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Texas | Columns | Lone Star Diary

Wild Willie's Picnic

by Murray Montgomery
Murray Montgomery
Willie Nelson, for many years, has been regarded as an outlaw in his music and his lifestyle. No doubt, he attracts many fans ó but he also stirs up feelings in some folks that are somewhat negative to say the least. Such was the case in Gonzales County in July of 1976. Because you see, Olí Willie was coming to town.

It was planned that he would hold his Fourth of July Picnic on land just east of Gonzales, Texas, and this just didnít set well with some of the local citizens. Approximately 2,200 people signed petitions against the event. The complaints included one farmer who feared the concert would make his hens stop laying; another said the traffic would be so bad that if his hogs got sick, a vet would have a hard time getting there to take care of them.

Regardless of the complaints, the picnic did go on as scheduled. Arrests were made and one young man drowned in a stock tank. Another of Willie Nelsonís picnics passed into history.

The Gonzales Inquirer published three different articles on the event; excerpts from those articles are printed as they appeared.

The Gonzales Inquirer - Thursday, July 8, 1976 —

The Willie Nelson Fourth of July Picnic had a little of everything for everyone and Willie himself finally got around to playing a number or two before the rain closed out the show.

The show ended Monday morning when the rain brought down the roof, or at least the canvas cover over the stage, where Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson were due to wind up a full 24 hours of the official picnic.

The fans came as early as Thursday and Friday and the crowd was already estimated at 75,000 Saturday. Promoters said that 135,000 tickets were collected at the gates and some folks just crawled over or under to hear the music.

The Gonzales County Sheriffís Office reported that 147 arrests were made by their officers and the Texas Department of Public Safety. Sheriff Donald Brzozowski said that the arrest breakdown included: theft, three; disorderly conduct, 20; driving while intoxicated, 35; possession of marijuana, 40; drunk, 31; prohibited weapons, two; possession of narcotics paraphernalia, five; possession of controlled substance, 10; aggravated assault, two; kidnapping, four; driving under the influence of drugs, one and miscellaneous charges, 34.

Brzozowski said that he and four deputies plus the reserve officers worked the concert from Friday night through Monday night. Reserve officers included; John Paul Jones, Rueben Neitsch, Lawrence Kridler, J.B. Lester, Wayne Spahn, Willard Burger and Bill Christian. The sheriff added that other individuals also helped in the work, including Constable Earl Zumwalt.

Department of Public Safety Sergeant Homer Spellman said that the DPS had 40 men working 12 hours per day per man for the three days. Gonzales County-based Patrolmen Ricky Smith, David Westbrook, D.R. Blair and Paul Flores worked the event with other men from the San Antonio District.

Also working during the long weekend were Game Wardens Glen Sachtleben and Tom Morgan.

Justice of the Peace E. Ray Bright, Jr., said he expected over 300 cases in his court, and County Judge Henry Vollentine said he was not sure how many cases would be brought before him until all the complaints were filed. Reports from the event indicated that the concessionaires didnít all get rich.

After paying $1,000 for a spot at the picnic the ones selling beer and ice seemed to do okay. Others didnít fare so well. One local resident said the guy who planned to sell watermelons at $1 per slice had a stack left, Midas on the Melons.

The big cleanup was to get underway today.


© Murray Montgomery
Lone Star Diary April 15, 2013 column


Related articles:

Willie by Dorothy Hamm

Abbott, Texas
"Old-timers still remember Willie carrying his guitar to school..."

More Texas Music & Musicians | People

 


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