Break out the bandanas and dust off Trigger -- Willie Nelson's 4th of July Picnic is preparing to take over the Stockyards again this year.
After returning to Fort Worth amid much fanfare in 2011, this year's edition of the Picnic seems slightly more subdued, in part because the Country Throwdown tour isn't involved this time around. (Last year's Picnic was a hybrid, as the Country Throwdown tour piggybacked onto Nelson's event for its grand finale.) The 2012 lineup is loaded with Texans, from relatively fresh faces to decades-long veterans of the game.
As of this writing, tickets are still available, and the forecast seems as though the heat will be a little less brutal than last year. Whether you are staying for the day or just checking out part of the festivities spread across three stages inside and outside of Billy Bob's Texas, here are five must-see acts at this year's 4th of July Picnic. (Stages and times are correct as of press time but are subject to change.)
Shy Blakeman (Noon on the Honky Tonk Stage)
It's been an interesting path for Dallas-based singer-songwriter Shy Blakeman. The troubadour, who performs with his band the Converts, was a contestant on the fourth season of the now-defunct Nashville Star in 2006, and three years before that, survived being shot in the face during a robbery attempt on Lower Greenville after a show. He triumphed in the recent Live at Billy Bob's Texas contest, and he will record his own contribution to the venerable series of albums on July 6. His most recent album is his third studio effort, Long Distance Man.
Folk Uke (2:30 p.m. on the Main Stage)
Part of the extensive Nelson familial entourage making the journey to Fort Worth, featuring Willie's daughter Amy Nelson and Arlo Guthrie's daughter Cathy Guthrie, Folk Uke brings a bit of acoustic breeze to the country/rock-inclined (and mostly male-dominated) Picnic. Collaborators for more than a decade, the dryly humorous Nelson and Guthrie have a relatively new album, Reincarnation, which they released late last year, to work into their set.
Billy Joe Shaver (4:45 p.m. on the Outdoor Stage)
As much a Texas legend as the dude headlining this shindig, Shaver, a Corsicana native (and the "original honky-tonk hero"), shows no signs of slowing at 72. Although he hasn't released much in the way of new material in the last five years, the singer-songwriter keeps busy playing throughout Texas and beyond, and will join the ranks of the Live at Billy Bob's family when his album is released next month.
Lukas Nelson (7 p.m. on the Main Stage)
Much was made of how prevalent Willie's son Lukas' contributions were to Willie's latest album, Heroes. (Lukas plays guitar and/or sings on 10 of the 14 tracks.) Critics suggested a torch was being officially passed, although Willie downplayed such notions. Still, it's not hard to imagine Lukas stepping up when the time comes. That said, the son is much more of a rocker than the father. (His band, Promise of the Real, released its sophomore album in April.) So his reign will be very different.
Jamey Johnson (8:30 p.m. on the Main Stage)
A purifying blast of no-frills, immensely talented country attitude, singer-songwriter Jamey Johnson is a recent and welcome addition to Willie's gang. (Kinda makes up for his being pals with Toby Keith.) Johnson continues to tour in support of his mammoth 2010 double album, The Guitar Song, as well as produce other artists and even make cameos. (He's one of the voices on Willie's new weed anthem Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.) Desperate for the spirit of classic Nashville in a modern context? Look no further.