Willie Nelson brings Outlaw Music Festival to Western NY

On July 30, Darien Lake Amphitheater played host to a festival of Americana, when Willie Nelson and Friends rolled into the venue as part of the Outlaw Music Festival. Joining him was his son, a.k.a. The Particle Kid, as well as Kathleen Edwards, Gov’t Mule, and Nathanial Rateliff & The Night Sweats.

A perfect summer afternoon for some rustic Americana music, fans were trickling into the concert venue, situated directly behind a Six Flags amusement park. The open spaces near the entrance were taken up today by various vendors for hemp products, tie dyed shirts, bucket hats, beer cozies shaped like boots, and vodka from Wheatley Vodka, a sponsor of the Music Festival. The smells of carnival type foods were permeating all around. Fried Oreos, fried dough, and hand cut fries were all available as soon as you entered the venue. Pretty smart marketing, if you know what I mean.

Concert goers continue to flow in as The Particle Kid, better known as Micah Nelson, hits the stage around 3:45 p.m. Yes, that is the son of the Nelson you’re thinking of. The younger Nelson played for roughly 30 minutes, comfortably seated in a chair in front of a microphone. With only a guitar to assist him, you couldn’t help but notice some nuances that really made you realize what blood line this kid comes from. The voice, simple and smooth, almost distinguished. The body language and handling the guitar made you think you were watching the elder Nelson, 60 years prior. Later on, playing alongside his father, Micah really belted out the lyrics and put rest any doubt of who his father is.

Following up The Particle Kid was Kathleen Edwards. Coming from Canada, she talks jokingly about how it took a team of lawyers and such to make it possible for her to be there on stage. Regardless of the size of the team or if it really happened that way, Edwards is elated to be on this tour, her second time around, with the everlasting Willie Nelson.

Musically, Edwards played for close to an hour belting out ten songs and telling some stories along the way. Releasing her first EP in 1999, she hit the Billboard top 200 albums with first three albums and her fourth album, Voyager, hit number 40 on the same charts. Although she hit the scene hard and impressed many prominent names in the business who called her a force to be reckoned with, Edwards eventually had to walk away from music for bit. Taking some time for mental health and revitalization, Edwards opened a little café with a former supervisor from a famous Seattle coffee icon. Known for puns and plays on words, the café was named Quitters, reminding her everyday about leaving the music business. Over time, Edwards began writing again, and subsequently got her passion for music back. The café has since been sold and music is now hers to enjoy all over again.

With vocals that carry hints of Suzanne Vega or k.d. Lang, Edwards can put together some pretty solid and thought-provoking lyrics. Who knows where she would be if the passion was never gone or if the café was never opened up. For now, though, let’s be grateful that we can experience this talented Canadian.

I’m a Ford Temple, you’re a Maserati
You’re The Great One, I’m Marty McSorley
You’re the Concord, I’m economy
I make the dough, but you get the glory

I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory

Following Edwards was the classic Americana/folk voices of Gov’t Mule. Mule, as fans call them, was formed in 1994 as side project of Allman Brothers members Warren Haynes and Allen Woody, which lends to the sounds that fans keep coming back for. With inspiration from early bands like Cream and Mountain, it’s obvious why these guys have developed quite the following. Such is the case for the guy I watched play the air drums damn near perfect in a few songs. Hit for hit, this fan was in tune with the band for a good portion of the set. Mule recently announced a visit to a nearby Rochester theatre, not far from Darien Lake, definitely worth a look.

These next musicians know how raise the roof, as they demonstrated for this crowd and many that before them. Nathaniel Rateliff and his R&B influenced back up band The Night Sweats, hit the stage and the fans were almost immediately energized. Playing a 20 set prior to a guy named Willie Nelson can be intimidating, but Rateliff and his Night Sweats were definitely up for the challenge and boy did they deliver. The songs became progressively heavier and louder through the set, and fans responded accordingly.

While the crowd was noticeably into the current music, when Rateliff played “S.O.B.” the fans under the tent went absolutely nuts, singing along (more like screaming) to every word like it was their song. At one point, Rateliff held his mic out for the crowd and they nailed the lyrics in style. One of their more popular tracks, “S.O.B.” was made as sort of a joke or satire. Listening to the song, you realize it is about addiction and the sobering process and temptations that come along with it. A subject that can be quite taboo to talk about, let alone sing about. However, the instant popularity led to a studio recording, and now it is one the biggest songs during their sets.

Next up was the iconic Willie Nelson. Touring for over 60 years, with song after song, album after album, accolades, awards, etc. It is 2023 now, and what can be said about this Outlaw musician that hasn’t been said already? I cannot think of anything. He was in a band called the Highwaymen, he played the Grand Ole Opry, and he organized Farm Aid in 1985.

What I can say is this. I have been going to concerts for about 30 years now. There was something different about this one, though. It had a feel to it that you don’t see at other shows. As Willie Nelson broke into song, the crowd went almost silent. There was no hootin’ and hollerin’, there was no cheering or obnoxious singing. There was silence in the crowd during every song. The fans let Willie Nelson perform as he has since 1960. Much respect is given to this outlaw that is now “On The Road Again” heading to his next stop on this journey.

For over 60 years, Willie Nelson has done his thing, he has done it his way for the most part, and he has lived a seemingly happy life. He moved from record label to record label to keep more control over what he does. He moved from Nashville back home to Texas to get away from the polarizing grip of record companies. Nelson is now 90 and seems to have little to no regret about life choices, including anything marijuana related.

Sitting on stage for a set of 20+ songs, Nelson sat within arm’s reach of his son Micah, aka The Particle Kid, and surrounded by a few bandmates. The two played every song together and told a few stories that acted as segways to next song, or maybe tidbit for the previous song. A story from Micha becomes the segway for a song he wrote, at the urging of dad. He talks about dying while high, and if he does, he is either half way to heaven or looking at a long fall down. Originally just a thought of Micah’s but soon realized it would be an awesome song and needed someone to record it with him. The younger Nelson sings the song through the eyes of his legendary father, and you could almost hear a pin drop.

While PR team did not allow photos of Willie Nelson, I assure you he looks the same as has for the past 30 years. If you have seen any photos of him, that is the same person that was on stage at Darien Lake. I assure you, he sounds the same, he still smokes the good stuff, and he loves to be stage. I was bummed about not getting photos, however, looking back, being able to sit there and listen a living legend is good enough for me. Seeing the respect that fans gave him for nearly 90 minutes of stage time, was unreal and well deserved. If you ever have a chance to see someone like this, even if you aren’t a superfan, I strongly urge you to make it happen. It will take your appreciation of music to new heights.

The Outlaw Music Festival continues through October 15, finishing in Pelham, Alabama.

Setlist: Whiskey River / Stay a Little Longer, Still Is Still Moving to Me, I Never Cared for You, Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys, Die When I’m High (Halfway to Heaven), Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground, On the Road Again,You Were Always on My Mind, Georgia (On My Mind), I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train, Everything Is Bullshit, Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die, Still Not Dead, Write Your Own Songs, Move it On Over, I Thought About You Lord, I’ll Fly Away, Will The Circle Be Unbroken, It’s Hard to Be Humble

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