Live Review: Outlaw Music Festival in Charlotte 2.0

The Outlaw Music Festival returned to Charlotte with a revamped lineup for a midweek show…

When Willie Nelson walked off the stage in Charlotte just a few weeks ago it left fans feeling a variety of mixed emotions. Some were angry, others disappointed and everyone confused about what exactly was taking place behind the scenes. Nelson had sauntered into view not once, but twice, picking up his guitar and then lowering it again without playing a single note. After a second departure, the show was officially cancelled.

Days later he announced a future return and about a week following the June 20 date became official. Initially it appeared Nelson would again be joined by Sturgill Simpson, who performed originally, but the concert was removed from his tour website just days after being published.

It was obvious Nelson would bring back one or two acts and eventually the pieces fell into place for what transpired to be an amazing lineup. Essentially, those with an original ticket got to see Mitchell Lee, The Wild Feathers, Old Crow Medicine Show, Sturgill Simpson and each of the following, including Willie Nelson all under one bill – well worth making a return trip to Charlotte from about anywhere.

SArah shook and the disarmers

The Chapel Hill based Sarah Shook and the Disarmers returned from a tour of Denmark and Sweden just in time for the Outlaw Music Festival and it was a perfect match. Shook captivated an early arriving audience with a few songs off her latest album, Years, which was named one of the best from the first half of 2018 by Rolling Stone and Wide Open Country.

Sometimes the jump from local bars and other familiar venues to a nearly 20,000 seat stadium or amphitheater can be intimidating but Shook’s confidence and sound translated well to the festival crowd on hand. Many in attendance were even chanting for an encore performance following her set, the first of what would be an incredible evening of live music in the Queen City.

jamey johnson

Alabama native Jamey Johnson was next to take the stage and his stripped down set was especially entertaining. Johnson proved he needs only a guitar and his sonorous southern drawl in order to receive standing ovations from any crowd. Electing to never play from a set list, Johnson is free to perform whatever he pleases which included some covers and a few original hits.

The first to make reference of Willie missing his original show, Johnson jokingly commented that he had never known the great one to not perform when scheduled but that it was “still hot” – in reference to the heat and humidity blanketing Charlotte.

Many on hand would have also elected to have Johnson continue singing his songs, but the tight schedule didn’t allow for much wiggle room and his nearly hour long set passed quickly.

the avett brothers

The night’s next performers were a crowd favorite. Hailing from Concord, just a few miles northeast of PNC Music Pavilion, The Avett Brothers joked they could have walked. A draw for many in attendance, the group didn’t disappoint with many up tempo originals and a one special cover.

In tribute to Merle Haggard, the band was joined on stage by Mickey Raphael, playing harmonica, for a stirring rendition of ‘Mama Tried’ much to the crowd’s delight. Both Seth and Scott Avett took turns leading everyone along a musical journey during their 12-song set which featured hits from throughout the groups career.

From ‘Satan Pulls the Strings‘ (2016) to ‘At the Beach‘ (2004) it was evident the band knew their home audience well, making the most of their time to perform and showing a true appreciation for those in attendance.

Willie Nelson

Such a diverse and impressive lineup could only be followed by a few artists in history and Willie Nelson provided that opportunity. His brief entry and exit back in May was entertaining, even without striking a chord and on Wednesday, Nelson appeared both healthy and excited to make his return a memorable one.

As a living legend, Nelson commands attention and was greeted with a thunderous ovation. He waved to the crowd, picked up Trigger (his guitar) and almost immediately struck the first notes of ‘Whiskey River‘ as he has done countless times before.

Always the first song of his set, Nelson continued putting out hit after hit with, ‘On the Road Again‘, ‘Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys‘, ‘Crazy‘, ‘Still Not Dead‘ and ‘Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground.’ Nelson even highlighted new music with, ‘Something You Get Through’ off his latest album – Last Man Standing.

Engaging the crowd from his entry and never looking back, Willie made only one brief quip about feeling as though “he had been here before”, attempting to make light of his previous departure.

He more than made up for an early exit previously and Blackbird Presents did an astounding job of piecing together an excellent lineup. A midweek date wasn’t ideal but any time spent seeing someone of Nelson’s status live is well worth the opportunity.

