Outlaw Music Festival 2017
When you get the chance to see a living legend, take it. When that legend is accompanied by some of the most prolific songwriters of our generation, you go. When it’s a holiday weekend and you have the next day off work, you make the most of it.
This triple-threat played out on July 2ndas Willie Nelson brought his Outlaw Music Festival to the newly renamed Starplex Pavilion. Over 70 songs spread over eight hours made this a day to remember for the 16,000 fans who made the most of the pre-Independence Day concert.
The typical Dallas fans who “don’t do” opening acts missed a tremendous performance by the talented Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real led off with a seven-song set that showed the father-son bloodlines were real. Sounding much like his legendary father, but with a youthful exuberance of someone who wants to make it on his own merits, the younger Nelson created a buzz throughout the arena. Lukas created new fans and enhanced his reputation among existing fans.
Nelson’s easy finger-picking style made his guitar solos range from twangy on “Ain’t Gonna Die Alone” to scintillating on “Four Letter Word.” His musical range switched from a protest-like anthem on “High Times” to the voice driven lyrics of “Running Shine.”
“(Forget About) Georgia” was naturally about a girl named Georgia and contained many expressions of emotion in his guitar solo. Nelson also played the R&B-influenced “Find Yourself” that showcased his powerful voice, as did “Set Me Down On A Cloud,” both on his new album, Something Real, due out August 24th.
Margo Price then took the stage and channeled her inner Tammy Wynette in “About To Find Out,” with its old-country style, but with a rocking beat. The dark and foreboding “4 Years Of Chances” displayed her writing skills as did “The Weekender.” Both songs told stories that teased the audience and made them instant fans.
Price looked at ease on the stage and her retro-country beautiful voice matched the 34-year-old in looks and passion on “Don’t Say It” and “Weakness.” She then showed the power of her voice for “Tennessee Song” and “Paper Cowboy.”
Ms. Price has an old-country style reminiscent of Loretta Lynn, but has added a modern twist. Her storytelling skills are already way above most young writers as her songs help build a bond with her fans. She has a bright future and it will be fun to watch as her career builds.
Known as a master lyricist in the mold of Townes Van Zant, the highly-regarded Hayes Carll then took the stage in the midst of the heat of the day for a superb set. His nine songs began with Americana tune “Chickens” and the personal “Love Don’t Let Me Down,” with it’s extraordinary guitar solo.
The seminal Texas song, “Drunken Poet’s Dream,” put the heavily-biased crowd over the edge. “Sake Of The Song” was again poetry with a melody as he enthralled the audience with his talents as a wordsmith. It continued with “Bible On The Dash,” a satirical song penned for people who have a propensity to get pulled over while driving.
Carll continued with the lyric-driven “Beaumont” before the Texas Rock/Blues “I Got A Gig.” It featured his tight-knit band as well as showcasing his own instrumental skills. Speaking to the great political divide in our country, Hayes sang “Another Like You” after uttering the line of the day – “There’s no divide we can’t overcome with physical attraction and massive amounts of alcohol!”
The uptempo “KMAG YOYO” was one of the all-time set-closing songs. It earned the musical poet a well-deserved standing ovation as he left the stage.
Second half of the eight-hour Festival
The second half of the eight-hour festival saw The Avett Brothers turn on the energy. Combining every genre of music into their songs, they opened with a kazoo jam before the rollicking “D Bag Rag.” Joe Kwon on hyperactive cello and Tania Elizabeth on the lively violin faced off on “Head Full Of Doubt” before jamming with the entire band on “Vanity.” Scott Avett sang the deeply personal “Murder In The City” before turning the music a complete 180 degrees for the crowd-dancing “Laundry Room.”
The audience went ballistic with a tribute to the great Merle Haggard with “Mama Tried.” The crowd kept the response going for “True Sadness,” the title track to their new record. Ms. Elizabeth then wowed the listeners with a roaring version of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.”
Knowing how to put together a set, the brother-led band followed that with with the uptempo “Ain’t No Man.” The North Carolina-based band then finished their set with the jamming “Slight Figure Of Speech” and soaked in the standing ovation. Scott and Seth Avett have put together a tremendous live show and have a legion of loyal fans. The brothers continue to put out new music while captivating audiences in concert.
The sun was shining directly on Sheryl Crow as she came out to the bongo beat of “Everyday Is A Winding Road.” She moved and grooved as guitarists Peter Stroud and Audley Freed started a jam session that raised the energy level of the crowd. A singalong came from “All I Wanna Do,” with the requisite swaying from the female members of the audience.
The multi-talented former music teacher played keys on “My Favorite Mistake” before coming out front to interact well with the crowd. The title track from her new album, Be Myself, began a few laid back mood songs as her band members shined. Ms. Crow obviously enjoyed the music as she backed away from the spotlight and danced to the music as the talented band members showcased their talents.
Another new song, “Halfway There,” was about meeting in the middle after the recent elections. A self-described sassy song, “Best Of Times,” was about having two small children at home. The band gathered in a semi-circle facing the drummer to play a pulsating jam, which earned their first standing ovation of the night.
The crowd roared at the distinctive first notes of “If It Makes You Happy,” one of the early hits that made her a household name. Still looking beautiful in the draining Texas heat, Crow brought out Lukas Nelson for a tribute to the late, great Gregg Allman. Their cohesive duet on “Midnight Rider” featured a long jam punctuated by a throbbing drum beat before another standing ovation to finish the set.
After almost seven hours and 50 songs, it was time for the legendary Willie Nelson. I had seen him in concert 12 times before, so I knew what to expect from the octogenarian icon and he didn’t disappoint. With his traditional braids down to his belt, he picked individual notes on “Trigger,” his famous guitar, on “Whiskey River.” Nelson kept at his behind-the-beat singing style on the satirical “Still Is Still Moving To Me” and “Beer For My Horses.” Harmonica guru Mickey Raphael kept the crowd pumped with his prowess, as he did all night.
Willie dedicated “Good Hearted Woman” to his fellow outlaw, the Waylon Jennings. The Country Music Hall of Famer sand a medley of his many hits, including “Crazy” and “Night Life” before little sister Bobbie Nelson soloed on “Down Yonder.” Everyone sang “Mamas Don’t Let Your babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” and couples danced to “Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground.”
The crowd singing continued with “On The Road Again” and “Always On My Mind.” Several covers paid tribute to old friends Hank Williams, Tom T. Hall, Merle Haggard and Billy Joe Shaver. Willie finished with his new song “Still Not Dead” and then made the crowd laugh with “Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die.” Nelson ended his wonderful night with the traditional medley of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken/ I’ll Fly Away/ I Saw The Light.”
The crowd stood most of the night and cheered wildly for the living legend. Willie is older than my parents, but still tours incessantly as it’s the life he loves. He’s getting older and has had some health issues, but continues to write and record.
I thought it was poignant that Lukas kept watch on his father and moved to the microphone to help on harmony more than in the past. He kept up his off-center phrasing and spoke lines as he has his entire career. Be sure to see this national treasure if he brings his tour near you.
Story by David Simers
Photos by Joe Guzman of Guzpics