Willie Nelson Makes Triumphant Return in First Performance Back From Health Battle

Even in times of great division, most people can agree that Willie Nelson is a national treasure. The outlaw country legend has been making music for six decades, releasing his 75th solo album in May. Recently, fans of the Red-Headed Stranger have been anxiously monitoring social media for any news about the 91-year-old musician’s health. The “Always On My Mind” singer has skipped several stops along his Outlaw Music Festival tour due to illness. On Thursday (July 4), music lovers everywhere breathed a collective sigh of relief as Nelson took the stage in Camden, New Jersey, for the Fourth of July Picnic.

Videos by American Songwriter

Willie Nelson Shines In First Performance Post-Illness

Willie Nelson has been resting up per doctor’s orders, causing him to miss every stop along the Outlaw Music Festival so far. However, the “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” singer looked like the picture of health on Tuesday (July 4) as he performed for an ecstatic crowd.

What a grand return for someone who means so much to so many Americans. “So happy to hear you’re feeling better!” one Instagram user commented. “Lukas was incredible last night in Mansfield.”

Another fan added, “I went to his first five 4th concerts. Always hot, but had a great time. It was where Country met Hippies!”

[RELATED: Bandmates Concerned This Is Their Last Chance To Perform With Willie Nelson]

How Long Has Willie Held the 4th of July Picnic?

Willie Nelson hosted his first Fourth of July picnic in 1973, on a ranch near Dripping Springs, Texas. Kris Kristofferson, Rita Coolidge, Charlie Rich, Waylon Jennings, and Tom T. Hall also performed.

The event was more than organizers bargained for, as 30,000 to 50,000 Willie Nelson fans crowded in. So, the Red-Headed Stranger decided that next year’s picnic would be bigger and better. In 1974, the three-day festival moved to the Texas World Speedway in College Station. Waylon Jennings, Jimmy Buffett, Leon Russell, Michael Martin Murphey, and Jerry Jeff Walker joined Nelson onstage.

The picnic has certainly seen its share of mishaps. A parking lot fire destroyed 12 cars during the 1974 event, one of which belonged to Texas singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen. The final report from the 1976 event? One drowning, four stabbings, four kidnappings, three reports of sexual assault, and 140 arrests.

Featured image by Brandon Bell/Getty Images

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