After a stop in Camden on Saturday night, the Outlaw Music Festival cut through New Jersey to play at Holmdel’s PNC Bank Arts Center. The outdoor venue hosted a full day of music in the September sun that began at 3 pm with Particle Kid, led by Willie Nelson’s son, J. Micah Nelson, who was dubbed by Rolling Stone as the “Trippy Troubadour.” As evident by his grainy music videos, Micah balances an old-school aesthetic with modern sounds and reverb equipment to capture a truly otherworldly, almost-dreamlike sound.
Particle Kid – “Music”
[Video: Micah Nelson]
Greensky Bluegrass played next starting around 4 pm. This late in the season, the grass on the lawn of the venue had clearly seen better days, especially following a week of rain and an Ozzy Osbourne concert a few days prior. Given the mud, the venue’s management distributed hay across the law, and that effort combined with a full day of direct sunlight dried the lawn enough to provide a stable ground to stomp on. Across their set, the band performed a number of fan-favorites including “Just To Lie”, “Past My Prime”, and a set-opening “A Letter To Seymour”, with the modern kings of bluegrass closing things out with a take on Bruce Springsteen‘s “Atlantic City” and their own “Run Or Die”.
Greensky Bluegrass – “Atlantic City”
[Video: Sean Roche]
Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real took over the stage next around 5 pm. Best known for being Neil Young’s backing band in recent years, the group rocked the venue. Willie’s other son, Lukas Nelson, electrified on lead guitar and vocals. Anthony LoGerfo provided backup vocals while drumming; Corey McCormick manipulated the bass guitar; multi-instrumentalist Logan Metz alternated between keyboard, lap steel, guitar, and harmonica; and Tato Melgar lent percussive support. All members of the band provided backup vocals, which provided a rich, and full sound.
Van Morrison left the tour after Camden’s show two nights ago, and Sturgill Simpson replaced him for last night’s show. Sturgill—whose most recent album, A Sailor’s Guide to the Earth, earned him a Grammy for Best Country Album—sounded like a young Waylon Jennings, personifying the Outlaw Country genre with his rugged voice and cowboy stories. His band included Chuck Bartels on bass guitar, Bobby Emmett on keyboards, and Miles Miller on drums, percussion, and backing vocals. Sturgill pulled songs from across his expansive repertoire, offering songs off his new album, such as “Brace for Impact (Live a Little)”, to tunes from his first album, like the band’s set-opening “Water in a Well”. Sturgill also covered Willie Nelson’s “I’d Have to be Crazy” and T. Rex’s “The Motivator”.
The unstoppable twelve-piece, Tedeschi Trucks Band, took to the stage next. Led by husband and wife, Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, the band continued to impress following several gigs on the Outlaw Festival tour as well as serving as one of the headliners of this year’s LOCKN’ Festival in August. Tedeschi Trucks Band opened with a stripped down cover of George Jones’ “Color of the Blues” with Mike Mattison, Alecia Chakour, and Susan Tedeschi singing. Susan Tedeschi was featured on John Prine’s album of duets For Better, or Worse covering this Jones tune. The band returned to their own music with two from their latest album Let Me Get By. “Anyhow” was followed with “I Want More”, in which Derek Trucks took his first solo and gave a taste of his limitless capabilities. Returning to their Allman Brothers Band roots, Trucks ripped through a sizzlin’ cover of Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues” which later became the notorious opener for an Allman Brothers show.
Slowing it down for a sweet introduction, the group performed “High and Mighty” led by a saucy Susan Tedeschi, a track that is sure to be listed on their next album. Appearing more frequently recently, TTB covered Bob Dylan’s “Lord Protect My Child” followed by a cover of Bobby Whitlock and Eric Clapton’s “Keep on Growing”, which is featured on their most recent live album, Live from the Fox Oakland. Susan said a prayer for the Carolinas in the wake of Hurricane Florence before returning to Bob Dylan’s repoitoire with “Down in the Flood”, opened and closed with wicked slide solos by Derek Trucks and featuring grisly vocals by Mike Mattison. TTB then dug up “A Part of Me” from Made Up Mind before ripping a cover of Bobby Bland’s “I Pity the Fool”, which featured an incredibly bluesy solo by Susan Tedeschi.
Mike Mattison and Mark Rivers came to the front of the stage to share lead vocals on “More and More” before Susan took over for a heart-wrenching version of newer tune “Shame”, which was highlighted by the emotionally distraught power of Susan’s vocals and Derek’s fiery guitar work. To close their set, Tedeschi Trucks Band played a piano ridden tribute to Leon Russell with “Space Captain.” The song was written by Matthew Moore and was popularized by a recording by Joe Cocker on Mad Dogs & the Englishmen, which featured Leon Russell.
Tedeschi Trucks Band – “More And More”
[Video: Sean Roche]
Willie Nelson closed the evening of music in his sincere style and trademark red bandana. Willie Nelson held center stage surrounded by his family including his sister, Bobbie Nelson, on piano and son, Lukas Nelson, on lead guitar. He bustled through his classics opening with “Whiskey River” following with “Still Is Moving to Me” and worked his way through “Good Hearted Woman”, which was co-written by Willie and Waylon Jennings. Lukas took lead vocals for an epic “Texas Flood”, which was written by Larry Davis and popularized by Stevie Ray Vaughn. Willie Nelson and his family covered another celebrated Waylon Jenning’s tune “Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys” in which the crowd joined in to sing along with Willie. Willie then sung a heartfelt rendition of his own “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” before playing an upbeat “On the Road Again”, which Willie co-wrote with Johnny Cash.
Willie Nelson & Lukas Nelson – “Texas Flood”
[Video: Sean Roche]
Tugging on heartstrings, Willie Nelson performed another original with the sentimental “Always On My Mind” before covering a bout of Hank William’s songs “Jambalaya”, “Hey Good Lookin’”, and “Move It On Over”. Willie being Willie, the band then rolled into his stoner classics with “It’s All Going to Pot”, which was co-written by Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson from the beloved album Django & Jimmie. Keeping it green, Nelson and the band played an exuberant “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.” Nelson offered a sardonic “Still Not Dead” before calling out members of Tedeschi Trucks Band and Greensky Bluegrass to end the night in exuberant celebration.
Greensky Bluegrass, who donned matching red bandanas, joined Susan, Derek, and the other Tedeschi Trucks Band vocalists to sing an appropriate “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” > “I’ll Fly Away” > “I Saw the Light”. It was extremely cool to see not only Derek and Susan sharing a stage with Willie Nelson but to witness Derek laying out a badass solo during Hank William’s “I Saw the Light”.
Willie Nelson, Tedeschi Trucks Band, & Greensky Bluegrass – “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” > “I’ll Fly Away” > “I Saw the Light”
[Video: Sean Roche]
The tour moves onward without the Tedeschi Trucks Band for three more shows before the traveling Outlaw Festival ends. Tedeschi Trucks Band has a few weeks off to prepare for the upcoming run at the legendary Beacon Theatre in New York City.