Willie Nelson talks about his Picnic, hempcrete, Chips Moman and more

Willie Nelson performs at his annual Fourth of July Picnic in 2015. (Erika Rich/American-Statesman)

Willie Nelson performs at his annual Fourth of July Picnic in 2015. Photo by Erika Rich for American-Statesman

It’s less than a week until Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic takes over Circuit of the Americas, the second year the hallowed event has been back in the Austin area after an extended Fort Worth run.

On Monday, we talked to Willie by phone from Minnesota, where he’s in the midst of a Midwest tour that continues through the end of this week. There’s more from our interview in our full Picnic preview on mystatesman.com and in Sunday’s American-Statesman. In the meantime, here are a few outtakes.

About the inclusion of up-and-coming Austin acts such as Shakey Graves and Jamestown Revival on this year’s lineup, the first Picnic appearance for both artists:

“I think it’s important that we do that. The promoters this year brought up some names that they felt like were good and needed to be in the show, a lot of new names that I wasn’t familiar with. I’m always glad to see the new guys coming along, and come out and work the Picnic. It’s good for everybody.”

RELATED: Taking Willie’s Picnic back, decade by decade

About how his new “Summertime” album of Gershwin tunes was partly inspired by Frank Sinatra — an intriguing symmetry with Bob Dylan’s two recent Sinatra-centric records:

“I listened to all the things that Frank Sinatra had recorded of Gershwin songs. There’s a whole lot of them out there. So I asked Buddy Cannon, my producer, to check those out and use those as examples to go by, and try to do the best we can with them. Because I think they’re great songs.”

On working with Cannon, who has produced most of Nelson’s records in the past decade and co-wrote almost all the songs on 2014’s “Band of Brothers,” Willie’s first collection of new original material in many years:

“Buddy knows all the great musicians in Nashville; everybody knows him. It’s easy to do records with Buddy. We write a lot together. We just sort of found it easy to write things together, and I’m not that easy to write with. I haven’t written that many songs with other guys. I used to write a lot with Hank Cochran, but that was a long time ago.”

About the many uses of cannabis, as he prepares to bring his “Willie’s Reserve” brand to the market in marijuana-legal areas such as Colorado and Washington:

“There’s a product now called hempcrete, which is a direct competition, or in partnership with, concrete. This is a new product that’s doing well, especially over in Maui. A friend of mine, Don Nelson, has some buildings and things over there that he’s built out of hempcrete. And he praises it. So there’s a whole new industry out there. And fortunately in a lot of places, it’s not illegal.”

RELATED: “Willie’s Reserve” is now hiring

About his daughter Amy Nelson’s band Folk Uke, who’ll appear at the Picnic after spending almost all of June opening a national tour for the Jayhawks:

“God bless ’em! I’m proud of them.” The duo, which also features Arlo Guthrie’s daughter Cathy Guthrie, is known for setting sweet harmonies to expletive-laced lyrics. Their song “M*F* Got F*d Up” recently got placed in both Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” and in Snoop Dogg’s “G7” movie. “I think they’ve got a number one record. Who’d have thought it?”

About the June 13 passing of songwriter Chips Moman, a good friend who co-wrote the iconic tune “Luckenbach, Texas” among many other widely known songs:

“Chips was out on the stage with me the other night [May 20] when we played in Georgia. He sat out there on the stage. Naturally he wasn’t feeling that great, but I got to see him one more time.”


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