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Preview: The Picnic settles down

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Photo by Scott Newton


“You can’t do this, you can’t do that—Jesus, what kind of deal is this?” An evolved Picnic had returned to Texas, and Dale Zurkirchen of Fort Worth was among those who weren’t happy with the changes. The Austin American-Statesman noted he was drinking a $1.75 cup of beer while complaining that he and his friends weren’t allowed to bring their cooler inside.


Pace Management Co. of Houston had recently acquired the eleven-acre South Park Meadows concert site in far South Austin, and Pace Concerts was running a tight ship. Concertgoers today would be familiar with the blue-shirted employees searching purses and backpacks and blankets, but it was a new twist for veteran picnickers.


Just inside the gate, the Statesman reported, were big containers filled with unopened beers, fried chicken, liquor, chips, sandwiches, and pocketknives. Not even Frisbees were allowed.


Once picnickers made it in, what was ahead of them were fourteen hours of music in ninety-nine-degree heat. The eighteen thousand fans would drain one thousand kegs of beer—even at $1.75 a cup.


Letting Pace run the show definitely made it easier on Willie. “I think it was probably one of the better-organized Picnics,” Freddy Fletcher said. “Everything was really kind of already there. Everything was pretty smooth.”


The thinking was that although Willie enjoyed the Picnic, he was taking advantage of the opportunity to recast it as something that wasn’t going to take up his time or hurt his now-international reputation. “I believe the intent was to allow Pace to do this,” Roger Collins said. “So that it would tame it and remove it from the hands of all the yahoos and just make it into a well-run concert festival. It worked. But it was too tame. From a fun perspective, I think it was a little bit sterile.”


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Danny Garrett

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Roger Collins

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Joe Ely

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John T. Davis

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© Bob Wade


Carl Cornelius brought one of his town’s police officers with him when he came to confront Tim O’Connor after the 1987 Picnic at Carl’s Corner. “Where’s the money?” Carl asked.


“Well, we didn’t make any money,” Tim said. “We lost money, Carl.” Tim had what cash there was, but the gate receipts were slim. That money was going to the artists, not Carl.


“You stay right here, Tim,” Carl said. He walked off, maybe looking for Willie or maybe for more backup.


Reflecting on it thirty-four years later, Tim said he had no choice but to defuse the standoff. “I took off,” he said. “Because—and I don’t want to overdramatize this—it was getting to a point where the next move would be pistols.”


It’s not an empty boast. Had the scene occurred a decade earlier, it likely would have ended differently. “I don’t believe that you would let somebody piss on your boots,” Tim said. “That’s where I came from. Fortunately for Carl, at that time, I was in the midst of trying to learn a different way.”


The bad blood between the guy who ran the town and the guy who ran Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic had been brewing for a month or so.


If the Picnic had brought in the eighty thousand to one hundred thousand fans from across the state that they had expected, the hard feelings might have dissolved amid the money. However, the Picnic had attracted only about 10 percent of the people they had prepared for, and everybody was angry.


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Tim O'Connor


Budrock Prewitt

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Janis Tillerson

Bob Wishoff.jpg

Bob Wishoff

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