Picnicking with Willie Nelson

July 4, 12 noon:

I’m typing this on the grounds of the Willie Nelson 4th of July Picnic. It’s noon, and we got in just after the gates opened at 11:30. We staked out a spot right in front of the south stage, where Willie will play in just under 10 hours. The high temperature today is only supposed to be 91 degrees F/33 degrees C. Only.

I, actually, am happy as I can be out here in the heat. When we lived in Boston, a friend asked me what I missed most about summer in Texas. I thought for a second and said, “The moment the first drop of sweat rolls down the middle of your back. That’s summer.”

The first drop rolled about 5 minutes ago. Ahhhh. I’m home.

Texans, admittedly, are a strange but hardy folk.

We’re big Texas country music fans at our house, but even we would not be here for the early sweat-drop-rolling fun if not for Einstein.

Honey took Einstein to Take Your Kid to Work Day at the State Department in Washington, D.C., last year. As an icebreaker, an official asked the auditorium full of kids who their favorite singers were. Hands shot up. “Justin Bieber!” “Lady Gaga!” “Beyoncé!” “Psy!” “One Direction!”

Only one kid stood out from the crowd: our own little Texan. When they pointed to Einstein, his answer was proud but not at all showy.

“Willie Nelson.”

He may not live here, but he’s sure as shootin’ from here.

July 4, 2:30 p.m.:

Honey just took Blossom and Einstein to lunch, heading out at the end of Kris Kristofferson’s set. I spotted the grandparents of one of Einstein’s friends, but couldn’t get their attention. I hope we’ll see them later. I’m holding down the blanket and chair area we set up, and doing so only semi-successfully, as I’m alone up here and the Randy Rogers Band wil be on any minute. Lesson learned: any margin between our blanket and the fence, separating the crowd and the stage, invites people to stand in front of us. This, though it has proved entertaining due to characters like the man pictured below, will not do. I’m indignantly calling them The Encroachers in my mind and to calm down, I remind myself of Glennon’s words about kindness and Esther’s about there being enough for all of us. Still, if The Encroachers nearby fellow concert-goers clear out, we’re going smack-dab up against the fence. I want this to be a show Blossom and Einstein will remember.


The most entertaining (literally) of the Encroachers. He’s holding a harmonica, which he used to accompany Kris Kristofferson. From among the crowd.

July 4, 4 p.m.:

Whew. Our reinforcements other family members arrived during Randy Rogers’ set, and immediately after the set, the crowd emptied our area almost completely. We reconfigured  our base camp; Honey arrived back with Blossom and Einstein; and we re-slathered everyone with sunscreen. Now Riscky’s Barbecue calls to me, beckoning with tempting air conditioning and brisket sandwiches. The kids just ate, but they look eager to tag along with me anyway. One niece decides to join us. I’ll probably miss most of Jamey Johnson, but Honey and I agreed that this day is a marathon, not a sprint.

July 4, 4:50 p.m.:

Back into Billy Bob’s for David Allan Coe, but the kiddos are more interested in the gift shop and avoiding the inexplicable indoor smokers. (I thought Fort Worth outlawed this. Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps today no one cares.) We’re perched on the corner of the floor in front of the stage, but we won’t be here long. Once Honey joins us, we’ll show him where his sister is and head back outside.

July 4, 6 p.m.:

Einstein has me a little worried. He’s clearly hot, and I can’t tell if he’s tired or showing signs of heat exhaustion. He’s been misted multiple times and we’ve all drunk a good bit of water. The security staff just gave us ice, but even after rubbing it on his neck and face, he’s hot enough that he just started pouring water over his head. We also got a heads up from a nearby couple that one of the upcoming groups will not be playing music that falls in the “age-appropriate” category for Blossom and Einstein. We sure are making good use of Billy Bob’s today, though I hope we can find a (somewhat) quieter spot.

July 4, 9:15 p.m.

In the past three hours, we connected with the friend’s grandparents, Einstein rested his eyes for about 20 minutes, and Blossom and her cousin learned how to play pool. Not well. It took 18 turns before they sunk any balls. I found this hilarious and kept counting. After 46 turns, they’d managed to hit in 4 balls, 4 scratches, and had 12 do-overs when the white ball only moved an inch or so. I stopped counting at 91 turns, 7 balls in, and 7 scratches, finally hustling the girls out the door and back to base camp. By now, we’ve formed an impenetrable semi-circle of folding chairs. Our group of 10 has enough room for 5 at the fence and the rest of us can see fine right behind them. Thirty minutes to Willie!

July 4, 11:30 p.m.

Willie Nelson onstage tonight.

I may be floating. I have hugged Einstein and Honey as I bask in the greatness of this feeling. While Willie sang, I stood up front and enjoyed lifelong favorites, then dropped back to a lawn chair for a few songs and closed my eyes, savoring the moment. We are together. The kiddos kept singing along; they know almost as many of the songs as I do. Everyone is happy. As the set started to close out with some gospel numbers, I stood next to Einstein at the fence again. He never left his spot, and Willie noticed. He took off his last bandana of the evening, pointed at Einstein, and tossed it to him. To him! This wasn’t one vague point in our group’s direction, either. Willie took the time to point to Einstein three times until everyone nearby understood. Einstein’s eyes widened when the bandana touched his fingers. He ditched his fedora and now sports a bandana headband à la Willie. He’s in Texan heaven.

Tonight, Willie Nelson sang “I’m No Superman.” I disagree, and I thank him. He did something for Einstein that no one else could possibly have done.

You see, anyone can take you to see Willie Nelson. But only the Red-Headed Stranger himself can make Willie Nelson see you.


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