We’ve had no word yet from Circuit of the Americas as to whether Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic will return to the racetrack’s grounds for the third straight year. But an announcement of a July “Outlaw Music Fest” series in six cities appears to be sending out smoke signals that Picnic news is coming soon.
The string of Outlaw Fest dates, which begin July 1 in Louisiana and currently conclude July 16 in Syracuse, N.Y., include a suspicious gap between a show July 2 in Dallas and July 6 in Arkansas. Guess which day and city would fit perfectly into that itinerary?
The lineups for the Outlaw Fest shows might even telegraph some of the marquee guest stars at this prospective Picnic: Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit (who played the first Picnic at COTA in 2015), Margo Price (who played last year’s Picnic there), Sheryl Crow, the Avett Brothers, and Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats. There’s also Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, fronted by one of Willie’s sons; performances by bands featuring Nelson family members have been a fixture at the Picnic for years.
The one big ringer on two Outlaw Fest shows is Bob Dylan. But those dates are in Detroit and Milwaukee on July 8 and July 9, and Dylan is already booked for a show in Canada on July 4.
It makes sense that the Picnic, which has been a major tradition for decades, would be get its own announcement separate from Outlaw Fest, a new co-production with Blackbird Presents based on a similar event in Pennsylvania last year. The only real mystery now is when that announcement will come. A fair guess is after Willie’s upcoming two-night stand at the Whitewater Amphitheater in New Braunfels with Kacey Musgraves on April 21-22.
The other question is whether it will in fact be at Circuit of the Americas again. The smart bet is on a COTA return: The first two years there went quite well, and Willie has seemed happy to have the event back in the Austin area.