Willie NelsonWillie Nelson has proved, once again, that he's just as much a staple of Independence Day as hot dogs and fireworks. The legendary entertainer hosted his annual Fourth of July Picnic over the weekend to a sold-out crowd of 7,500 people. This year's event was held at the Backyard in Bee Cave Texas, where the soaring temperatures matched the scorching country music.

Although reports note the audience was much more mellow than the hard-drinking and partying groups that gathered in the early years after the picnic began in 1973, the vibe was still exuberant as more than two dozen acts performed. Kris Kristofferson, David Allan Coe, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Jack Ingram, Leon Price, Los Lonely Boys, and Del Castillo were among the musicians that lit up the stage and often lavished praise on Willie.

"I think we sometimes forget how thankful we should be to have Willie Nelson," Kevin Fowler said from the stage (quote via Austin 360). "He's the best friend a Texas musician could have."

This year's picnic is the first without Poodie Locke, Willie's beloved long-time stage manager, who died last year. A wooden status of Poodie was placed near the stage, a reminder that perhaps Poodie is still keeping an eye on Willie and the event. (Check out a photo of the statue at the bottom of this page).

"There's this integrity to the picnic because it still comes down to the music. It's not just spring break at Padre Island. It's about the music and Willie's status as an American icon," Ray Wylie Hubbard, who's played every picnic, told the 'Austin 360.' "You gotta be pretty good to play his picnic. And it really is fun. You come here and sweat and get up and play, and the crowd is with you. It's a ball."

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