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Willie Nelson’s
Fourth of July Picnic, 1984

(Fourth of July II)
South Park Meadows
July 4, 1984
22” X 35” (55.88cm X 88.90cm)

This poster commemorates the first Picnic at Southpark Meadows and the first use of the “Uncle Willie” image in Texas. When the piece was commissioned, created and first used in 1983, it promoted three specific dates: July 3 in Atlanta, July 4 in Washington and July 5 in New York City. It is also one of the largest posters that I’ve ever had printed. If you check out the image of Willie, you might notice two graphic anomalies – first, the ace of spades in his hatband is a mirror-image, and is symbolic of Willie’s fun-loving but contrarian nature, and the second is the knot in his bow-tie, a form-homage to the state that spawned him. There is another image oddity that has nothing to do with symbolic statements but instead, is a well-known optical illusion. The circles of the iris of the eyes when eclipsed by the upper eyelid promote the illusion that the eyes are looking directly at the viewer, no matter what the point-of-view of the observer.


This was the first Picnic that was held at Southpark Meadows, an outdoor music and events venue on the west side of I-35 South. At that time the open-air arena was brand new and located just on the southern outskirts of town; cattle were grazing in the field next door. From the front gate you could still look across Onion Creek to Cantrell’s Store, a venerated old roadhouse converted to a gee haw-festooned general store. This Picnic was the tenth. There had really been a full decade of outdoor concerts in and around Austin. The trend had really begun with the Dripping Springs Reunion back in 1972, and included regular and unique events over the years, such as those at Manor Downs, the Joshua Ives Festival of Love, the ZZ TOP TEXAS BARBEQUE, SUNDAY BREAKS I and II, and the great Fabulous Thunderbirds Riverfest gigs. The Picnic was really the grandfather of them all, however -– and here it is, a decade later.

Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings would be back for their second year, and along with Willie and Johnny Cash would take the stage for the first time as The Highwaymen. Leon Russell , who like Jerry Jeff Walker had been at the Reunion proto-Picnic, was back after a 5-year absence. Joe Ely and Billy Joe Shaver, Willie’s homeys were opening up. The Nashville contingent featured Jessi Colter, Mo Bandy, Carl Perkins, Faron Young and Johnny Bush. The skies had been threatening all day and then around 6:30 it opened up good and hard for about 10 – 15 minutes, sending people packing and making a mud hole out of a dust bowl. The clouds cleared away for a bit and the sunset was spectacular as another arm of the front was beginning to move in. The fireworks went off around 9:00, just after dark and were chased all over the sky by the lightning. A very incredible light and pyrotechnic show. It rained lightly again around 11 as Waylon and his wife Jessi, sang Kris’ Sunday Morning, Coming Down. Willie closed out the show as always with Whiskey River, and finally Amazing Grace.

By the mid-eighties, there had been a sea change in Austin music. The community of the city, both public and the music industry had never favored any musical genre over another. Admittedly Austin had received its first huge notice as a musical powerhouse with the Redneck Rock sound of the early 70s, but that was at least as much a cultural/social phenomenon as a musical one. I consider Blues to be the great denominator in both Texas and Austin music, and a significant blues presence that had always been here – however it was showing real power in the early to mid 80s. Alternative attitudes were now flourishing and newer trends such as punk were growing. The Picnic was rapidly becoming a vestige of those Cosmic Cowboy days – that heady period when hippie rock and redneck country converged to become the signature sound of Austin. As much as anything else, this Picnic was in celebration of that.

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