TVD Live Shots: Outlaw Music Festival at the XFINITY Center, 9/21

MANSFIELD, MA | Outlaw Music Festival returned to the XFINITY Center on September 21, warmly welcoming a talented lineup of legends and legends in the making. The Festival featured Willie Nelson & Family, Sturgill Simpson, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, Margo Price, Lukas Nelson + Promise of the Real, and Particle Kid.

“We had so much fun on the Outlaw Music Festival Tour last year that we decided to do it again! See y’all out on the road this summer,” Willie Nelson shared in a statement with BlackBird Presents. “Family. That’s what this touring group of artists, fans, and friends are when we come together for our annual Outlaw Music Festival Tour. I am thrilled to continue this journey with Willie, this extraordinary group of performers, and Live Nation,” says Keith Wortman, CEO of Blackbird Presents.”

On stage last Friday night, frontman Nathaniel Rateliff’s talent radiated as he shared recently released material and then took a moment to honor his friend Richard Swift’s posthumous release, The Hex, and then played emotional version of “Tearing at the Seams.”

Night Sweats keyboardist Mark Shusterman notably brought joy and energy to Mansfield. His enthusiasm was so contagious that the organ fell over during the show, bringing surprised smiles to band members faces. Rateliff took the time to share his heartfelt gratitude to fans for their love and support. “Thank you for listening to us these past few years and for having us be a part of your lives,” he said.

The next set brought Sturgill Simpson to the stage in a simple, non-flashy setup that proved that less is more. Simpson continues to evolve from his country rock beginnings. It is showcased through performances with full string and brass ensemble (following the release of A Sailor’s Guide to Earth) to stripped down, raw extended versions of his songs today. Drummer Miles Miller, who has toured and recorded with Sturgill since 2012, was locked in with the lead guitarist and vocalist, often taking improvisational cues on the spot.

Simpson seamlessly blended songs from the span of his career together without transitions, and extending and amplified songs with passionate solos. A set list filled with old and new seemed to reinvent his tracks through a raw roadhouse lens. Covers of William Bell’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water” and the Alabama State Troupers “Going Down” filled out this powerful set which concluded with T. Rex’s “The Motivator.”

When Willie Nelson took the stage, with his smiling sons and band members in tow, the crowd cheered, many sporting bandanas and long pigtail braids. They greeted him like a beloved relative. The atmosphere proved that he meant something to each and everyone in attendance.

An enormous Texas state flag unfurled as he played “Whiskey River” from his 1973 album Shotgun Willie. His iconic voice was warming to hear, singing favorite tracks “On the Road Again,” and “Always on My Mind,” but particularly as he paid tribute to his old friends, “This one’s for Merle,” “This one’s for Waylon.”

The saying “it runs in the family,” is not a stretch for the talent of Willie’s son’s, Lukas Nelson on guitar and vocals, and Jacob Micah Nelson on drums. Their performance is a reminder that when Willie goes, his fans will be in good hands with the rest of the Nelson family. Willie’s old age (85) and outrunning death were prominent in the show—joking and smiling as he played his songs “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” and “Still Not Dead Again Today.”

The inaugural Outlaw Music Festival made its debut in 2016 in Scranton, PA featuring Willie Nelson & Family, Neil Young + Promise of the Real, Sheryl Crow, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Lee Ann Womack, and Cabinet. The sold-out show was so well received that Blackbird and Willie decided to take their band of outlaws on the road as a touring festival in 2017.

Last year, the Outlaw Music Festival Tour hosted more than 100,000 fans in amphitheaters and arenas all over the country. From Willie to Bob Dylan to Eric Church to The Avett Brothers, fans shared unforgettable music memories and enjoyed unique vendor villages with local food, drinks, and shopping.

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