will there be a Picnic? Where will it be? Will the lineup be star-studded? Stay tuned.
Update: 10:30 p.m.
On Willie's bus, the strong smell is ... coffee. The architect of 39 years of Fourth of July Picnics is wrangling with a Keurig machine.
In a short conversation, he admits he doesn't know what the future of the Picnic will be, but likes the idea of a 40th anniversary Picnic to accompany his 80th birthday.
I ask him if he imagined in 1973 that he'd still be talking about the Picnic in 2012.
"No. I thought we'd do one and have a lot of fun and then I wouldn't have the nerve to do it again."
Look for the transcript of the interview on the Austin Music Source blog on Thursday afternoon.
Indoors, on the main stage Jamey Johnson still likes to stretch his songs to death from both ends, but the middle sounds great. He played long after Stoney LaRue kicked off the final outdoors show of the evening at 9:30 p.m.
Update: 8:15 p.m.
"And I believe that Muddy Waters is as deep as William Blake!"
Ray Wylie Hubbard half-roared this line and the crowd roared back at him, never mind that most of ‘em couldn't name an English poet if you spotted them the "William."
Hubbard delivered on his theory of giving Picnic fans what they want, running through such hits as "Snake Farm," "Drunken Poet's Dream," "Screw You, We're From Texas," "Redneck Mother" and "Wanna Rock and Roll" with passion that defied the late afternoon heat.
The Hour of the Sons Who Play the Hell Out of the Guitar featured a contrast in Lucas Hubbard, who played with a near-stoic intensity, and Lukas Nelson, who bounced, grimaced and gyrated like the stage was on fire.
Lukas made it a family affair, bringing brother Micah on stage to paint (really) during his performance and sister Amy to duet on "Sound of Your Memory."
The crowd was thin at the beginning of his set and the problem was obvious.
"Who is this?" a voice said behind me. "I have no idea," came the reply.
By the end of his 45 minutes, though, Lukas had won the crowd.
Update: 6:15 pm.
Standing on the outdoor stage during Ray Wylie Hubbard's soundcheck, you learn a few things:
* Ray Wylie does his own set-up. No prima donna in him.
* It is actually hotter on the stage than it is with the crowd. The view? Not that impressive during soudcheck. I imagine it's different with a few thousands fans staring up at you.
* The stage vibrates, even during a scaled-back soundcheck. When he really gets rocking, the stage must be rocking, too.
Ray Wylie is in a KOKE-FM t-shirt, maybe in celebration of the new station, maybe in honor of the old. He shakes hands, greets everyone warmly and goes around to the gate to backstage to sign autographs and greet fans.
Earlier, with Ray Price unable to attend, somebody had to bring the big band. This year, it was Johnny Bush, packing in 8 backing musicians on the indoor mains stage. He appeared relaxed and seemed not to miss the outdoor part of the show at all.
Under the stage lights was where hits such as "There Stands the Glass" and "Undo the Right," belonged. His closing trio of "Orange Blossom Special," "Green Snakes" and "Whiskey River" proved to be highlight of the day.
Billy Joe Shaver seemed to lack the energy that made last year's set at the Picnic such a highlight. But three songs in, he begins to pick up speed. Fans get "Georgia on a Fast Train," complete with drum solo.
Near the end of his set, looking across the plaza, there's a little girl in a cowboy hat, sitting on her father's shoulders and waving an American flag among the swelling crowd. Farther on, there's Shaver on stage in his Jesus pose, singing "Live Forever."
That's July Fourth in Texas.
Of course, behind Shaver is an enormous Coors Light logo.
That's America, too, I guess.
Update: 3:33 p.m.
The Dirty River Boys bring to mind that Robert Earl Keen line about a bluegrass band on amphetamines: "We could play faster than anybody."
An unlikely, heavily percussive cover of Townes Van Zandt's "Lungs" aside, the El Paso band gets the award for most excitable band of the first quarter of the Picnic, even if they couldn't quite name the event they were playing. Willie's Festival? Backyard Picnic?
Folk Uke got their one clean song out of the way first, then told the crowd "We got some four-letter words that we try to sing as pretty as we can."
Charmingly profane, they made good on that, turning "Mother(expletive) got (expletive)'d up" into a sing-along.
The Hour of the Woman at the Picnic (seriously, the Picnic is always short on female artists) continued with Paula Nelson taking the stage at 3 p.m. Paula opened with "Why You Been Gone So Long," making the song more of a command rather than Jessi Colter's plaintive wail. She followed that with a cover of Waylon Jennings' "Just to Satisfy You."
Outside, I encountered a group of security staff gathered around a woman lying on the ground. At first it seemed like a remnant of Picnics past: a victim of overconsumption, or maybe too much sun.
But no, this is a new era at the Picnic. The woman? She was fishing for a cell phone dropped into a grate. With the help of an enterprising roadie, she emerged victorious.
Through the afternoon, the crowd is growing steadily. Pam Minick, marketing director for Billy Bob's, says ticket sales are at 4,000. Not as many as last year, but there's a long way to go yet.
FORT WORTH — "We love God, our family, America and Willie Nelson, that's why we're here" Randy Rogers told the crowd halfway through an hourlong set at Willie Nelson's Fourth of July Picnic.
It was a pretty sparse crowd early in the afternoon, but that only provided access to two of the Picnic's most valuable things: Indoors, a place to sit. Outdoors, shade.
At 1 p.m. it was hot already, still in front of the outdoor stage save for vibrations from the impressive sound system. Back under the beer tent it was comfortable, watching more than a half-dozen American flags wave in a good-Lord-don't-let-up breeze.
Native son Shy Blakeman and the Converts opened the picnic at 12:03 p.m. - think honky-tonk music with a sly groove and hip enough to offer maybe the first country song with a dubstep reference.
Inside, Billy Bob's is cool and dark, with the most hard-core of the Willie faithful already camped out in front of the main stage, awaiting his scheduled 11 p.m. arrival.
It was unusual to see anyone perform an hourlong set so early in the Picnic, but by the time Asleep at the Wheel took the main stage at 1:30 p.m., opening with Bob Wills' "Cherokee Maiden," the afternoon had begun to take on a more traditional Picnic feel.