Written by Dave Clements
Jul 04, 2013 at 12:00 PM
ImageBy normal Texas summer standards, it was a beautifully comfortable July day. Thank you God for the blessings of low humidity and mid-90’s for all of the 10,000-plus fans and music lovers in attendance at Willie’s 40th Picnic.

The event was coordinated by Billy Bob’s Saloon of Fort Worth at the Stockyards. I’m sure I’m one of the very few people from Texas who hadn’t been there before. And shame on me! It is a very cool place and is all about Country music in a big, typical Texas sort of way.

Thank you Pam Minick, Billy Bob’s owner, who was so on top of her business and went out of her way to make my wife and I feel at home. This major music festival ran smoothly and on time – a pleasant surprise and not the industry norm. I’ve been to several other places around these parts that could do well to learn from Pam’s example. Again, big thanks!

The day began well as I quickly discovered the sound system was outstanding! They had two very large outside stages and one small stage inside BB’s. Some folks might have had an issue with the distances between the three stages. I did not, even though I was carrying a heavy load of camera equipment. The result was one of the best workouts I’ve had lately, and much needed. However, I am paying the price today as I write this review!

The day was kicked off by the Dirty River Boys on the North Stage. These El Paso boys were the perfect choice to get the party started. They are high energy, have a great sound and I believe they will soon make their mark on the Texas Music Scene.

Almost immediately after their last note was played, Paula Nelson was up at the mic on the South Stage, belting it out. Willie’s daughter is not only beautiful but very talented. Her smile and apparent joy of performing made hers a delightful set to listen to as well as photograph.

Mr. Ray Wylie Hubbard was next up, with his son on lead guitar. RWH is always a kick to listen to, as he is quite the poet/songwriter. Snake Farm was reverberating across the Stockyards as I got in position to shoot him. Definitely check out this unique performer if you are not familiar with him. Who knows about ‘real life’, but this guy has his musical act together. I’ll never forget hearing him say that before you release a song you should ask yourself if you really want to play it for the next 30 years. Brilliant! And he was referring to ‘Red Neck Mother’.

Sonny Throckmorton was up ready to start as RWH finished across that vast field in the Stockyards.

I wasn’t familiar with his name but after a little internet investigation I found that I was very familiar with this guy’s songwriting. He wrote Merle Haggard’s The Way I Am, and double hit for both Jerry Lee Lewis and George Strait, The Fireman. Many great songwriters never get the spotlight.  Throckmorton is truly deserving of it. He seemed very appreciative for being included in the Picnic lineup and was clearly an old school country gentleman worthy of our respect.

Johnny Bush was ready to go, fiddle in hand, when he got the nod.  Bush was sporting his Texas Country Music Hall Of Fame white shirt.  He was obviously proud of his induction, as well he should. Tommy Alverson was one of his wingmen this afternoon. They are obviously buds and Tommy is a real plus to any country stage.

Kris Kristofferson was dressed in black, long silver hair blowing in the comfortable breeze as he hit the stage ready to entertain. The crowd had swelled in anticipation of the chance to celebrate this iconic performer. It was a rough set for KK. There were problems with his monitor, he couldn’t get his harmonica bracket to work properly, and the lyrics were not making an easy flow from his mind to his lips.

Even with all of that, none of it seemed to matter to the fans standing before him, including this writer. Just to have him there was a real treat, a special honor, and when he smiles out at the fans all you feel is the positive vibes. Kris, hope you have a good tour in Europe. He left for the airport, with his beautiful wife Lisa, immediately after the show.  Also worth noting, I heard that late in his set Jamey Johnson came up on stage to help him out with his lyrics. Nice move Jamey! (and more on him later…)

ImageWe missed the Quebe Sisters Band, the first act to play on the indoor Billy Bob’s stage. I am sorry I couldn’t get in there in time as they bring a lot of energy to the stage every time they perform. Ladies, I promise I will be there to see you at the Dosey Doe Music Café in Conroe, TX on September 13th.

Randy Rogers and his bandmates including one of the best fiddle players around, Brady Black, hit the stage with a huge throng of fans ready to enjoy this band on the rise. These guys are the real deal and I’d love to see them make in nationally. They certainly have the tunes, the great attitude and perfect vibe to ‘get er done’.  Sure hope they do!

Amber Digby was next and although I really didn’t have time to listen to her, I sure liked the ‘moment in time’ I was photographing her on the cool indoor stage. Then I had to rush back out into the heat. And by that time, things were literally heating up!

Billy Joe Shaver was his consistently great self on stage, enjoying every minute of his time in front of these loyal fans. Pure pleasure was on their faces as they sang along to nearly all of the songs. This is another guy you owe it to yourself to experience. He is the genuine article, a country class act.

Joe Nix, with his traditional western swing music sound, was ready to kick things off as Shaver finished up to his North. Nix was all smiles as he did a super job of keeping the Bob Wills Spirit alive.

Ray Price was scheduled to perform next but it was announced that he had to cancel due to illness. We will keep Ray in our prayers. Having this guy on America’s Music Scene is something we should cherish as long as possible. If you’ve never seen a Ray Price show – HURRY and ENJOY EVERY WONDERFUL MINUTE OF HIM and his beautiful, velvet voice! Get well soon, Mr. Price.

