Brad Patton

CONCERT REVIEW: Willie Nelson ‘Still Moving,’ Neil Young steals show at Outlaw Music Fest in Scranton

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Willie Nelson may have been the headliner for the inaugural Outlaw Music Festival held on Sunday, Sept. 18 at The Pavilion at Montage Mountain in Scranton, but Neil Young stole the show.

The day-long festival, a late addition to the local venue’s calendar, had a little something for everybody as Lee Ann Womack, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Sheryl Crow, and Scranton’s own Cabinet filled the bill. Performances on the second stage included an acoustic set by Lukas Nelson and local artists, including members of Cabinet playing the music of John Prine, Lefty Frizzell, Merle Haggard, and Hank Williams.

Cabinet, which was added to the bill when Brothers Osborne backed out due to scheduling conflicts, kicked off the main stage music with hard-charging tunes such as “Mysterio” and “Hit It on the Head.”

The practitioners of Pennsylvania bluegrass also scored with “Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow” and set-closer “Diamond Joe,” making a new fan out of actor W. Earl Brown (“Deadwood,” “True Detective,” “Preacher”), who served as the festival’s on-stage host.

“Take a bow!” Brown shouted at the end of Cabinet’s set.

“My favorite thing about going to music festivals is discovering new bands,” he said. “You got to share them with the world [because] they are good!”

Womack, a six-time Country Music Association award winner, followed with her hits like “Never Again, Again,” “A Little Past Little Rock,” and “Ashes by Now.”

Her voice sounded particularly pleasing on Buddy and Julie Miller’s “Does My Ring Burn Your Finger,” a cover of George Jones’ “You’re Still on My Mind,” and her mega-hit “I Hope You Dance.”

Robinson, the former lead singer of the Black Crowes, opened his set with Hank Ballard and the Midnighters’ classic “Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go” and continued with his mixture of psychedelic rock, blues, and Southern rock with five songs from his band’s latest album, “Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel.”

Unlike his brother Rich’s appearance on the mountain at August’s Peach Music Festival, Robinson’s set did not include anything from his previous band. Instead, he focused on the music he has been creating with his Brotherhood, including guitarist Neal Casal (Ryan Adams, Hard Working Americans), drummer Tony Leone (Phil & Friends, Levon Helm), and fellow Crowe Adam MacDougall on keyboards.

Highlights included “Leave My Guitar Alone” and “Narcissus Soaking Wet” from the new album, a cover of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” and the set-closer “Rosalee” from CRB’s first album, “Big Moon Ritual.”

Crow then took the festival in a more mainstream direction with a hit-filled, 65-minute set, starting with “Everyday Is a Winding Road” and “A Change Would Do You Good,” both from her 1996 self-titled second album.

Talking about how great it is to be a rocker in her 50s (she’s 54), she then said, “We’re gonna play this old song for y’all just because we have to,” launching into her first hit, 1994’s “All I Wanna Do.”

The hit parade continued with “My Favorite Mistake,” “Can’t Cry Anymore,” and “Strong Enough” as Crow alternated on acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, and keyboards.

After digging a bit deeper for “The Difficult Kind” (from 1998’s “The Globe Sessions), “Hard to Make a Stand” (from the 1996 album), and “Best of Times” (from her 2013 country album “Feels Like Home”), Crow finished up strongly with hits “If It Makes You Happy” and the summer anthem “Soak Up the Sun.”

Young, the now 70-year-old rocker, took the stage just before 7 p.m. for a lovely solo rendition of “Heart of Gold,” accompanying himself on acoustic guitar and harmonica.

He then brought out his latest collaborators, Promise of the Real featuring Willie’s sons Lukas and Micah Nelson, for acoustic favorites “Out on the Weekend,” “Unknown Legend,” “Human Highway” with gorgeous four-part harmonies, “Harvest Moon,” and “Hold Back the Tears.”

Young then picked up his electric guitar and a multi-page setlist, tossed the papers to the floor, and started into “Powderfinger” from 1979’s “Rust Never Sleeps.”

Following that same album’s “Welfare Mothers,” Young and his cohorts then played a stunning, 11-minute “Cowgirl in the Sand.” The harmonies were back for 1969’s “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” the title track of the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s second album.

Several minutes of instrumental buildup turned into a nearly-20-minute version of “Cortez the Killer,” followed by an equally outstanding take of “Fuckin’ Up” from the 1990 album “Ragged Glory,” his sixth LP with Crazy Horse.

Young and POTR then tore the roof off with a combustible “Rockin’ in the Free World,” complete with two false endings and some standout guitar work by Lukas Nelson.

Willie Nelson, listed as curator of the Outlaw gathering, closed out the festival just one day after his closing set at the 31st Farm Aid in Bristow, Virginia.

Taking the stage with his Family and his ever-faithful guitar Trigger, the elder Nelson, now 83 and still showing no signs of slowing down, somehow managed to fit 19 songs into his hour-long set.

The early going was familiar to everyone who has seen Willie over the past few years, as he began with “Whiskey River,” “Still Is Still Moving to Me,” and “Beer for My Horses.”

Nelson then paid tribute to another musical outlaw, the late Waylon Jennings, with “Good Hearted Woman” and the chart-topping Waylon and Willie duet “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.”

Even though the selection was fully expected, Nelson’s version of “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” was especially good at the Outlaw, with his guitar playing nearly matching his heartfelt vocals.

After more of the usual suspects, such as “On the Road Again” and “Always on My Mind,” Nelson paid tribute to Hank Williams (on the day after what would have been his 83rd birthday) with spirited versions of “Jambalaya (On the Bayou),” “Hey Good Lookin’,” and “Move It on Over.”

Mickey Raphael, Willie’s longtime harmonica player and right-hand man, sparkled on “Georgia on My Mind,” while Willie dug just a little bit deeper for a nice version of “Bloody Mary Morning.”

He then honored the late Merle Haggard with the duo’s “It’s All Going to Pot” and the late Ray Price with “Heartaches by the Number” before treating the crowd to the “new gospel” number “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” which featured some great background vocals by sons Lukas and Micah.

Nelson then closed the show with a medley of actual gospel tunes “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “I’ll Fly Away.”

Nothing has been confirmed yet, but here’s hoping the Outlaw Music Festival becomes an annual event on Montage Mountain.

Photos by Jason Riedmiller Photography

  • tahoegeminii

    well they had it right with the guys-who booked the chicks?-Sheryl Crow is straight up poptard radio princess-her pop formula ditties are in complete opposition to the deep earthy vibe coming from Neil and Promise of the Real-I guess that was the plan to dilute the message and try to poptard the whole thing? She sucked-and Womack -was a big meh-Shakey Graves should have been there instead-and there are some great chick bands out there just not the ones that get booked obviously-dig a little deeper next time Outlaw Country and maybe you can find them and not cheese out -and that means no f-ing Dixie Chicks either