Willie Nelson: On Picnics and Things
by Stacy Harris
The summer of 1977 has come and gone without Willie Nelson's traditional 4th of July picnic. Looking toward July 1978, Willie maintains that the picnics have been scuttled indefinitely. "We'll have to wait and see," Willie says with regard to future picnics. "I'm not planning on doing one again because of all the problems involved. It's too big of a hassle, plus you lose a lot of support from the local folks who don't want 100,000 people in their back yards."
Nelson attributes the word-of-mouth success of his picnics to their demise, conceding that "You always lose a little bit more control each time you put one of 'em on, because they're a little big larger each time. Plus you've got experienced picnickers now. They've been going every year for four years and they know how to do it. And they come and they bring their awning and they camp out. And they get in free, because they know they didn't have to pay last year. So they come expecting to get in free."
Willie stresses that "99 percent come, and if there'd be somebody there for 'em to pay their money to, they give it to 'em and go in. If there's not anyone there, they walk in. I don't blame 'em. I'd do the same thing. Most of the people are all right. There's just one or two that cause a problem; and too big a problem."
Perhaps the largest single factor that convinced Nelson to drop his plans for any future picnics was the bad rap the "gig got from disgruntled press people; How can you give press accommodations out there in the middle of a pasture anyway, when there's 100,000 people coming? I know there were a lot of things promised that shouldn't have been promised, because there's just no way. There's no way. You have far more people backstage who expect special treatment than you can handle. If everyone would just come and not expect any special treatment and just sit out front and watch the show and then let the people who are backstage put on the show, then I think it would be a lot better.
"If the press people were promised things and didn't get them," adds Nelson, "then I apologize for whoever's action that was, but you know how these things get out of hand. But anyone who's ever been to a picnic or an outside festival before should know it's going to be hot, it's going to be uncomfortable, and air-conditioned buildings; you're going to sweat in those, too. So there's really no way to give anybody protection from the heat or [to guarantee anyone] comfort during a picnic."
Surveying the aftermath, Nelson says, "The last thing in the world that I wanted to do was upset the press. I don't know whether we started not living up to what we were promising the press, or if the press asked for something that was impossible to give. One of the two happened, and a couple at the people down there were unhappy because they thought they had been mistreated. A lot of people wanted on stage. There's a rule that if you don't pick, you don't go on stage. I don't care who you are."
Appropriately enough then, the death knell seems to have been sounded for the Dripping Springs, Texas, festivities. Nelson, looking relaxed in his jeans, Emmylou Harris warmup jacket, and tennis shoes, says "I'm enjoying not doing it. And Bee Spears says it better: 'I am, too and I'm just the bass player.'"