On an overcast and at times rainy Sunday, Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) was home to more than a concert, but instead the day long Outlaw Music Festival, with Particle Kid, Brittney Spencer, Larkin Poe, Billy Strings, The Avett Brothers and the legendary Willie Nelson.
The Outlaw Village, located towards the back of SPAC’s renovated concession area, featured a variety of vendors like you’d see at a festival or your nearest Shakedown Street. A packed crowd was lively and excited to see the new (Particle Kid, Brittney Spencer), the rising star (Billy Strings), Americana (Larkin Poe, Avett Brothers) and the old (Willie Nelson, closing in on 9 decades).
Billy Strings simply stole the show, and it seemed that the crowd was mainly there for the rising Nashville star (via Michigan). In fact, it could easily be argued that Billy Strings should have played just prior to Willie Nelson, flipping slots with Avett Brothers. Granted, Avett Brothers have been around for over 20 years, but the energy and draw of Billy Strings far outweighs the Americana of the Avetts. Having Billy and his high power set precede Avetts left the latter’s set feeling like something was lacking, and the speed was lower tempo and inconsistent by comparison.
When you factor in that the gracious Billy Strings thanked Willie, not just from the microphone, but in the setlist as well – spelling out THANK YOU WILLIE over the course of 14 songs in a 75Minute set. Highlights from the set included covers of Pearl Jam’s “In Hiding” and Bill Monroe’s “Uncle Pen.”
Billy Strings Setlist: Turmoil and Tinfoil, Hollow Heart, Away From the Mire, Nothing’s Working, Know It All, Y’all Come, Old Mexico, Uncle Pen, West Dakota Rose, If Your Hair’s Too Long (There’s Sin in Your Heart), Love and Regret, Libby Phillips Rag, In Hiding, Everything’s the Same
The 89 year old Willie Nelson followed Avett Brothers with four band mates tore through a set that the audience waited patiently for, kicking things off with his classic “Whiskey River.” Bringing out grandson Micah Nelson (Particle Kid) for “Everything is Bullshit,” ” Halfway to Heaven” and “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” plus a few other tunes was an excellent touch; the set brought to mind Farm Aid in 2013 at SPAC, where Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real performed a short set and later joined his pater familias.
To close out Outlaw Music Festival at SPAC, Willie invited all the days performers to the stage for “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” and a finale of Mac Davis’ “It’s Hard to Be Humble.”