The 2023 Outlaw Music Festival, headlined by the legendary Willie Nelson & Family, marked a momentous occasion in Bethel, NY. Graced with picturesque late July weather, it was an experience to be etched in the memories of music enthusiasts.
The festival, touring throughout the US with a shifting ensemble of top-tier talents, set the stage for an unforgettable evening. Kicking off precisely at 4:15 pm with an opening solo set by The Particle Kid, Micah Nelson, it was delightful to witness Willie Nelson's progeny filling the festival's opening slot. Entertaining and lively, his performance set the tone for what lay ahead.
The behind-the-scenes action was equally impressive, with the stage being broken down and set up for the next act in the most clockwork fashion. The synchronization and efficiency of the Outlaw Festival's sound, lighting, and stage crew was a spectacle in itself, akin to a finely choreographed dance recital.
The line-up that followed included Kathleen Edwards, Gov't Mule, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, culminating with the festival's headliner, Willie Nelson and Family. Each artist brought something unique to the stage:
Kathleen Edwards: The multi-instrumentalist wowed the crowd with her phenomenal vocals and a passionate band, exceeding expectations from her previous appearance at the Last Waltz 2022. Her witty comment about the lush growth in her garden, owing to the incessant rain, seemed to provoke the weather gods, transforming the sunny day into sheets of wind-driven rain, reminiscent of the iconic Woodstock 1969 festival.
Gov't Mule: This rock powerhouse was in top form. The surprise appearance of Jackie Greene and a wonderful rendition of the Allman Brothers Band's "Melissa" made the night special. The hour-plus set concluded with an electrifying extended jam, leaving the audience hungry for more.
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats: The surprise package of the night, this band's performance was a revelation. The energy, the solos, the improvisation, and an amazing light show amalgamated into an unforgettable performance.
Willie Nelson and Family: Willie Nelson's performance was the crowning glory of the evening. With a backdrop featuring the American flag, his set encapsulated the essence of Americana. Playing his beloved guitar, Trigger, and narrating stories between songs, Willie connected with the audience in a way only he can.
The Bethel Woods staff deserves recognition for their excellence in handling the unexpected rainstorm. From the ushers to the security, everyone was on their toes, with one staff even thoughtfully offering a rain poncho to protect my camera gear.
The 2023 Outlaw Music Festival is not just a concert; it's a celebration of music, with alternating bands and featured artists like John Fogerty, Marcus King, and Bobby Weir & The Wolf Bros. Scheduled to continue through mid-October, the festival promises a memorable experience across the Midwest, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast regions, ending on October 15th in Pelham, AL.
Do yourself a favor and witness this festival – it’s a testament to the power of live music. And if you get the chance, go see Willie Nelson. He's more than just a musician; he's an American treasure.