Justice of the Peace Leslie Taylor said yesterday was the first time she ever had to pause during the middle of a wedding ceremony to wait for a band of outlaw motorcyclists to pass.
But then, she admitted, she had never performed a wedding at an outdoor music festival attended by 50,000 people.
That was just one of the problems she faced yesterday when "the law west of the Pedernales" came to Willie Nelson's eighth annual Fourth of July picnic here in the form of a petite, 33-year-old Austin woman.
Taylor, an Austin J.P. for three years, hung her shingle on a real estate office two miles from the sprawling site of the day-long music festival and opened court.
She came equipped with everything from a portable safe to hold the collected fines, to Texas and U.S. flags and a gavel.
The judge, whose precinct includes Nelson's Pedernales country club, the site of the picnic, said the onsite courtroom was her way of speeding up justice for some of the minor cases.
"Some people think we're out here to shake people down. That's not right," said Taylor.
She handled Class C misdemeanor cases, primarily traffic violations, and offered offenders a chance to either post bond and schedule trials later or pay their fines on the spot.
Under Texas law, Class C misdemeanors are punishable by fines of not more than $200.
Offenders, however, would have to have been transported to Travis County Jail in Austin, some 20 miles distant, to appear before a judge if not for Taylor's portable court. The more serious violations will still be handled in Austin.
Her tin-roofed makeshift court building, complete with a long cedar porch, was vaguely reminiscent of the Jersey Lily, a saloon-turned courtroom made famous by another Texas J.P. Judge Roy Bean.
Taylor said that all similarties stopped there, however.
"I'm not a hanging judge," said Taylor, who calls herself a "moderate liberal who is growing more conservative as I grow older."
A 1975 graduate of the University of Texas School of Law, Taylor said that most of the dozen or so fines she had passed out by mid-afternoon Friday were for around $15.
A small army of sheriff's deputies and state troopers were on hand to handle the enormous crowd that backed up the traffic for miles on highways around the picnic area.
In years past, Nelson's festival has turned into what some deputy sheriffs have termed, "a wild, drunken brawl."
Several years ago, in Liberty Hill, Tex., site of one of the early Nelson festivals, people were arrested for everything from inciting riots to indecent exposure.
This year's festival, Taylor said, seems somewhat milder.
"The reason I'm out here," she said, "is that last year we had about 70 misdemeanor cases pile up in my court after the festival. This year, we're moving them out of the way more quickly."
Yesterday afternoon the mercury crept up over 100 as streams of pickups, Cadillacs, Jeeps and all other manner of vehicles inched over toward the picnic site.
Bodies were strewn across Nelson's golf-course picnic grounds in all manner of dress and undress.Nelson bought the golf course last year as a site for the festival. He says this will be his last festival because of legalities involved in putting it on. Because of thoses expenses, it is felt that Nelson uses the festival more for publicity than income from the $15 a head charge. Each year he has to resod the picnic site.
But in spite of the difficulties, it is a popular Texas event. As one older man with glasses and cowboy hat observed, "I've been to dog fights, chicken fights and gang fights, and this is like that, only better."
Ice chests were closely guarded as bottles of long-necked beer were selling for well over a dollar apiece, depending on what the market would bear.
The music started just after noon, and the crowd began cheering, welcoming any diversion that would take its mind off of the intense, muggy Texas heat. The crowd came from as far as South Dakota and California to hear 12 hours of Nelson, Leon Russell, Merle Haggard, Faron Young and others. Many camped out at the site Thursday night in order to jockey for positions near the stage.
Taylor took a break from cases this morning to marry a couple who had driven 200 miles to be wed at the picnic.
Sherry Krause, 32, and Chris Christensen, 23, said they decided to get married while attending Nelson's July 4 festival last year.
"What a way to spend a honeymoon," said Krause, who added that they were looking forward to an afternoon and evening of partying with 50,000 others in 100-degree heat.
Taylor said that originally she had toyed with the idea of holding the trials at the picnic site, having constables select jurors from the crowd of concertgoers.
She later ruled the idea out as impractical, deciding to use the boondocks court simply as a way to expedite legal matters. "Most of the people that have been through here have seemed grateful,"Taylor said.
"I've tried to be fair with these people. I realize that a lot of them who are camping out don't have a lot of money. I've always asked them how much money that had for the weekend so that I wouldn't take all of their cash. They're out here to have a good time and I don't want to ruin that if I can help it."
An 18-year-old Houston man who was stopped for an illegal U-turn and taken before Taylor admitted that he didn't care for her brand of curbside justice.
"You come to listen to Willie 'cause you want to get away from everything and here the law follows you," he said, after Taylor released him on a personal recognizance bond.
"Even out here in the middle of nowhere with Willie and Waylon you just can't get away."