As a convoy of tour buses pulled in and parked along the water’s edge at the Lakeview Amphitheater for the fourth show in as many days, they prepared to unload and set up for the final performances of the weekend. A night of Country, Americana and Rock was on tap as the Outlaw Music Festival had arrived in Syracuse and was ready to rock the crowd. The top outlaw was the one and only, legendary Mr. Willie Nelson. Bringing a few of his closest outlaw friends along, the crowd met Nashville newcomer Margo Price as well as rock stars Sheryl Crow and My Morning Jacket. This balmy day was lining up to be one epic sunny Sunday that was soon would become a highlight of this gal’s summer. As the gates opened at 3 pm, the winding line that had extended clear out to the bus drop off area quickly moved this eclectic mix of concertgoers into the venue to find the perfect spot on the lawn or their seats under the pavilion area.
Beginning the evening was Margo Price. This Nashville newcomer was dressed like a true country legend herself in sequins and fringe. As she began to sing, her truly twangy, country voice dazzled the crowd with a classic country style. A bit of a cross between Dolly Parton and Carrie Underwood, it took no time at all to win over the audience and set the stage for those to follow.
Next up was Sheryl Crow. A petite firecracker of a woman, this larger than life musician owned the stage and the audience from the get go. Singing and playing both new music and crowd favorites, she amazed with her unbound energy and talent. Sharing stories about her children, it was obvious that motherhood suits her and completes her life as they ride around this summer on tour with her.
As the sun began to set on Onondaga Lake, My Morning Jacket took the stage. A new band to some and an old favorite to others, I have to admit I was categorized into the first of the two groups and was curious. From the moment Jim James began to sing and the band began to play, I was hooked. Was it the mysterious look he conveyed with his Johnny Cash suit and Ray-Bans, or was it the sultry tonality of his voice that hooked me? A mix of the two, I do believe. Their style and sound is not anything I’m accustomed to, as it doesn’t fit neatly into one genre. This rainbow of tunes melded together to create truly unique music that pulls you in like a Pied Piper. Shooting the first three songs of a set, a photographer generally goes to town to get as many photos during that time frame in order to optimize the chances of capturing a new and unique photo. For me, something different occurred. I found myself lowering my camera throughout the allotted time and capturing the sounds of the moment versus the sights of the moment. Perhaps MMJ was considered a new band to me originally, but I definitely left considering them an old favorite.
Finally, the main outlaw that everyone was there to see was taking the stage. Arriving to a standing ovation, it was beautiful to see how Willie is so loved by young and old. This man’s music spans generations and represents special moments in so many lives over the decades, including mine. Living in the moment must be a way of life for Willie; he just celebrated his 84th birthday this year. Taking the stage is a family affair as he was joined by his son, little sister and friends and band mates for years. He did not skip a beat and his playing skills were beyond impressive. As he strummed tune after tune on the beat up autographed guitar he’s had forever, you could only wish this well worn and loved instrument could tell us the stories it’s witnessed over the years!
Throughout the night, Willie played hit song after song. Whether it was hits of his own or covers from others, the crowd could not get enough. Included in this set was Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia On My Mind,” Willie’s tunes “Whiskey River,” “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground” and, of course, the crowd’s favorite tune that he wrote together with Merle Haggard,”It’s All Going to Pot.” It was easy to sing along with Willie to songs such as Toby Keith’s “Beer For My Horses” or Hank Williams’ “Hey Good Looking,” “Jambalaya” and “Move It On Over.” Patiently awaiting and hoping to hear my favorite, Willie didn’t disappoint as he played Brenda Lee’s “Always On My Mind.” Speaking for most, I can remember times associated with these songs and I took this trip back together with Willie as he performed them all.
Closing out the weekend of events at the Lakeview Amphitheater, it was a definitely a treat to check off a bucket list item in seeing Willie Nelson in person. Add the opportunity to see all three opening acts along side Willie and, yes, I definitely felt like I won a musical lottery.
Setlist My Morning Jacket: Circuital, A New Life, I’m Amazed, The Way That He Sings, Wonderful (The Way I Feel), Golden, Steam Engine, State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.), Compound Fracture, Off the Record, and Mahgeetah