De­lays, short­ages leave Wil­lie fans hot un­der col­lar

Austin American-Statesman - - FOOD & LIFE - By Pa­trick Cald­well

By the time Wil­lie Nel­son fi­nally stepped on stage to per­form at Sun­day’s Fourth of July Pic­nic, it was no longer the Fourth of July.

The head­lin­ing star and main at­trac­tion for the pic­nic took to the stage to sing “This Land Is Your Land,” with Micah Nel­son’s band the Re­flec­ta­cles at 12:05 a.m., July 5, kick­ing off a lengthy set that ran past 1 a.m. By that point, the once-packed grounds at the new Back­yard had thinned con­sid­er­ably.

Though crowded and plagued by park­ing prob­lems ear­lier in the day, the pic­nic largely ran smoothly un­til the ar­rival of night (see our other cov­er­age @austin360.com/mu­sic). Af­ter 8 p.m. some ven­dors ran out of food, con­di­tions in the bath­rooms de­volved and lines for the small shut­tles to re­turn con­cert­go­ers to the Hill Coun­try Gal­le­ria stretched through the park­ing lot. Park­ing dif­fi­cul­ties also arose from Bee Cave po­lice re­fus­ing to let con­cert­go­ers walk from the Hill Coun­try Gal­le­ria to the Back­yard (there are no side­walks in the mile be­tween the out­door mall and the venue). Those prob­lems, ex­ac­er­bated by Nel­son’s ab­sence de­spite re­peated an­nounce­ments from em­cees that he would play soon, all con­trib­uted to frus­trated pic­nic at­ten­dees. Our own Pic­nic ex­pert Dave Thomas called it “the first time I’ve left the Pic­nic an­gry at Wil­lie.”

“That was my sixth or sev­enth Pic­nic. And af­ter not see­ing Wil­lie all day, fi­nally we gave up at 11:30, I guess,” Pic­nic at­tendee Carl Burns said Mon­day by phone. “Nor­mally he opens up and plays with dif­fer­ent peo­ple through­out the day, but that didn’t hap­pen. It was kind of dis­ap­point­ing to spend that much money and not get to see Wil­lie. It didn’t seem like they were ready for that many peo­ple, and they should have been be­cause they’ve been ad­ver­tis­ing it for months.”

Tim O’Con­nor, CEO of Di­rect Events, which op­er­ates the Back­yard, said Tues­day he was aware of the show’s prob­lems and was aim­ing to rec­tify them, at­tribut­ing dif­fi­cul­ties with park­ing and food to the com­bi­na­tion of a sold­out crowd and the still-ges­tat­ing Back­yard.

“These were all new ven­dors to con­certs, and cer­tainly to a fes­ti­val,” O’Con­nor said. “We apol­o­gize for any short­ness of food. ... And again on the shut­tles, it was our first at­tempt at do­ing that. We’ve al­ready had ini­tial con­ver­sa­tions with the Gal­le­ria and we’re go­ing to sit down and make a bet­ter plan and not have that is­sue in the fu­ture.

“This was ob­vi­ously our first run at a big sold-out show at the Back­yard, and it was one that ran all day. We think we’re get­ting bet­ter at it, and we hope we get real good at it be­fore long. ... We just ask for ev­ery­body’s pa­tience.”

Some other com­ments we’ve Dave Ri­ley of Dal­las, left, and Randy Hare of Ok­la­homa City visit be­tween sets at Wil­lie Nel­son’s Fourth of July Pic­nic on Sun­day. re­ceived via e-mail (com­ment in our blog @austin360.com/ mu­sic­source):

“My boyfriend bought us tick­ets be­cause I wanted to see (Wil­lie Nel­son) so badly in con­cert,” wrote Joyce Be­navidez. “By mid­night I was tired, hun­gry, needed the bath­room sooo bad, and sick­ened by all the peo­ple pass­ing out around me. Then the host said he was next, but he wasn’t! Why did they lie and say you were next? I was sooo dis­ap­pointed I wanted to cry. … Still a fan but will never go to an­other Fourth of July pic­nic.”

“We were ex­cited to see Wil­lie — went at around 3 p.m. to pace our­selves in the heat and stayed un­til mid­night, no sign of Wil­lie,” wrote Chauncy Mad­dox. “Lots of lengthy set changes re­sult­ing in lulls in mu­sic, food ran out ev­ery­where. Waited in line for two hours for a brat and got brat with no bun. All in all very dis­ap­point­ing.”

“I have been to more than 200 con­certs, large and small, all over the United States, over the past 20 years,” wrote A. Smith. “The mu­sic, which is the most im­por­tant thing, was great. Ev­ery other as­pect of this show was dis­ap­point­ing.

“The Back­yard needs to sell fewer tick­ets and pro­vide more park­ing if they want this new lo­ca­tion to be suc­cess­ful. The Bee Cave Po­lice need to get the bees out of their panties. Al­though it is un­safe for peo­ple to be walk­ing in the road, the po­lice had no right to tell us that we could not walk down the side of the road in the grass, es­pe­cially on the day we as Amer­i­cans cel­e­brate our free­dom.

“The Back­yard should con­sider some mea­sures to con­trol foot traf­fic in­side the venue, and pro­vide ad­e­quate and san­i­tary re­stroom fa­cil­i­ties. The food and al­co­hol ven­dors need to plan ac­cord­ingly for the size of the crowd in at­ten­dance. I will closely watch fu­ture re­views of shows at the Back­yard to see if these is­sues have been ad­dressed be­fore I con­sider at­tend­ing an­other show there again.”

Larry Kolvo­ord

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