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Outlaw or not, Nelsons still got it

FivePoint Amphitheatre, Irvine, Cal., October 16, 2022

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

Whenever one attends a concert by the 89-year-old Willie Nelson, there's the thought in the back of one's mind that, well, that this could be a person's last Nelson concert experience. However, this is the same country icon that had a big hit where he sang, "I just wait to get on the road again." So, again, Nelson is on the road, this time with the Outlaw Festival. From the sound of it tonight, that road may be calling out Nelson's name just a little while longer. Nelson's still got it.

Flanked by his sons, Lukas and Micah Nelson (who goes by the name Particle Kid), Nelson's voice sounded a whole lot better than it did his last few times through SoCal. He sang, rather than sounding like he is merely talking his way through his songs, and he also had that familiar twinkle in his eye. His guitar playing was also sharp, as he picked out multiple solos on that old, beat-up acoustic guitar. He opened with "Whiskey River," as he always does, and sang many familiar solo hits, as well as a few nuggets from his collaborations with Waylon Jennings. He asked Lukas to sing his son's wonderful "Forget About Georgia," then – with more than a touch of irony – sang "Georgia On My Mind." Himself. If it was this writer's last Willie Nelson experience, it was a darn good one.

Nelson was preceded by The Avett Brothers that brought nearly as much energy as an Old Crow Medicine Show concert – and that's a lot of energy! In addition to the pair's fine originals, like the upbeat "Ain't No Man" and tender "No Hard Feelings," the group also covered Merle Haggard's "Ramblin' Fever" and even Jim Croce's "Operator." Its lineup included a fiddle and a standup bass and mixed in plenty of acoustic instrumentation. The band was in constant motion, yet none of this physical activity hampered the skillful playing and singing. It was simply a joy to behold, both aurally and visually, from start to finish.

Larkin Poe's set of blues and blues-inspired music was a true treat. These two sisters brought authentic amplified blues and mixed a Robert Johnson and Son House cover in with the pair's originals. Interestingly, the act did one called "Georgia Off My Mind." No, this wasn't a response song to the one Willie performed later, but it was about a move from Georgia to Tennessee.

Jamestown Revival, an act that was at another SoCal festival only weeks ago, proved once again how originals like "Revival" are always best served live. Tight harmonies and equally tight musicianship are always key ingredients to a fine live presentation.

Particle Kid opened the festival by sitting alone with just his guitar. He's too good to have to play while folks are still finding their seats. Then again, he got a chance to sing with his dad later to a full house.

Although Willie Nelson is an original country outlaw artist, you wouldn't call this date's performers latter day outlaws. You would have to say, though, they were all exceptionally good, and worth experiencing together under any festival banner.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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