Willie Nelson and company are bringing the largest season of the Outlaw Music Festival to a close on Sunday night at the Hollywood Bowl in California. Sunday’s 2018 finale will mark the first time the touring festival has hit the West Coast.
With a revolving cast of stellar live performers, the Outlaw Music Festival presented by Blackbird Presents has grown year-over-year to 17 shows throughout the East Coast, Midwest and South. The 17-date season will conclude at the 17,500-capacity Hollywood Bowl with Willie Nelson and the Family Band, Phil Lesh and Friends, Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price, Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real and Particle Kid.
“We thought, let’s add one more special show to put an exclamation point on an incredible touring season for the festival this year,” CEO of Blackbird Presents Keith Wortman tells Billboard of the first West Coast show.
Wortman adds: “Our job was to make the show as special as we possibly could and the way we went about that was building a lineup that had this sort of beautiful common thread around Willie. Willie has a ton of old musical friends and a whole generation of new musical compadres.”
“I’m always down to share a bill with Willie and the family band! Especially when it includes Phil Lesh,” Margo Price tells Billboard. The country singer toured with the Outlaw Music Festival in the past and shares a duet on her triumphant sophomore album, All American Made, with Willie Nelson.
From former Grateful Dead member Phil Lesh to outspoken country artists such as Simpson and Price, the outlaw spirit is alive in the last lineup of the year.
Willie Nelson tells Billboard that outlaw music continues to mean the same thing it did 100 years ago, adding, “Hazel Smith from Nashville wrote in her book that the outlaw movement was because we went against traditional Nashville way of recording. Outlaw music is doing it your way. It’s a mixture of country, rock and roll, the blues, bluegrass, everything.”
The Outlaw Music Festival has seen a medley of artists including Brandi Carlile, Van Morrison, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, Tedeschi Trucks Band and Neil Young in 2018 alone.
“’Outlaw’ as a label has always been a hard-to-define phrase. It was actually a term invented by the press. … But to me, it is music that doesn’t fit into the mainstream bubble,” says Price, who has been outspoken on issues of gun control, the pay gap between men and women and cannabis legalization. Price is also expected to release a new marijuana strain through Nelson’s personal cannabis brand, Willie’s Reserve.
Price adds that it’s “music that’s not homogenized and over-produced by people in offices and considered safe to radio programmers. It’s most likely not played on the radio. It’s different and weird and probably thought-provoking.”
The broad outlaw term is fairly genre-less, which allows the festival the opportunity to welcome artists from across a musical spectrum to perform solo sets and collaborate and jam onstage together.
“These are not artists that play to tape or play to track or are manufactured in the studio. These are honest, genuine artists that do things their way on their terms, that let their music speak for itself,” says Wortman. “Our ability to do that is because it works with who Willie is and what his music has been through the years.”
The expansion to the West Coast comes as no surprise to all involved, including Nelson, who says the show’s success is “because it’s great music and there’s something for everyone.”
“There are only so many dates a year that we can do without diluting the brand and the quality,” says Wortman. “We’ve had so much demand and so much to do in just the East Coast, the South and the Midwest. We just hadn’t made our way over there yet.”
Wortman adds that the festival plans to return in 2019 for its fourth season with even more dates on the West Coast. They hope to bring the lineup to San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle and more in the coming seasons.
“When LA presented itself, we felt that if we could have a really special lineup, we should do it. We made the calls to the artists that we thought would mean the most and everybody signed on for it. We’re thrilled to do LA,” Wortman says.
“I think bringing the act to the West Coast makes perfect sense — what with the legal weed and all… the west is the best,” adds Price.
The season closer kicks off Sunday evening at the Hollywood Bowl with Particle Kid. Tickets can be found at HollywoodBowl.com.