Despite a spate of thunderstorms that necessitated the cancellation of sets by Ray Wylie Hubbard and the Wild Feathers, among others, Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic near Austin provided transcendent musical moments – including one political cameo.
Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic congressman from El Paso, Texas, who will challenge Ted Cruz in the fall for the U.S. Senate, joined Nelson and his Family Band, along with Margo Price, onstage near the end of the Red Headed Stranger’s closing set. But O’Rourke didn’t just clap along – he brought some guitar skills and a harmony voice to songs like the pot anthem “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” and the traditional “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” The 45-year-old O’Rourke once performed in the punk band Foss with At the Drive-In’s Cedric Bixler-Zavala.
His rousing popularity in Texas has propelled O’Rourke’s name onto the national stage, with his face-off with Cruz in the November mid-terms becoming one to watch.
“You know how we felt because you felt the same way,” O’Rourke told Rolling Stone last year of his feelings about Trump’s presidential campaign and win. “The immigrants vilified and denigrated. The lies told boldly and openly and without shame. The promise to ban Muslims and refugees and asylum seekers from our country. Mocking people with disabilities, or who are vulnerable. Making people, or trying to make people, ashamed of who they are and whether or not they fit into this, their country. All of that came to a head as the results came in.”
Nelson and O’Rourke have more than one cause in common too. Both support the legalization of marijuana and are opposed to the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy of separating immigrant families.
“What’s going on at our southern border is outrageous,” Nelson said last month. “Christians everywhere should be up in arms. What happened to ‘Bring us your tired and weak and we will make them strong?’ This is still the promise land.”