On July 4, 1975, thousands of people converged onto the tiny town of Liberty Hill, Texas, for Willie Nelson’s third annual Fourth of July Picnic. After just a few hours, most of them were either naked, drunk, or dehydrated. Many believed things got out of hand due to a toxic combination of alcohol and the sweltering Texas summer sun: “It was mainly just people sitting out there in the heat and drinking that old Lone Star beer,” said one attendant, according to the Northwest Arkansas Times.
With the sun beating down and the alcohol kicking in, concertgoers stripped to the nude to enjoy the rest of the show. Local lawmen may have been disturbed, but they weren’t overly concerned. “There were naked folks everywhere, but we didn’t have the manpower to fool with them. As long as they weren’t killing each other—no shootings and stuff—we had plenty to do otherwise,” another deputy said.
Strangely, the real problems arose from an unexpected rainstorm. According to the Mass Gathering Act, it was illegal to have more than 5,000 people assembled for more than 12 hours—a timeframe the picnic far exceeded after the severe storm delayed several performances. Surrounded by a soaked (but elated) crowd, Willie decided to keep the party going, much to the onlooking lawmen’s chagrin.
Months later, and a grand poorer, Willie stood by his decision. “I looked at my watch,” Nelson told The Courier Journal, “saw we had five minutes left, saw the deputy, and said, ‘Well, if we’re gonna be guilty, let’s be guilty.’ It ran ’til morning.”
Photo Courtesy Columbia Records.