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Outlaw Music Festival gives audience a near-flawless eight hours

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Outlaw Music Festival gives audience a near-flawless eight hours (AP file photo)

BANGOR – The inaugural concert for the 2019 Outlaw Music Festival drew thousands of fans to Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion in Bangor last Friday night to hear headliners Willie Nelson & Family, Phil Lesh & Friends, Alison Krauss, The Revivalists, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real and Particle Kid.

The show started on time at exactly 3:30 p.m. with Particle Kid (featuring J. Micah Nelson – son of Willie). Dubbed by Rolling Stone as “the trippy troubadour,” Particle Kid played a brief introductory set highlighted by J. Micah Nelson’s grunge-a-delic songs that struck a decidedly distorted introductory tone for what turned out to be a day and evening full of glorious music. The younger Nelson triggered a series of sound effects at key moments in some songs leading some in the crowd to wonder where those sounds were coming from.

At times a duo, at others a trio, Particle Kid saw the baritone Nelson respond to enthusiastic applause with a falsetto “thank you” after each song. Nelson’s guitar style and tone appear to have been greatly influenced by Neil Young (circa “Rust Never Sleeps”) with whom Nelson and his brother Lukas sometimes perform in the band Promise of the Real. The younger Nelson also pulled a page from Young’s playbook by having an orange space helmet-wearing roadie onstage during the set – a flashback to Young’s “road-eyes” from the “Rust Never Sleeps” concert film.

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real opened their set at 4:09 p.m. with “Something Real” from their new album (released the same day) “Turn Off the News, Build a Garden.” Nelson and his five bandmates (including younger brother J. Micah) performed a commanding set of songs, including the well-received title track from the group’s new record. Most of the crowd was hearing it for the first time but responded and related to “Turn Off the News, Build a Garden” as if the song was already a big hit.

The band’s second song – “Four Letter Word” included a stunning guitar solo and even an extended quote of The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s so Heavy).”

With a commanding stage presence and a stunning mastery of his guitar, Lukas Nelson and band could easily have held the audience’s attention for another hour or two but they wrapped up their eight-song set with a faithful cover of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Carry On.” As Nelson cited the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Woodstock music festival, he mentioned that the bands under the Outlaw Music Festival umbrella would be playing at that hallowed location the following day (the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in upstate New York).

The eight-piece New Orleans rock band The Revivalists were next out at 5:22 p.m. with a high-energy, eight-song set highlighted by guitars and horns. The band had a number of very enthusiastic fans near the front of the stage cited by lead singer David Shaw as a group of people near and dear to his band.

“Wish I Knew You” closed the set under a completely blue sky at 6:00 p.m. with a quote of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” (Pt. 2).

After a break of more than 30 minutes, the stage had been reset by 6:40 for Alison Krauss and her eight-piece band to deliver a breathtaking set of 18 songs that included covers of John Hartford’s “Gentle on my Mind” (a huge hit for Glen Campbell), Willie Nelson’s “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground,” The Foundations’ “Baby, Now That I Found You” and Little Milton’s “Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson.”

Even a number of backstage crew crowded around the sides of the stage to see and hear Krauss and her band, including Jeff White on mandolin, Sidney Cox on dobro and lead guitarist James Mitchell.

As Krauss’s voice - as pure as a mountain stream – rang out over downtown Bangor, her band gathered around her for an a cappella version of the traditional “Down to the River to Pray.” Dark clouds began to move overhead by 7:30 but Krauss was prepared. She came dressed for chilly Maine weather, donning a warm down jacket over her dress for the duration of her avidly received set.

Friday night’s concert drew a large contingent of Grateful Dead fans to the venue to see legendary bassist Phil Lesh and his band of friends perform a nine-song set heavy on Dead standards, including “Box of Rain,” “Ramble on Rose,” “The Music Never Stopped” and “Jack Straw.”

Light rain started to fall as Lesh and his band began their tightly-performed set with “New Minglewood Blues,” cueing the crowd that they were in for some elaborate new arrangements of the classic songs they were about to hear. Jam band fans in the crowd responded happily to a guitar duel in “The Music Never Stopped” and the gorgeous pedal steel guitar that adorned the closing number, “Brokedown Palace.”

Although Lesh’s bass appeared to be a little too quiet in the mix for the first three songs, that problem seemed to be resolved by the fourth song, “Ramble on Rose.” As a bassist, Lesh was as impressive as ever, although he struggled with the vocals on “Box of Rain.” When he was accompanied vocally by his bandmates, his voice blended beautifully with theirs.

As the light rain continued to fall, the audience was treated to a new Willie Nelson video on the screens adorning each side of the stage at about 10:15 p.m. The video for the title track of Nelson’s upcoming 69th studio album, “Ride Me Back Home,” is about Nelson’s advocacy for the rescue and rehabilitation of wild horses. The album is scheduled to be released on June 21.

Following a brief delay, Willie Nelson and Family, including sons Lukas and J. Micah and little sister Bobbie, appeared onstage to rapturous applause. The 86-year old Nelson was in strong form vocally and musically, from his standard opening song “Whisky River,” to singalong classics like “On The Road Again,” “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” and Waylon Jennings’ “Good Hearted Woman.”

One of the evening’s highlights was the treatment given to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s blues classic “Texas Flood.” Willie and son Lukas traded guitar solos during one of the best-received songs of the night.

Holding his iconic, battered classical acoustic guitar Trigger, Nelson thanked the crowd, explained how happy he was to see everyone and appeared joyous and grateful to be fronting his family band throughout their set, which wrapped up shortly before 11:30 p.m., giving the audience a near flawless eight hours of music during the first 2019 stop for the Outlaw Music Festival.

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