It was the sweatiest of times, then it was the rainiest of times, then it was the coolest of times. And beyond the strange weather, Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic brought many memorable musical moments as well. Here’s a quick look back at some of them, plus a little news gathered along the way.
1. Folk Uke has a new song. It’s called “Don’t Bite Beyonce.” The local duo that features Amy Nelson (Willie’s daughter) and Cathy Guthrie (Arlo’s daughter) is known for offbeat original material, so the tune that concluded their short early-afternoon set wasn’t entirely a surprise. It was pretty funny, though, a takeoff on recent tabloid news. Plus it’s the rare Folk Uke song that doesn’t have an unprintable word in it.
2. Ryan Bingham also has a new song. It’s called, presumably, “America,” and nothing else played all day or night at the Picnic resonated as deeply. The second verse: “America, unload that gun/ Save a daughter, save a son/ Bullets dressed them up in blood.” This was heavy stuff, but it might be the best song of social consience anyone has written in years. Bingham’s guitarist, Jesse Dayton, said they started playing it at shows just a few days ago.
3. Where’d David Allan Coe go? Scheduled to open the Picnic at 11:30 a.m., he was a no-show. A publicity firm representing the event had no details on the absence, and Coe’s Facebook and Twitter pages offered no explanations or clues. Coe has always been a little, shall we say, mercurial. And sadly, with the midafternoon rainout canceling the sets of Ray Wylie Hubbard and Billy Joe Shaver, might this have been the first Picnic without a three-named troubadour in, well, ever?
4. What to do when it rains? Most people went back to their cars. Reporters and photographers huddled in a couple of mostly empty but thankfully air-conditioned trailers, until a better opportunity arose. Willie’s longtime publicist, Elaine Schock, invited folks over to one of Willie’s buses — it said “John Denver” on the front, and apparently once belonged to the late country-pop star — for a sample of “Willie’s Remedy,” a new line of hemp-based coffee that Nelson is launching. Unlike Willie’s Reserve, his line of marijuana, it’s not a pot thing, though the brew may have mild health benefits. At any rate, the bus was pretty cool.
5. Willie has a new record coming soon. Oh yeah, while we were on the bus, they also played us some of “My Way,” a Frank Sinatra-themed record Nelson recorded earlier this year and is now set to release on Sept. 14. Perhaps inspired by the success of “Summertime,” Willie’s 2016 album of Gershwin classics that won a Grammy, this one finds him exploring the jazzier side that has always been almost as vital as country to his identity.
6. Edie Brickell & New Bohemians also have a new record coming soon. Exactly when and through what channels it’ll be released remain in limbo, but the band hopes to get it out by the end of the year. Recorded over the past year or so at Austin’s Arlyn Studios, it’ll be their first release since 2006’s “Stranger Things.” Many members of the band, formed in Dallas in the 1980s, now live in Austin or the Hill Country. On Wednesday, they sounded terrific on old and new songs alike.
PHOTO GALLERY: Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic 2018
7. Food prices at COTA remain ridiculous. Here was my tweet about that yesterday early-afternoon (before the rains came):
8. We miss the grass. When the Picnic moved to Circuit of the Americas in 2015, the first two years featured the Plaza Stage on a spacious grassy area just behind the Austin360 Amphitheater. Last year the Plaza Stage moved to a large patch of concrete near the entrance. There’s probably a reason. But, as someone commented on one of my social media posts from the Plaza Stage yesterday, “‘Picnics’ do not involve concrete.”
9. How cool was it? When the rains swept through, temperatures dropped by about 20 degrees. “Yesterday at this time it was 101,” an emcee said before Brickell took the stage just past 7 p.m. “Right now it’s 75.” Picnic meteorological records weren’t readily available, but this seemed potentially unprecedented, at least for the Picnics held in Texas. (That one-off in Washington state in 2007 probably hit a lower Fahrenheit mark.)
10. Beto, Beto, Beto. Just past dark, the candidate for U.S. Senator suddenly was everywhere. Coming in from a late-afternoon speaking engagement at Hotel Vegas in East Austin, O’Rourke sat down with SiriusXM DJs for an interview that included a brief chat about his days playing punk rock in El Paso. Then he was out front for a short prelude to the fireworks. All that remained for the hat trick was to sing with Willie during the grand finale. He beat that, playing acoustic guitar too. You’ll find a little bit of that at the end of this full-day recap video: