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Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic: Preview

David Thomas

Editor’s note: This article was originally published July 3, 2014

FORT WORTH — A steady breeze kept things cool at the North Forty behind Billy Bob’s Texas on Thursday afternoon — offering hope that the hardest-rocking stretch of Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic on Friday will be enjoyable for the fans and not just a test of endurance for the faithful.

The official schedule is unchanged from what’s been floating around the Internet for a couple weeks and the highlight might be the expected run of guitar groove and rock that begins with Ray Wylie Hubbard at 4:15 p.m., leads into Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real and ends with a 75-minute set by Ryan Bingham.

Amber Digby opens the show at noon, leading into three more cleverly scheduled blocks of music: Other Willie Kinfolk (Folk Uke and son Micah’s band Insects vs. Robots), Old School Country (Johnny Bush and Charley Pride) and Biker Favorites (David Allan Coe and Jamey Johnson).

Closing out the evening after Bingham will be the Country with a Wider Appeal block of Josh Abbott Band and Dierks Bentley, followed by … well, you know. (Seriously: Willie Nelson and Family.)

Billy Bob’s marketing director Chris Spinks said ticket sales were ahead of last year, which drew nearly 10,000 fans.

From the shade of the VIP skybox in the middle of the North Forty field (and this is a genius play to Willie’s older fans, along with others who want to continue their Picnic tradition, but can no longer stand in the dust for a dozen hours), Spinks said that things had mostly been ready since Wednesday, but smaller preparations were still under way: corn dog stands were being moved, Willie merchandise was rolling in, the Fort Worth Police RV command center was taking its position, even the Texas flag that drops down behind Willie during his show was being tested.

And there were enough golf carts to make a retirement community jealous, as well as enough sponsor logos for a NASCAR race. One nice touch: the six American flags hanging from the roof of the VIP skybox.

Spinks said everyone is confirmed and ready to play, but pointed at the top of the schedule: “Lineup and set times subject to change without notice.” That’s already happened. Digby is a substitute for Paula Nelson, and Pride is a sub for longtime Picnic regular Billy Joe Shaver. Rumor is that his scheduling conflict led to some other conflict in the Shaver camp.

(Follow along with Dave Thomas’ adventures at the Fort Worth Stockyards and at his 16th Willie Picnic on Twitter at @williepicnic)