It wasn't the Fourth of July, and it wasn't a picnic, but they held the Willie Nelson Fourth of July Picnic here Sunday anyway.
Big signs warned that "neither food, beverages nor picnic baskets shall be admitted" and if you didn't like it, you could get your money back. This was designed to keep various controlled and uncontrolled substances out of the picnic proper, and to keep proper the picnic, which has been marked by rewdiness in the past,.
"It's too controlled," sighed Nelson after kicking off a day of big-name country rock for 25,000 people who melted their minds in 100-degree heat on a canvas protecting the artificial turf at the Cotton Bowl.
"I liked it better when it was out in the pasture - there's no lake to run and jump into." said Nelson, who was sitting around an his cutoff jeans. "I'd rather do it out in the pasture again."
This year the Sixth Annual Willie Nelson picnic had been packaged into two days of music - hard rock Saturday, country and country rock Sunday - by a couple of big promoters who called it The Texas World Music Festival.
If it wasn't the Fourth and if it wasn't a picnic, it was, without a doubt, Whillie Nelson, this strange man who, like a plug in a socket, takes energy from a crowd with one prong and gives it back with another. And it was no different Sunday night when at 11:45 he began with "Whiskey River" and finished at 1:22 with "Bloody Mary Morning."
"Excellent," declared Sam Craven of Yukon Okla, in his Wranglers and T-shirt with the star and bars on the back, who nevertheless gave the edge to last year's picnic.
Like so many other people, Craven was here mainly to see Nelson, but the Texxas World Music Festival also booked in Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Rita Coolidge, the Charlie Daniels Band, Jessi Colter and Emmylou Harris, who can make her music cling as fittingly to you as one of today's new swimsuits.
On Saturday, 75,000 young people jammed in the Cotton Bowl for Ted Nugent, Aerosmith and Heart who according to one toker was rolling stoned, "really got down with the music." At one point, temperatures in the Cotton Bowl got to 130 degrees: 2,000 people required first aid, and one cooling station was using ice at the rate of 300 pounds every 10 minutes.
Tickets were $12.50 in advance, $15 at the gate, and Nelson acknowledged some disappointment in the sales. He had just played to 50,000 in Kansas City, Kans.
There were various explanations: The kids had spent all their money on tickets for Saturday's show. Nelson's day had originally been scheduled for yesterday and moved back when everyone realized today was the holiday.
Nelson's analysis: "They know they're going to get a chance to see us anyway." When you're in Texas, you can see Nelson at the Austin Opry House or at Gilley's in Houston or at any of the other nightclubs and honky-tonks where the management is asking you to have one more for desert.
Which is probably true, since Nelson's following is young and old and still includes the people who listened to him for years before the rest of us, having Oh-Deed on our own pop culture, turned to the outcasts. Hillbilly. Country. Redneck, Okies.
And it was the younger crowd, not those longtimers, who came to the Bowl to hang out and get turned on and to yell at the handful of girls baring their bodies.
There were a few in their 50s, like George and Mary Lee Stephens, "I was reared in West Texas, and that's all I heared as a kid, country music." said Mrs Stephens.
He added, "I grew up in Kentucky and we had hillbilly music." They live in Dallas now and were hearing the country in country rock.
"Seven, eight years ago, I was telling my dad. 'That's hillbilly music.'" said 26-year-old Dave Middleton, who didn't much care for that music back then. But last week, he drove 1,282 miles from Delaware, Ohio, with Diane McGrew, 22, to see Willie Nelson. They skipped the hard rock Saturday - just didn't care to be there.
Rick Mears and Faye Downs biked in on a "hog" Wichita Falls Tex., caught both shows and said they liked Sunday better. "I like rock 'n' roll and I like country and western," said mears. "I was raised in Texas out in the country, and Willie Nelson's a part of Texas."
So maybe there is something to it when Nelson says that at times when parents and children weren't talking to each other, they were hearing each other's music on the radio.
"Both sides learned to take from the other what they like . . . (and) it's just people getting together to make music." And after 25,000 of them got together Sunday, steaming and wet, Whillie Nelson said, "Feels good."