Live Review: Outlaw Music Festival in Charlotte

The Outlaw Music Festival stop in Charlotte included some surprising changes both prior and during the event…

Initially advertised as a Willie Nelson headlining festival featuring star power from top to bottom, the Outlaw Music Festival in Charlotte underwent quite a transformation prior to kickoff. Two artists, Brandi Carlile and Elvis Costello withdrew their names from the bill before the scheduled date leaving Blackbird Presents, the production company responsible for the event, with a few absent time slots to fill.

Just a few days prior to the show it was announced that start times had been delayed, presumably due to the shuffling of artists and bands which were scheduled to perform. Finally, it was announced that Mitchell Lee would get things started at 4:10pm, almost an hour and a half later than the originally published time to begin.

While the top of the bill changed, any event anchored by Old Crow Medicine Show, Sturgill Simpson and Willie Nelson wasn’t going to disappoint. After Lee, a band on the rise, The Wild Feathers, took to the stage and made the most of their opportunity – being a late addition to the ticket.

Old Crow Medicine Show

As 6:30pm rolled around, OCMS took over with an impressive and energetic set which raised the bar and took the event to an entirely different level. Their shear range of musical talent was spectacular as members switched from guitar, to drums, keys, fiddle, bass, and even an accordion – self described by Ketch Secor as a “squeeze box”.

The band was joined on stage by world renowned musician Mickey Raphael, best known for his harmonica playing alongside Willie Nelson, for a Nelson cover and then their own hit song, Wagon Wheel.

Sturgill Simpson

Next up was Sturgill Simpson and his commitment to letting the music speak for itself continues. There were no bright flashing lights, smoke machines or anything else on stage to distract from the musical experience about to take place.

Just Simpson, who stood side stage as opposed to front and center, and his band composed of drummer Miles Miller, bassist Chuck Bartels and Bobby Emmett on the keys.

A highlight of the evening was when Simpson addressed the audience with 20-plus minutes remaining in his set. He said it was enough time for three to four more songs or two really good ones. Immediately, it was decided on two really good ones and Simpson proceeded to play essentially non-stop to complete the set with a small break between songs and bits and pieces of a few others. His guitar skill on full display, it was a memorable moment that would soon be unfortunately overshadowed by what was about to happen.

Willie Nelson

Scheduled to take the stage at 9:40pm, Nelson entered just a few minutes late with his band. He walked toward Trigger (his famous guitar) and immediately picked up and put down his signature red, white and blue guitar strap. Following, he circled the stage and exited.

Initial thoughts were that something had not been set up properly or he had forgotten something backstage. However, as time passed the eery feeling something was wrong crept over the crowd. Eventually, Nelson would return to a huge ovation.

This time, he managed to pick up Trigger but replaced it on the stand before angrily removing his hat, tossing it to the crowd and exiting again. Time passed and as the 11:00pm curfew drew close, it was finally announced that the show had been cancelled with an official announcement of Nelson being “under the weather”.

The reactions of those both in attendance and on social media varied considerably. People demanded refunds (patrons were told to keep their tickets) and resorted to name-calling while others defended the legend.

Willie Nelson is 85 years old and we should be appreciative that he remains committed to touring and allowing new generations to experience his expertise. It was disappointing to not hear the first notes of Whiskey River or any other hits but his health is the ultimate concern and there is no shame in Nelson electing to not put himself into a dangerous situation.

Nelson performed his scheduled show on Sunday night in Washington D.C. at an indoor venue as the Charlotte weather could have definitely played a factor in the cancellation. Reports were Nelson was having a hard time catching his breath at the Raleigh show on Friday night and it was extremely humid on Saturday (Simpson commented on the humidity playing a factor in tuning his guitar all set).

While there will likely never be an exact reason given for the abrupt departure – speculation has ranged from being disappointed with the crowd, lineup and other factors – the good news is that Nelson was able to put on a show the following night and may return to make amends in Charlotte at some point in the future.

Red Dirt NC: Weekend Watch, May 25-27

Two different festivals highlight Memorial Day weekend across North Carolina…

The Outlaw Music Festival makes its way across North Carolina this weekend along with Gears and Guitars (May 25-28) in Winston-Salem. Both are jam packed with solid lineups and should provide plenty of entertainment for everyone who attends.

If your preference this Memorial Day weekend is for a more intimate setting, there’s opportunity for that as well. A variety of other shows are taking place as the unofficial start to summer begins!

Get out and enjoy a show!

FRIDAY – MAY 25, 2018

Outlaw Music Festival – Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek, Raleigh

4:00pm – Gates Open
5:45pm – Delta Rae
6:35pm – Alison Krauss
8:05pm – Sturgill Simpson
9:45pm – Willie Nelson

Shane Smith and the Saints – Motorco Music Hall, Durham

From their home base in Austin through performances across the country (17 states) and abroad (Ireland), these five gentlemen have not just stuck stubbornly to their musical and lyrical convictions. They’ve defied audience expectations by delivering incendiary shows, each one ignited by the band’s ability to unleash, feed from and feed back the energy of the crowd — in spite of the fact that they don’t fit easily into any musical category.

Corey Hunt Band – Motorco Music Hall, Durham

“Hunt’s songwriting ranges from sincere romanticism to outlaw rebellion, and their do-it-yourself approach to booking, recording, and gigging has given them the freedom to explore and expand their music as they grow.  With room to grow and momentum on their side, their crowd-pleasing and relatable take on modern roots music is poised for bigger and better things every time they hit the stage or the studio.”

Jamie McLean Band – The Blue Note Grill, Durham

Jamie McLean is a triple threat. His blue eyed southern soul vocals ooze raw emotion and his top line songwriting chops tie everything together.  With hundreds of original compositions to his name McLean creates a musical gumbo that incorporates New Orleans soul, Delta blues, middle America roots and New York City swagger.

SATURDAY – MAY 26, 2018

Outlaw Music Festival – PNC Music Pavilion, Charlotte

3:30pm – Gates Open
4:10pm – Mitchell Lee
5:00pm – Wild Feathers
6:30pm – Old Crow Medicine Show
8:00pm – Sturgill Simpson
9:40pm – Willie Nelson

Chris Stalcup – 185 King St., Brevard

In a just world, Stalcup’s name should be included amongst the new breed of artists including Isbell, Simpson and Stapleton who are marrying tradition and truth. ~ Eric Risch / Pop Matters

SUNDAY – MAY 27, 2018

Gears and Guitars – Bailey Park, Winston-Salem

5:00pm – Gates Open
Charley Crockett
Amanda Shires
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

See the full four-day festival lineup here.


Look for us out on the road this weekend and enjoy the shows! Don’t forget, keep spreading the love, one song at a time…