In Texas, Willie Nelson and the Fourth of July go together like peanut butter and jelly, cold beer and a foam Koozie, Joanie and Chachi. One is fine; both is better. I know this, particularly in how it relates to Willie and Independence Day. But I've never been to a Willie Nelson Fourth of July Picnic, the 31st and latest installment of which will be held at the Fort Worth Stockyards. It's embarrassing to admit since I'm a huge Willie fan. Have been since I was a kid, when I thought he was just an actor. (Specifically, the actor who starred opposite a young Gary Busey as the titular Barbarosa.) Once I heard the music, however, I forgot about the movies--which is probably a smart idea for anyone who's seen one of them. My mom introduced me to his old Nashville records, when he was a clean-cut crooner in mock turtleneck and sport coat. Coors helped me discover his "outlaw" 1970s work. Over the years, I've figured out the rest of it. It was easy to feel connected to all of those songs. I grew up in West, five miles from his hometown, Abbott. We used to drink in Abbott's deserted town square. Willie got his start performing at a bar, The Nite Owl, that was next door to my grandparents' house. I went to high school with the cop who busted him for sleeping in his Mercedes on the side of a road with a joint in the ashtray. There were and are connections everywhere. But though I've seen him half a dozen times, I've never gotten the truest Willie Nelson experience, a Fourth of July Picnic that's teeming with people yet still comes off like he's hosting a backyard barbecue. I've thought about it a ton of times, especially when the picnic was still being held in Luckenbach, the city of "Willie and Waylon and the boys" fame. But I've never been able to pull the trigger, and have almost always ended up doing something exceedingly lame on the Fourth. Maybe this year will be different. Tickets are $25 to $30, and the show starts at noon. Go to www.williespicnic.com. --Zac Crain
Every few hundred years or so, Ludwig Van Beethoven gets rediscovered. Think of Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven," covered later by the Beatles, which didn't exactly celebrate this musician, or the shivering score of Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. Ludwig Van, you'll recall, and his music stirred up all kinds of trouble in the film for Alex and his droogs who hung out at the Korova Milk Bar. Kubrick's tale, based on Anthony Burgess' novel with prominent references to Beethoven's works, informed a whole new generation of the stupefying effects of classical music. Four free classical concerts also celebrate Ludwig Van with the Fine Arts Chamber Players' Basically Beethoven Festival 2004, a series of Sunday-afternoon chamber music concerts July 4 through July 25 inside the Texas Discovery Gardens building at Fair Park. The Chamber Players are joined by guest artists including Fort Worth Symphony and Dallas Opera orchestras. The July 4 concert features patriotic music by Classical Brass. Doors open at 2 p.m., and the music begins at 2:30. Bring your droogs, but exaggerated codpieces and phallic, rubber-nosed masks are optional. Call 214-520-2219 or visit www.fineartschamberplayers.org. --Annabelle Massey Helber
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Get Into the Groove
During the past decade, Gerald Levert (son of Eddie Levert, of the O'Jays) has become a soulful crooner, cranking out an entire catalog of quiet-storm ballads, falling somewhere between R. Kelly and Barry White on the lovetrometer. But back in the late '80s, when girls wore blue eye shadow and men played dodgeball--oh, wait a minute--Levert and his brother Sean teamed with Marc Gordon to form LeVert, the Casanovas of the New Jack sound. (Gerald lied when he sang the words "Me and Romeo ain't never been friends.") With hits like "Casanova" (see?), "Just Coolin'" (what up, Heavy D?) and "Baby I'm Ready," Gerald put his stamp on a generation of young men in skinny white leather ties who wooed women in one-piece jumpsuits. Trust me, it was hotter than it sounds. Gerald Levert teams up with Maze and other schmoove adult contemporary R&B studs at Smirnoff Music Centre. Tickets ain't cheap ($22.75 to $62.75), but that's a small price to pay for your fine, sexy lady to be put in the mood. As a bonus, no one onstage will yell "Holla!" Call Ticketmaster at 214-373-8000. --Eric Celeste
Cool Down in the Garden
Four days of unflattering fluorescent lighting and monotonous office-elevator music has your inner mojo in a headlock. By Thursday night your body's aching to let loose and get a breath of fresh air. Yeah, you have the big band itch, and the Dallas Arboretum has just the scratch you need. On July 1, the popular Cool Thursdays concert series offers up Think Big! and the Bulletproof Brass Band. The exclamation mark says it all: This eight-piece powerhouse of rhythm will get your soul rocking in no time to R&B and funk from the '60s to the '90s. Performances are on the new open-air Rutchik Concert Stage overlooking White Rock Lake amid colorful summer blooms. Reserve a picnic for two or come early and enjoy the special concert menu at the Terrace Café. So get out and smell the roses. Tickets are $12 for adults, $5 for children (3 to 12) and $3 for Arboretum members and family. Prices go up $2 on the Monday before the show. Call 214-515-6519 or visit www.dallasarboretum.org. --Danna Berger