Gear Up For a Musical Birthday Weekend!


Screened at Cinema Borealis (1550 N. Milwaukee, 4th Floor)


April 3rd, 2011

As a gift for our birthday, a friend of The Nightingale will present a well-kept 35mm print of the rarely seen WILLIE NELSON’S 4th OF JULY CELEBRATION, a filmed document of one of Willie’s legendary picnics/concerts/free-for-alls. Long embroiled in a dispute between the director and financier, the film is essentially unavailable anywhere on video.

“At Willie’s bash, whilst tens of thousands of Texas bumpkins party and picnic all national holiday-long, Russell progressively becomes the true character and star of the show by gradually becoming drunker and, inevitably, more entertaining to watch. The toe-tapping litany of Willie’s assembled musical guests perform on a red, white and blue stage sponsored by Lone Star Beer, and Russell is never seen without a can-full of the stuff, in hand (though, he eventually graduates to Budweiser, then a suspiciously discreet Coca-Cola cup). Roving the stage, Russell hovers unawares of his own presence-often, obstructing sightlines and pestering performers (this includes undressing some as they play). He doesn’t even really make it through a whole song, by himself. It’s wonderful.

Willie, for his part, is the smooth 1970s country crooner: hunk-ily handsome and heartbreakingly good; not yet his gentle stoner-Gramps-self of today. Those unfamiliar with Willie’s live performances will marvel at the fireworks display his chops ignite on that beat-up Spanish guitar. The film’s music is infective, especially when Doug “the Ragin’ Cajun” Kershaw shows up in full Austin Powers velour and pirate-dickie, and-full of all the swirling energy of a ‘Looze-ana’ hurricane-steals the show with his brand of wild bayou fiddling. Willie’s dear compadre Waylon Jennings shows up, too, performing several hits including his Willie-hommage, Willie the Wandering Gypsy. As the show climaxes with the requisite ‘everyone-on-stage’ finale, even Jennings has become pretty recreationally zonked, with his half-open eyelids giving him a devilish aura.” -Walter Forsberg

“…WILLIE NELSON’S 4th OF JULY CELEBRATION was already nostalgia when it premiered in the summer of ’79, around the same time that Willie was becoming an actor in earnest and recording Tin Pan Alley schmaltz. The film flashes back to the second picnic, an open-air affair in College Station, Texas, 1974, at the crossover moment of longhair outlaw country…

Nelson’s setlist draws heavily on the previous year’s album, Shotgun Willie, with a jam-extended “Funny How Time Slips Away”/”Night Life” medley prototyping the one on 1976’s The Sound in Your Mind. There’s dark, grave, steady Waylon Jennings, his rhythm section seeming an unbending, eternal fact of life, and gamboling fiend-with-a-fiddle Doug Kershaw, dressed in the bayou version of Edwardian dandyism, winking, bounding his big bouffanted head, enunciating with delectation, hotfoot jigging, and shredding bows on “Diggy Diggy Lo.” Nelson, Jennings, and Kershaw, all prewar-born with pre-hippie hits, hold the stage with an authority that featured young’uns B.W. Stevenson and Michael Martin Murphey haven’t earned; the Lost Gonzo Band, though, reconciles palatably ‘literate’ lyrics with shitkicker swing.”- Nick Pinkerton, Villlage Voice

Directed by Werner Brandt (1979, 100 minutes, 35mm)

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