Another Ray, Ray Benson and his Asleep at the Wheel Band took over next, ready to roll and in fine form. These guys always deliver a great show and today added Benson’s friend, Mr. Dale Watson, to the mix. He was icing on the cake. Dale performed with his band later on the inside stage and packed them in. Later, David Allan Coe took the inside stage and had Billy Bob’s bulging at the seams!

The lucky 73-year-old Coe started his show by sharing the story of his recent near death experience. He was hit by a tractor-trailer truck when he ran a stop light in Ocala, Florida this past March. He told the audience that after the accident everyone bailed on him, including his band and his manager. The only one that stuck by his side was his wife.  He then introduced his new band and shared how grateful he was to still be alive. Based on how many people were crammed in front of the stage for this guy, I’d say that there are a lot of fans that also feel that gratitude. It was clear that Coe was humbled by this near tragic event.

A true music icon, Leon Russell, was next up on the North Stage.  He came out slowly, trying to maneuver with his cane and wave to the crowd simultaneously – and he pulled it off!  There was no evidence of any slow shuffling once he hit the keyboards. The guy can still make the music and I feel blessed to able to witness the legendary star perform.  As I listened to another completely enjoyable, spot-on set, I found myself thinking that no one is more deserving of being in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. And later I checked – Yes!  He was inducted in 2011 by his buddy Elton John. Need I say more? He’s the man!

ImageSirius XM Radio DJ Dallas Wayne, from Willie’s Roadhouse station was the next act. I felt like I knew him even though I had never laid eyes on him. I thought he was entertaining and I really like his work on the radio. Do you think he and Willie might be friends? That’s where I’d put my money and ole Dallas represented Willie well.

Folk Uke with Insects vs Robots followed Wayne. I think the nucleus of the group are Willie’s kids.  Still hurrying between stages, I unfortunately didn’t get to hear much of their music.  There’s no doubt they added diversity to the music festival.

Ryan Bingham was a surprise performance for me. Last time I saw him he stayed hidden under a low brim cowboy hat on a very dark stage. Never once did he show his face.  Today at this Picnic was an entirely different story. Wow! That he is a good looking, handsome man was obvious as he took the stage this time with no hat on. It caused my wife to do a double take along with pretty much every woman there. He radiated confidence and seemed to really be enjoying himself in front of the very appreciative, large crowd.

If you don’t remember, Los Angeles native Bingham burst on the scene after winning a Grammy and a Golden Globe award for his song ‘The Weary Kind’. This was the theme song for the Jeff Bridges’ movie Crazy Heart and brought Bingham much recognition. Turns out it was well deserved as he continues to evolve and entertain.

As good as it was to see Ryan Bingham, it was equally not so good to see Justin Moore. I would have skipped him to play at Willie’s Picnic. I thought he was a fish out of water and not the right kind of entertainer for a Texas Music Festival. This guy is a Nashville clone with plastic moves, plastic comments, and plastic songs. Moore would not make the highlight reel this day. I bet he is a nice guy yet I am still cringing his performance. Justin, I hope your show gets more real as you probably have some REAL talent under that cookie cutter Nashville façade.

Speaking of Nashville, back to back Nashville acts took me to my capacity this day. Gary Allan brought in his own stage rugs as well as risers to stand on at both stage left and stage right. All and all, it was just too phony and fussy for me. I like some of this guy’s music yet he comes out with such an attitude that it’s a negative vibe. I can’t find my way to cozy up to what he’s giving.

Maybe one day, on the other side of his climb, he’ll regret the choice of strapping on this persona and behavior and just give us something nice, feel good, and genuine. Not sure any of that exists in his world right now.

ImageAt 9:45 pm, the incomparable Mr. Willie Nelson hit the stage. Within seconds I was able to dismiss and let go of that awful Nashville mess I’d just witnessed. Here was the real thing, real ‘from the heart’ music from a world class guy and performer. Willie continues to be Willie. And thank God for that.

What can you say about Willie other than thank you for allowing us to continue to enjoy what we’ve been waiting for, your live performance, the highlight of our evening. We know you didn’t have to be here and could have chosen to keep to yourself in ‘the islands’. Thank you for making the choice each year to stay the course!

A few final comments:

First, you may have noticed that I didn’t have much to say about Jamey Johnson’s set. I am protesting via this review as he was the only entertainer (including Willie Nelson) that would NOT allow photography. You will notice in the HMR Photo Gallery, however, that I did indeed get some photos. Shame on me or shame on him?  You be the judge.

Next, a quick ‘Shout Out’ to the ‘Pizza Dude’ Eliud.  Not only was Eliud very nice and personable, his Geppetto’s Pizza food truck turned out some yummy, lip smacking pizza pies!  Thank you Eliud, and keep up the great job.

ImageAlso, I cannot fail to give a mention to Ron White.  Ron is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan.  He spent the entire day writing in white, on a black wall, from memory, the names of the 2,200 American men and women who died in Afghanistan defending our country.  Did I mention that he listed them in order of their death with full name and rank?! Check out his impressive story:

http://www.star-telegram.com/2013/02/28/4652478/navy-vet-pays-homage-to-afghan.html

Lastly, this year’s festival was touted as the 40th ‘Willie’s Picnic’ event.  My research on the internet says that he has missed 15 of them.  In my mind, wouldn’t this therefore have been only the 25th anniversary of ‘Willie’s Picnic’?  Just sayin’…

Until next time, remember, there is ‘No Time To Kill’.