The Picnic is back! Willie Nelson returns to Circuit of the Americas for July 4

Willie Nelson is bringing his Fourth of July Picnic back to Circuit of the Americas again in 2017. Photo by Erika Rich for American-Statesman

If it’s Independence Day, this must be Willie Nelson. For the third straight year, Austin’s pride and joy will celebrate the Fourth of July with more than a dozen of his musician pals at Circuit of the Americas, the latest installment in a tradition that stretches back more than four decades.

Tickets, $39.50-$89.50, go on sale at 10 a.m. Friday, April 21, via the venue’s website or by phone at 800-745-3000. The parking lots will open at 10 a.m., with gates opening at 11 a.m. and music beginning immediately thereafter on the Grand Plaza stage. Marquee acts will start on the main Austin360 Amphitheater stage later in the day. (Set times have not yet been announced.)

The writing was on the wall when word went out last week that Nelson and Blackbird Presents had organized a traveling “Outlaw Country Fest” in early July, with a handful of dates in Texas and beyond but a suspicious void on the holiday itself. The only real question that remained was who would join Willie and his Family Band on the Picnic bill.

The answer: Sheryl Crow, Kacey Musgraves, Jamey Johnson, Steve Earle, Margo Price, Asleep at the Wheel, Turnpike Troubadours, Hayes Carll, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Johnny Bush, Billy Joe Shaver, David Allan Coe, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Insects vs. Robots, Raelyn Nelson Band and Folk Uke. (The last four of those acts feature members of Nelson’s extended family.)

The top end of the bill is less of a boys’ club than it has been in recent years. Crow is appearing on all of the other Outlaw Country Fest dates, so her inclusion was no surprise. Musgraves has developed a close relationship with Nelson since playing the 2015 Picnic at Circuit of the Americas; they teamed up for a video shot at East Austin honky-tonk the White Horse. And Price, who performed at the Luck Reunion on Willie’s ranch during SXSW, was a bright star in last year’s Picnic lineup.

Besides native Texan songwriters Earle and Carll and red-hot Oklahoma country rockers Turnpike Troubadours, the lineup features the like-Picnic-clockwork triptych of three-named rabble-rousers in Shaver, Hubbard and Coe. Also dependably present every July 4 is Bush, the fellow who wrote Nelson’s show-opening classic “Whiskey River.” And Johnson has become one of the event’s true stars in recent years, delivering a memorable performance with Alison Krauss on the main stage in 2016.

A few other big names in the Outlaw Fest mix didn’t make it into the Picnic lineup. The Avett Brothers, who help kick off the Outlaw shows in New Orleans and Dallas on July 1 and July 2, already were booked in Kansas for July 4. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, playing three Outlaw Fest dates, had July 4 open but were a nonstarter because they’re playing a three-night stand July 14-16 at ACL Live. And Bob Dylan, who’s on the final two Outlaw Fest gigs up north, is touring Canada the first week of July.

 


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