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Preview: The Picnic reluctantly adapts

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Photo by Scott Moore / The Backyard


It was near midnight and the crowd was still waiting for Willie. The venue had long since run out of food and cold drinks. People who had been there ten, eleven, twelve hours were confused and upset. In hindsight, was there a kind of disregard for the audience?


Tim O’Connor considered the question. “I will agree with that. Was it a conscious ‘fuck them, this is what we’re gonna do?’ No. But [we were following] the formula ‘Let it ride.’”


After seven years of tightly produced Fourth of July Picnics, including a couple of pseudo-Picnics out of state, those within the Willie circle were excited that the Picnic was back in the hands of one of their own. O’Connor had recently reopened the Backyard, a little bit west of the original location in Bee Cave. Even though the venue held only seventy-five hundred at most, it quickly became the site of the 2010 Picnic.


The “let it ride” philosophy hearkened back to the older Picnics. What fun is a party on a timetable? Wasn’t confusion part of the experience? “A little chaos makes it feel like a real Picnic,” lighting director Budrock Prewitt said.


And, sure, there were Willie fanatics and Picnic veterans who shrugged off the inconveniences as the unfinished venue failed to keep up with the capacity crowd. But by now, many Texas music fans no longer were interested in chaotic adventures. They would pay high prices and wait in long lines, but they required a little comfort and predictability in return.


A lot of them left the 2010 Picnic very unhappy.


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Tim O'Connor

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Amy Nelson

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Dallas Wayne

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Pauline Reese

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Photo by Gary Miller


In 1973, the Picnic got off to a chaotic start on a rocky ranch west of Austin. Forty-two years later, it was still going, now in an amphitheater nestled within a four-hundred-million-dollar Formula One racetrack east of Austin. “That tells the story of Austin,” author Joe Nick Patoski said, “and Austin’s evolution during that period of time going from funky and cheap and earthy to sleek and shiny and international . . . everything got scaled up.”


Patoski pointed out that when the Picnic started, the entertainment scene in Austin was a club scene, where a few hundred people could get together. Now, when people talk about Austin, he said, they’re talking about South by Southwest or the ACL Festival, which attract people by the tens of thousands.


Fellow writer John T. Davis agreed that, for better or worse, the evolution of the Picnic mirrored the evolution of Austin. “In '73, this was a funky little college town. It had the university and the state legislature and an air force base, and that’s about all it had going for it. Now you look at it and what it has transformed into, including Elon Musk and Google and everybody else.”


Evolution. The first Picnic and the last Picnics were separated by more than forty-something years and forty-something miles. The whole mind-set changed. Now you could just as soon find cheap rent in Austin as you could find the freewheeling feeling of the early 1970s.


“I think that those early Picnics basically planted a flag like no one else,” Patoski said. “But the spirit of the early Picnics faded away by the early '80s. What’s continued since is the franchise, the Picnic, the idea of Willie and his friends getting together for a big old show.”

Musician and DJ Dallas Wayne said the evolution was necessary. “You gotta contain the comet to keep it burning. If it hadn’t changed, I don’t think it would have survived.”


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Dallas Wayne

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Ray Wylie Hubbard

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Turk Pipkin

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Peter Blackstock

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