It Ain’t No Picnic

Willie Nelson takes his Fourth of July party elsewhere.
Illustration by Andy Potts/agoodson.com

Just as in spring the thoughts of young men turn to baseball, in the summer—specifically with the approach of Independence Day—the thoughts of good Texans turn to Willie Nelson and his Fourth of July Picnic. But this year Abbott’s favorite son has thrown fans a curveball, announcing in early May that the fabled Texas shindig will be held in … Washington State.

Say it ain’t so, Willie! Reaction has ranged from cries of sacrilege to, at a minimum, curious consternation: There are those who’ve claimed that it’s the first time the picnic is leaving Texas soil; others point a finger at BillyBob’s, the Fort Worth honky-tonk that hosted the past three picnics but chose not to do so this year. And in Austin, where rumors that the outlaw musician is battling throat cancer have been whispered for months, Willie watchers wonder if health concerns are at play. But those looking for signs of the apocalypse would do well to cool their jets. For one thing, this is not the first out-of-state picnic (Willie’s 1983 celebration was held in, of all places, New Jersey, and it’s worth noting that the world did not end). And then there’s Willie’s everyman practicality: His longtime manager, Mark Rothbaum, insists that a commitment to David Letterman to play July 3 near the talk show host’s Montana ranch makes the Pacific Northwest a more sensible destination. As for the cancer? Total nonsense, says Rothbaum: “Willie is swimming, biking, and running all the time, playing dominoes and chess, singing and recording. Everybody should be as healthy and happy as Willie Nelson.” So this Fourth, sit back, crack open that beer, and just wait until next year. The world will keep turning, Willie will keep touring, and the picnic will be back—right where it belongs.

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