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Despite shaky start, good times prevail at Willie Nelson's long-awaited Fourth of July Picnic

Willie Nelson's Fourth of July picnic made a comeback at Austin FC's Q2 Stadium Monday night. (Q2 Stadium/Twitter)

Q2 Stadium swapped its Verde for red, white and blue as country music legend Willie Nelson returned for his first in-person Fourth of July Picnic since 2019 on Monday.

The music fest included fireworks, fun merch and acts from country greats including Charley Crockett, Midland, Brothers Osborne, Allison Russell, Tyler Childers, Jason Isbell and Austin's own Asleep at the Wheel. And while Q2 will have some kinks to straighten before it becomes a concert-hosting regular, Nelson's unifying spirit kept things cool during the 12-hour outdoor event.

Midland performed at Willie Nelson's Fourth of July Picnic. (Q2 Stadium/Twitter)

Doors opened at 11 a.m., and Asleep at the Wheel was on the stage by 12 p.m.—though as one Reddit post pointed out, there weren't many people there to see them play.

Q2 Stadium stayed sparsely populated for the first half of the day. (Claire Partain/Austonia)

Per Q2 Stadium policy, attendees weren't allowed to re-enter the venue after leaving, so anyone who wanted to watch both an afternoon and Nelson's big performance were stuck at the venue for hours straight. That opened up the perfect opportunity for customers to snatch up snacks, water and beers, which emptied wallets even faster than at Austin FC games. Nothing says "the end is nigh" like $15 beers.

An open-air, 20,500 seat venue, Q2 Stadium sometimes struggled to carry sound clearly, and between-song banter was often limited to an incomprehensible garble. Still, Tyler Childers' commanding growls came through, Alison Russells' multi-instrument ensemble shone and Nelson's strums on his trusty guitar, Trigger, were front and center by the end of the night.

Fans found it hard to look away from Tyler Childers' enrapturing performance. (Jakob Rodriguez)

The July 4th picnic, which was most recently held at Circuit of the Americas from 2015-2019, benefitted from Q2's more central location, and the large venue offered plenty of room for attendees to mull about.

As the sun mercifully dipped below the horizon, the music paused for a 15-minute fireworks show.

But the July 4th staples weren't the main event. At 89, Nelson didn't disappoint, sitting calmly as he performed alongside his family members and even gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke, who made a surprise appearance midway through the show.

At times wistful, joyful or both, Nelson took the crowd through hits from "On the Road Again" to "Always on My Mind."

And as each favorite was played, all of the heat and stress of the day were encompassed by Nelson's voice, his storytelling and more as Austinites new and old gathered for the decades-old tradition.


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