Sarah Shook on ‘Years’, the Album and Title Track

Sarah Shook and the Disarmers latest album Years continues to build momentum…

Two weeks ago Sarah Shook released her second album, Years with a hometown show at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, just outside of Chapel Hill. The event was held to celebrate the album release and kick off a multi-state tour that recently turned international with dates added in Sweden and Norway to start the summer.

The album has been widely accepted as Shook has been praised for her hard work and ability to speak her mind through engaging lyrics (and in the real world) without hesitation. Never in fear of potential repercussions, Shook stays true to herself and continues to move forward. It is this resiliency that has catapulted Shook and her band into the spotlight.

Two years ago Rolling Stone named Shook as one of ten artists that fans needed to know. Offering the following comments in an attempt to describe her and the band.

Her sound is a sneering fusion of punk-rock autonomy and say-it-like-it-is country from the classic era, paired with a timeless vocal warble and tons of attitude. Honest to a fault and as foul-mouthed as a drunken sailor, she’s a nonconforming spitfire who’s proud of not fitting in with mainstream country music. Nor does Shook hold back when writing about whiskey and hard living, screwing up and failed romance (with guys and girls) — whether in her songs or her combative social-media posts.

Needed to know then and well known now, without changing her approach although Years is a more polished album with a purpose. Recently, we caught up with Shook to discuss the album release and how things have changed since her first record, Sidelong.

RDNC: How exciting is it to host your album release show here in North Carolina with back-to-back dates in Carrboro and Charlotte?

SS: We are so pumped for a huge home show for the release of Years! We haven’t played locally since New Year’s Eve and it’s gonna rip. (It did)

RDNC: You’ve previously mentioned that Years is about finding a way. As your second album is about to debut, how has finding your own way changed since Sidelong?

SS: I’ve grown a lot as a person and as an artist since we released Sidelong. I’m single for the first time in about 11 years and spending a lot of solid alone time, getting myself together and preparing to tour like crazy for the rest of the year.

RDNC: Obviously, each of the 10 tracks on the new record have a special meaning but is there one, in particular, that outweighs the others for you personally?

SS: Years is one of the crucial tracks, it’s about acknowledging a need for change and reconnecting with yourself after years of pouring yourself into a black hole of a relationship.

Just this week the new record popped up on Billboard charts, reaching number 10 in the ‘Heatseekers’ category for top-selling albums by new or developing acts. Only officially two weeks old, the future is looking bright for Shook, the Disarmers and Years.

Sarah Shook and the Disarmers: Years in the Making

Sarah Shook and the Disarmers new album, “Years” is set for release this Friday…

Sarah Shook wasn’t born in North Carolina but after moving to the state at 19 years old has spent the majority of her adult life here. The lead singer has been on a musical journey since beginning her first band in 2010, Sarah Shook and the Devil.

After disbanding, Sarah Shook and the Dirty Hands were formed and relatively short lived in 2013, before the now well known Sarah Shook and the Disarmers came into being late that same year.

The group put out their first record, “Sidelong”, in October of 2015 and after signing with Bloodshot Records, the re-release early last year put Shook and her band into the spotlight for new country and Americana artists to watch.

Over the past year, Shook has been touring all over with recent stops at South by Southwest in Austin and in the southeast with Nikki Lane. She returns to North Carolina this Friday for an album release show at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro.

Sarah Shook and the Disarmers "Years" album cover

Sarah Shook and the Disarmers “Years” album cover

“Years,” the bands’ second album, has been described as a “record about finding a way. A way through exhaustion, frustration, betrayal, hangover after hangover, upper after downer after upper, fight after never-ending fight. It’s about picking yourself and dusting yourself off after years of being trampled and beaten down, jutting your chin out, head high, after they’ve done their worst, and saying ‘Still here.’” by Shook herself.

The Disarmers also benefited from another North Carolina band dissolution as former American Aquarium drummer Kevin McClain recently came on board. McClain is no stranger to touring, traveling with his former group for many years and fits perfectly into Shook’s band with his own unique style on the drum kit.

Following the album release party on Friday night, Shook and the Disarmers will visit Neighborhood Theater in Charlotte as they begin a 14 state tour through the end of May, before boarding a plane to Sweden.

Once there, the band will play multiple shows across the country and into Norway before a grand finale at the Stockholm Americana Festival on Saturday, June 16.

Years in the making, “Years” should only serve to further the rise of Sarah Shook and the Disarmers into the future.