Gearing Up & Scaling Back: A Forecast for 2016’s 4th of July Picnics

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Now that we are well into May, many people are wondering where the announcement for Willie Nelson’s annual 4th of July Picnic is. The country music institution, started in 1972 with the Dripping Springs Reunion (not officially held on the 4th) has been going strong ever since, despite skipping a couple of years here and there, or naming events around the 4th as the official picnic even if it was a formality.

Since lineup announcements have regularly dropped in March, or at least by April in recent years, some are on edge if there will even be a Willie Nelson 4th of July Picnic in 2016. But indications from the Willie camp is an announcement might be coming mid May. So don’t count it out of your 4th of July plans just yet.

Last year was arguably one the biggest 4th of July Picnic years in history. After holding the annual event at Billy Bob’s Texas in Ft. Worth for numerous years, Willie switched back to Austin, and held the Picnic on the grounds of the new Circuit of the America’s speedway, which also includes an ampitheater and ample grounds for a festival. Performers included Eric Church, Merle Haggard, Kacey Musgraves, Jason Isbell, Asleep at the Wheel, Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, Billy Joe Shaver, Kris Kristofferson, David Allan Coe, Jamey Johnson and many others. The event was promoted by Austin-based C3 Presents.

But not to be outdone, Billy Bob’s Texas put on their own 4th of July Picnic, and made it into a 2-day production. Performers included Merle Haggard, Ryan Bingham, Chris Stapleton, Turnpike Troubadours, Jerry Jeff Walker, Hayes Carll, Shinyribs, and Whitey Morgan & the 78’s.

This year, Billy Bob’s has elected to scale back their 4th of July celebration to just four bands, and move it back to July 2nd so it falls on a weekend night. The Turnpike Troubadours are scheduled to headline, with Shinyribs, Billy Joe Shaver, and Mike & The Moonpies filling out the roster.

“Last year was a pretty big blowout. It was awesome,” says Chris Spinks, Director of Marketing for Billy Bob’s Texas. “We had Stapleton right before he took off. This year we just picked four of our favorite artists and decided to roll with them. We just scaled it a little bit. We’re excited. We love the lineup. We love the Turnpike Troubadours. It’s just a fun band to have on the 4th of July.”

Potentially, part of the reason for scaled back lineups and delayed release of rosters at some 4th of July events might have to do with availability of talent. With so many artists on major tours in 2016, events all across the country are looking for headliners and finding less options. This also coincides with a massive buildup of festival inventory in 2015, which has resulted in the bursting of the country music festival bubble. Both Billy Bob’s and Willie Nelson’s Circuit of the Americas events saw full crowds, but scaling back the lineups might be part of a greater trend.

Nonetheless, the tradition of 4th of July Picnics in Texas will survive, and hopefully we have an announcement of Willie Nelson’s annual event soon.

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