Hot times in the heart of Texxas

IF ANYTHING was learned from the 105,000 fans who piled into the Cotton Bowl over the Fourth of July weekend for the two-day Texxas World Music Festival, it was that stadiums can successfully accommodate football-sized crowds with maximum efficiency and a minimum of hassle.

Despite a blazing sun and temperatures that rose as high as 130 degrees on the tarp-covered stadium floor, a near-capacity crowd of 75,000 hard-rock enthusiasts sat through Saturday’s fifteen-hour Texxas Jam, which featured Aerosmith, Ted Nugent and Heart. The next day, a considerably smaller audience of 30,000 showed up for a Willie Nelson Picnic.

The real star, however, may have been the aging Cotton Bowl and the surrounding facilities. As David Krebs, festival co-promoter and manager of Aerosmith, Nugent and Mahogany Rush, put it: “No other stadium has all these intangibles.” The adjacent 7000-seat Fair Park Coliseum served as a combination theater/air-conditioned crash pad, where ticket holders could watch Woodstock and other rock films when they tired of the real thing. A nearby exhibition hall was turned into a rock & roll supermarket, selling T-shirts, stereo equipment and beer. And the carnival midway was renamed the Rock & Roll Midway.

The Texxas Jam’s musical menu was diamond-hard rock. Black Stone, winner of a regional battle of the bands, opened shortly after eleven a.m. and was followed to the stage by Walter Egan, Van Halen, Head East, Eddie Money and the Atlanta Rhythm Section. By sundown, the crowd rallied for the headline acts, the same ones featured at last spring’s California Jam II. Heart’s aggressive, finely tuned set elicited a rousing response that Ted Nugent, Aerosmith and even an impressive fireworks display couldn’t eclipse. More than two-thirds of the audience had left when Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush wound into the closing set at two a.m.

On Sunday, Willie Nelson opened and closed his eleven-hour picnic. Sandwiched in between Nelson’s sets were Billy Swan, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Emmylou Harris, the Charlie Daniels Band, Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge, and Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter. The disappointing attendance was blamed on a variety of factors. Originally scheduled for Monday the 3rd, the picnic was moved back a day — with less than two weeks’ notice — in deference to Nelson’s “working-class crowd,” the promoters said. They also cited heat, poor promotion and a sudden abundance of Willie Nelson Picnics (in Kansas City the previous day, in Austin on the 3rd and 4th). Unlike Nelson’s previous picnics, this was the first in Texas to be held in a stadium rather than on private farmland.

Even though there wasn’t a beer cooler or a fried-chicken basket in sight, the picnic did manage to convey a casual holiday atmosphere. Improvised moments included a “shootout” between Judge Roy Bean and Disco Jim Slade and walk-on performances by twelve-year-old Howard Berliski, who came all the way from Nederland, Texas, because Waylon invited him, and Gary Busey, the star of The Buddy Holly Story, who electrified the audience with ‘Rave On’ and ‘Oh Boy’.

Though ticket sales exceeded $1.25 million, promoters Krebs and Louis Messina said a profit was likely only after revenue from T-shirts and concessions were received. But Krebs emphasized: “We came here prepared to lose. This is going to be an annual event, so you could call this our education. Next year I want to have four days on Memorial Day weekend and Willie’s picnic on July 4th. I don’t think Willie wants to go back to the fields.”

After his opening set Sunday afternoon, a worn and haggard Nelson wasn’t so sure. “To be honest with you, I liked it better when it was out in a pasture. This is too controlled.” But by the evening his tune had changed: “I think it’ll work here okay next year.”

© Joe Nick PatoskiRolling Stone, 24 August 1978

Leave a Comment