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Archive: A new day at Willie's 2003 Picnic

Jeremy Schwartz,Joe Gross
jschwartz@statesman.com

What a difference a day -- and the absence of several thousand Deadheads -- makes.

The second day of Willie Nelson's 30th Anniversary Fourth of July Picnic was different from the first: calmer, drier and less tie-dyed.

Instead of a three-hour traffic jam to get into the new Two River Canyon Amphitheatre, traffic moved smoothly. Instead of an afternoon thunderstorm, there was a light drizzle, and cloudy skies kept temperatures low. Instead of 22,000 music fans packed into the new venue, many of them attempting to arrive all at once to see the Dead and only the Dead, about 15,000 to 17,000 trickled in as the day wore on.

Law enforcement officials and medical personnel agreed that Saturday was a better day.

Chuck Caraway, an emergency medical technician, said most of the injuries were downright banal.

"Mostly blisters, headaches and one acid reflux, " he said. As of 5:15 p.m., he had treated only 12 patrons.

By 8 p.m., Dr. Jeffery Lienen, an emergency room doctor holed up at a medical tent, said, "The crowd is a lot mellower tonight than yesterday."

Chief Deputy W.T. Smith of the Burnet County sheriff's department said there were 10 arrests by 9 p.m. Friday but "just a couple" on Saturday, including an enterprising man with a fake VIP pass. Sgt. Doris Board of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission said the agency had issued 12 to 15 citations as of 6 p.m. Saturday, compared with 50 by the end of Friday evening.

On the other hand, retail establishments, which had boomed the day before, weren't quite as thrilled with Saturday's smaller crowd. Crawford Shortt owns and operates Tonn Dara Images, a clothing and jewelry company specializing in Celtic art. Though Austin-based, he makes his living selling his wares at big concerts. "There was a very festive spirit yesterday, " he said, and business wasn't quite as good on Saturday.

Fans were lined up outside the front gates as early as 10:30 a.m., many of them having stayed the night before at the Two Rivers campsites. There were complaints regarding unassigned spaces, but a little confusion didn't bother David Wood, 36, and his family.

Wood, his wife, Crystal, 31, and their children Joshua, 6, and Sarah, 3, came from Houston in their Volkswagon van to attend both days. They thought they had reserved a specific camping space, but when they were forced to upgrade to an RV space, Wood didn't let it bother him.

"We still had a cool place to park, " he said, and everyone was grateful for the hot showers the venue provided.

None of the logistical problems dampened the mood at the picnic, which on Saturday mixed gospel, blues and country. After Willie's usual introduction and a rendering of the national anthem by Stephanie Urbina-Jones, the Bells of Joy played the day's first set, a high energy gospel revue that set the tone for the rest of the day.

"You have to give (God) his props first, " a sweaty Terry Stewart, a singer in the Bells of Joy, said after the band came off stage. "That's our job."

Other afternoon acts included the Jeff Haney Band, Del Castillo and Cory Morrow.

Nelson, who played a 5 p.m. set with his blues band and was expected to close out the evening after Neil Young's hotly anticipated set, was a constant presence throughout the day, lending his voice or his guitar or both to everyone from the Bells to Ray Wylie Hubbard.

The night before, he joined Toby Keith for three songs and then provided one of the stranger juxtapositions of the weekend. After Keith and Willie ended the set with Keith's pro-war song, "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American), " Willie brought anti-war Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich onstage.

A few days earlier, Nelson had endorsed the Ohio politician. Kucinich, who has come out in favor of legalization of medical marijuana, was happy to return the favor. "Let's hear it for Willie and the USA!" he exclaimed from the stage.