Politics, Golf, and Barbecue With Willie Nelson

The Countryman brings his Fourth of July Picnic to the Gorge.

If you're going to play a round of golf with Willie Nelson, there are a few things you should be prepared for:

He hardly touches beer anymore, so if you buy him a bottle, you'll have to finish it. Wear comfortable shoes, because Nelson's been known to walk more than 70 holes in a single day (even if it was 30 years ago). And, if he tells you he's a 30 handicap, call bullshit and hide your money.

"I lie so much, it's hard to say," he said from a tour stop in Alberta, Canada, when asked what he's been shooting. "Whatever I would say, I wouldn't believe me."

Considering the schedule the "retired" 70-something keeps, it's impressive to hear that he's able to sneak in a round on the road. After playing his first gig at the Gorge for his annual Forth of July Picnic, Nelson is going to maintain his perpetual tour, and even play a few dates with Last of Breed classmates Merle Haggard and Ray Price. He'll also be lending his signature style and songbook to more predictably peculiar collaborators, like Norah Jones and Wynton Marsalis, following up last year's Ryan Adams–produced Songbird and 2005's reggae release, Countryman.

"I had no idea how it would be accepted," he says of Countryman. "It did fairly well in the reggae field. I didn't expect it to do that well in the mainstream country market anyway. The best thing to do is just keep doing what you know how to do."

Oh, yes, and it's campaign season, and politics is something the blunted one embraced long before he jogged the White House lawns with Jimmy Carter. This early in the race, he's still hedging his bets.

"Jimmy Carter would be good, but I don't think he would do it. I've been supporting Dennis Kucinich since he came out against the war. But his chances...who knows? I like the representative, Ron Paul, from Texas. He makes a lot of sense. Bill Richardson is a good friend of mine, too. He wouldn't be a bad choice."

Decidedly not on the agenda for 2007 is a vacation.

"I can't afford it," he said. "I get in trouble every time I take time off. I'm just kidding, but I guess I enjoy working, so I don't get that many days off—but it doesn't bother me that much. I'm retired now. I'm probably working more than I ever have, but I'm enjoying it more, I think."

He's not as hands-on with the picnic planning this year as he has been since founding it in 1973. But the premise of the event is unchanged: bringing together the NASCAR and Nader crowds and avoiding an all-out Altamont Revisited in the process. That's why he picked the month of July for the picnic.

"It'd be really too hot to fight," he said. "I wanted to find a way to bring together the hippies and the rednecks, kind of on the order that Woodstock did. And they realize they don't have anything to fear from each other, the hippies, the rednecks, the Democrats, the Republicans. We don't preach any politics. We just play a few gospel songs, throw out a few peace signs, and get going."


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