The pandemic can’t keep the picnic down. Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic, with a history stretching back nearly 50 years, will be a combined livestream and concert-film event this year, as nearly two dozen guest performers will join Willie and his Family band to celebrate Independence Day.
The event, headquartered at Nelson’s Luck, TX ranch in Spicewood in the Hill Country west of Austin and presented by Luck Productions, will stream live at 3:30 p.m. from luck.stream and williepicnic.com. Unlike Nelson’s recent high-profile virtual events, such as A Night For Austin and Come and Toke It, this one won’t be free. Tickets are $35 in advance, $45 day of show, via the williepicnic.com website.
Appearing along with Willie and his sons’ bands — Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real and Micah Nelson’s Particle Kid — will be Sheryl Crow, Lyle Lovett, Margo Price, Shakey Graves, Ziggy Marley, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Robert Earl Keen, Asleep at the Wheel, Steve Earle, Kurt Vile, the McCrary Sisters, John Doe, Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen, Johnny Bush, Devon Gilfillian, Charley Crockett, the Peterson Brothers, Matthew Houck of Phosphorescent, Vincent Neil Emerson and Kinky Friedman. There’s also a BMI-sponsored set that will feature performances from Austin musicians Gina Chavez, Kalu James, Monte Warden, Parker McCollum and Los Coast’s Trey Privott, plus Nashville band the War and Treaty.
Nelson and his band will perform at his Pedernales Studios facility adjacent to the Luck, TX grounds. Some artists’ sets will be livestreamed from the saloon and chapel stages at Luck, while others will tape their performances from remote locations for a 90-minute concert-film segment. A house band featuring Charlie Sexton, the Texas Gentlemen’s Beau Bedford, bassist John Michael Schoepf and drummer Josh Blue will back some of the artists. The film segment also will feature interviews and "Picnic memories," according to the news release announcing the event.
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The release also notes that ticket purchases will "grant access to highly curated food and beverage delivery packages from Assembly Kitchen, Austin Food and Wine Alliance grant recipients and Sourced Craft Cocktails."
The event will kick off with an episode of Luck Productions’ "Prime Cuts" cooking show featuring Salt Lick BBQ chef Scott Roberts with Asleep at the Wheel leader Ray Benson. A schedule of set times has not yet been announced, nor has an ending time for the event. Past in-person versions of Willie’s Picnic often ran up to or beyond midnight.
The Picnic’s colorful history stretches back to 1972, when Nelson gathered many of his friends at a property outside of Austin for an event that was dubbed the Dripping Springs Reunion. It was rechristened Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic the next year and has been held most years of the ensuing decades, moving to various locations around Texas and beyond.
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The last five Picnics have been held at Circuit of the Americas on Austin’s southeastern outskirts. Organizers initially had envisioned a smaller event this year on the Luck, TX grounds, similar to the Luck Reunion soirees Nelson has hosted in recent years during South by Southwest in March. The pandemic prompted a restructured plan for a virtual event.
"Our goal with the 2020 Picnic is to bring it back to what it was — in the only way we can during these times," Luck Productions co-founder Ellee Fletcher Durniak said. "The Picnic is really one of a kind. It has always been scrappy. Cars on fire. Mass arrests. You name it — it happened at the Picnic."
Organizers will donate $1 from each ticket sold to the Luck Reunion Fund, which is managed by the Austin Community Foundation and directly benefits All Together ATX, Six Square, Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, SIMS Foundation and the Central Texas Food Bank.