Home Is Where the Heart Is
No offense to Fort Worth, a fine city that gracefully balances the myth of the cowboy and the Wild West with the sophistication of some of the world’s most elite museums, but Willie Nelson hosting his annual 4th of July Picnic there the last four years is total bull. Willie is Austin and the history of the picnic—Willie’s answer to Woodstock—is deeply rooted in the Austin area. Willie and Austin are part of the same equation. Perhaps it was an especially elucidating hit of Willie’s Reserve from his vaporizer that led Willie to realize this and bring his party back home for this year’s forty-second celebration, or maybe it was something more mundane, like finally having a venue, the Circuit of the Americas, that could accommodate his extended family. This year’s lineup boasts more than twenty acts split between two stages, with representation from Willie’s nuclear family along with members of the new and old guards of country and its musical cousins. The young guns include Jason Isbell, the poster boy of Americana; Sturgill Simpson, who opened for one of Willie’s two New Year’s Eve shows last year; and Kacey Musgraves, whose new album, Pageant Material, includes a secret track at the end with a guest appearance from Willie. The old-timers include Johnny Bush, who wrote “Whiskey River,” the beloved song Willie famously opens all of his shows with, and Billy Joe Shaver, who’s written a bunch of songs with Willie, like last year’s “Hard to Be an Outlaw.” Merle Haggard will also appear; he and Willie released an album, Django and Jimmie, earlier this year whose single “It’s All Going to Pot” will undoubtedly inspire fireworks of another sort prior to the actual fireworks show.
Circuit of the Americas, July 4, 12 p.m., willienelson.com
It seems like once you’ve seen a couple of fireworks celebrations, you’ve seen them all. Typically a show starts with dazzling bouquets of lights blossoming immaculately one after another while a symphony orchestra pounds out “America the Beautiful” or the “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and then, as the performance reaches a crescendo, there’s a flurry of explosions in the sky going off like the world’s biggest bag of microwave popcorn. But Kaboom Town is a display like few others, and it has the plaudits of the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and, perhaps most importantly, the American Pyrotechnics Association to prove it. Now in its thirtieth year, this annual event draws around a half a million people to Addison Circle Park and its surroundings, boosting the town of Addison to roughly 33 times its original size. Part of the allure of the thirty-minute show is the thoughtful interplay of the fireworks, live music, and aerial maneuvers of the World Class Warbirds from the Cavanaugh Flight Museum. Another great thing about Kaboom Town is that it takes place on July 3, making it possible for people to then stay home on the Fourth and enjoy a second round of fireworks on the television, away from the crowds and happily ensconced in the cool A/C.
Addison Circle Park, July 3, 5 p.m., addisontexas.net
The exhibit “Baseball: America’s Presidents, America’s Pastime” has been ongoing at the George W. Bush Presidential Center since March 21, during Major League Baseball Spring Training, and will conclude October 4, just in time for the playoffs. But the Fourth of July weekend is an ideal time to visit because, well, it reinforces the whole “America’s Pastime” bit, plus this week the most valuable baseball card ever produced will go on display: the American Tobacco Company’s extremely rare T206 Honus Wagner card, circa 1909, the most famous version of which has sold for close to $3 million. The exhibit draws together more than 125 items from Bush’s archives, other presidential libraries, and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum to illustrate the rich history between the game and the most powerful office in the world. Follow the trail from Abraham Lincoln, who had a baseball field built behind the White House, to William Taft, who was the first of many presidents to throw the ceremonial first pitch, before arriving at George W. Bush, who used to be part owner of the Texas Rangers. There’s Franklin Roosevelt’s “green light” letter encouraging Major League Baseball to carry on despite World War II, Babe Ruth’s invitation to Harry Truman to attend the July 13, 1948, premiere of The Babe Ruth Story, and former First Lady Nancy Reagan’s baseball glove.
George W. Bush Presidential Center, July 3 to Oct. 4, bushcenter.org
Back in Black
Clint Black, the country star from Katy, relishes the opportunity to display his patriotism. In the wake of 9/11, he performed a new song, “America,” during CMT’s Country Freedom Concert. In 2012 he appeared on an episode of the Lifetime series Coming Home, in which he helped two kids write a song about their father, an Army captain who was returning from Afghanistan. And on Saturday he will have another chance to wear his heart on his black Stetson as the headliner of Freedom Over Texas, Houston’s official Fourth of July celebration. This free event features fireworks, a beer garden, and a musical line-up that includes legends like the blues guitarist Jimmie Vaughan and the zydeco accordionist Buckwheat Zydeco.
Eleanor Tinsley Park, July 4, 4 p.m., houstontx.gov
Summer isn’t the best time for eating a big bowl of chili but Becker Vineyards realizes few other dishes incite as much Texan pride, so on Independence Day the Hill Country winery will host the 4th of July Chili Cook Off. In between wine tastings, the public will sample and vote on the offerings of the competitors, who are vying to qualify for the Terlingua International Chili Championship, hosted by the Chili Appreciation Society International.
Becker Vineyards, July 4, 10 a.m., beckervineyards.com
Fly the Flag
The folks at Billy Bob’s aren’t crying a whiskey river over Willie moving his 4th of July festivities away from the Stockyards. In fact, the world’s largest honky-tonk has booked a two-day lineup that rivals any that Willie might have curated, featuring, among others, Ryan Bingham, Robert Ellis, Shinyribs, Hayes Carll, and Jerry Jeff Walker.
Billy Bob’s Texas, July 3 and 4, 1 p.m., billybobstexas.com