10 things I learned at Willie's Picnic: 2013

Let's take it chronologically:

1. The Hotel Texas is probably the worst-reviewed hotel I've ever stayed at 6 times. But they pretty much outdid themselves this year when they told me their credit card machine was broken and demanded cash rightthefucknow (I'm guessing they were mad I made my reservation before they upped the prices for the Picnic and wanted to get out of the Visa fees). Also charming: The sole remaining key to the room was broken, so they had to let me in and out of the room with the master key every time I showed up at the front desk.

2. The Twitter experiment was a bust except for a single tweet from 11 p.m. on July 3: "Longhorn Salion. I yes I Jesus. I the walrus." If I knew what I had meant to say at that point, it would probably open up some deep universal secret. This also provides a little insight into how successful I was at getting lit up, pre-Picnic. Offering my services as a Flaming Dr Pepper adviser during dinner at Cattleman's was probably a mistake.

3. I'd been in the "Will Call" line to pick up my media credentials for almost half an hour when I decided to cheat just a little bit. I called up the Billy Bob's Texas official that I've been in contact with over most of the past decade and said "Heyyyyyy ... I've been standing in this line for a loooooong time. And that's OK. I just wanted to be sure I was in the right spot to pick up my media pass."

She said yes, but she would double-check. Five minutes later I get a call. "I"m sending a blonde in a golf cart to pick you up." From there, I got a free ride to backstage where the official was waiting with my media pass.

I kinda felt like a VIP. I guess that's the idea, but this doesn't usually happen to me. I could get used to it. Made it in just in time to catch Ray Wylie Hubbard do his "let's give them the four songs they want" set.

4. At a fairly inexplicable 2 p.m. show Kris Kristofferson sounded terrible, forgot words to his songs and tried to do the same song twice. It was a far piece from the evening show that was the highlight of the 2010 Picnic. Johnny Bush was alone in seeming ageless. Billy Joe Shaver seemed tired, but didn't hold back.

5. Ray Price had to cancel the day before, so I was left with a simple choice: Jamey Johnson and then Leon Russell outside or David Allan Coe inside Billy Bob's. Well, in my story for the paper I had urged everyone to show some love for Leon, who has always been underappreciated as a Picnic pioneer. Outside it was.

Jamey continued his Picnic tradition of setting his excellent 45 rpm songs at 33 1/3 rpm and letting the afternoon heat suck the life out of them. Leon? He was awesome. He limped to the stage in all white, like Santa Claus at a formal, sat down and blazed away for 25 minutes straight. He even said something! A small crack about how hot it was.

6. Never found out why Lukas Nelson canceled, but I heard just enough of Micah Nelson's latest band (Insects vs. Robots) to really, really miss Lukas. I'd been tromping in and out of the Billy Bob's offices, filing reports that nobody read. But they gave me free access to everywhere, let me leave the computer in the office (after 4 Picnics of carrying it in a backpack with me ... small progress). Once again, Billy Bob's was a first-class operation.

7. My first Ryan Bingham show. Was damn surprised to learn that other people love "Southside of Heaven" as much as I do. That album -- "Mescalito" -- has such as West Texas vibe to it. Terribly not used to watching and appreciating artists younger than I am. But I reckon I have to get there. Options will get limited quickly.

8. Because my other choices are asshats like Justin Moore. This guy has an elevated platform built on the stage so he can rise mysteriously into view -- cowboy hat visible from Dallas -- before a row of pulsing lights and thumping music. Then he goes on to tell us all what a real country musician he is. After opening with a song about how Obama can't take his guns, of course. To see Justin  juxtaposed with Bingham only serves to expose what a joke Justin is. All talk, all flash, all cliche, all hat and no badass jams.

9. After filing another report during the second half of Moore's disaster, I used Gary Allan's 75 minutes to take the computer back to the hotel (yes, they had to let me into my room) and then have a sit-down dinner at Riscky's before hoofing it back for Willie's closing set. This all felt very weird. But I wasn't going to suffer another $8 corndog just to listen to Gary Allan and make my feet hurt a little more.

10. Willie? He sounded rough before he got warmed up, but hit his groove and coasted to a sing-along gospel-heavy close. It was a fitting end to this Picnic and -- probably -- to all the Picnics. I know I wasn't there for the first 20 years of this tradition, but I've been around long enough to say it really lost something over the past decade when Willie could no longer come out and jam with his guests (and no blame here, of course – I understand he's 80).

What has kept the Picnic together over this past decade has been its core group: Ray Price, Leon Russell, Billy Joe Shaver, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Johnny Bush, Asleep at the Wheel. And, to a lesser extent, Kristofferson and Coe. Let's face it, though. The core group is geting old. The Picnic is getting old. And this year, it was awfully noticeable.

I was pleased that we had one more big, outdoor event. One more "Whiskey River." One more "Redneck Mother," "Jumping Jack Flash" and "Live Forever." I had a good time. But maybe we should say 40 is enough. I know it's not up to me, but I'd rather give it up than watch it morph into something else, with someone else.

I heard from a few sources that Willie feels the same. But you never know.

Only one thing is certain: My calendar will be clear for July 3-4 next year.

Just in case.