Delays, shortages leave Willie fans hot under collar
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.”