It's a Family Affair

Willie Nelson brings along his pals for his annual musical picnic

Sometimes the true-life stories of Nelson were even more entertaining than the songs, the divorces or the booze-and-drug-fueled nights. (Though Nelson has mostly sworn off the sauce, he is one of the most visible pot advocates in the world.) His most famous battle came with the IRS over back taxes, but Nelson defused that by arranging a unique deal to pay off Uncle Sam bit by bit (which meant he'd funnel all the proceeds from a special mail-order record, "Who'll Buy My Memories," to Washington). In 1999 the senior citizen still has a road schedule that would tax his grandkids. And while his record output has been spotty, he has managed to produce such critical successes as Across the Borderline and Spirit.

Today Willie Nelson is a genuine icon: a smiling, beatific figure as comfortable on the links in the morning as on the stage at night, and seemingly still amazed at his good fortune. During his most recent show in Houston, a marathon offering to the faithful at the Arena Theatre, he managed to look practically every audience member in the eye, wave and wear the endless succession of hats thrown up on stage. Afterward, he signed autographs in the parking lot long after the video crew filming him had left.

Hanging over everything, even beyond the man and his music, is that unmistakable and uncategorizable thing known as the Essence of Willie (which is not a perfume that smells like sweaty bandannas). No matter if you're a head-banger or a shit-kicker, an old coot or a young buck, Willie is cool. How else can you explain his inclusion in the lineup of this year's Woodstock '99 alongside the likes of Alanis Morrissette, Korn, Metallica, DMX and the Chemical Brothers?

Nelson: No, not those blond metal twins, but Willie. He's in town for a party.
Rocky Schenck
Nelson: No, not those blond metal twins, but Willie. He's in town for a party.

So in a summer of clan gatherings with bad potato salad and obnoxious uncles you'd rather avoid altogether, this is one "family" reunion that's worth the T-shirt. Even if it gets a little sweaty.

Willie Nelson's Family Picnic is Saturday, August 1, at the Woodlands Pavilion. Music starts at 1 p.m. Tickets are $35 for reserved seats, $25 for lawn. Call (713) 629-3700 or (281) 363-3300.

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