Larkin Poe, Billy Strings, Brittney Spencer, Avett Brothers, Willie Nelson Lead Mansfield’s (MA) Outlaw Music Festival (SHOW REVIEW/PHOTOS)

The Outlaw Music Festival, established in 2016, once again hit the road with an all-star lineup. Led by Willie Nelson, his family, and friends, the tour stopped in Mansfield, Massachusetts just outside of Boston this past Friday, September 16th. The Avett Brothers, Billy Strings, Larkin Poe, Brittney Spencer, and Nelson’s son’s Particle Kid rounded out the bill on a gorgeous summer day. Over an almost seven-hour stretch of performances, the Fest delivered a mix of honky tonk, folk, bluegrass, and rock and roll to a weekend-ready flock of music fans.

Particle Kid

Particle Kid (J. Micah Nelson) kicked off the festivities with a solo performance that leaned towards an experimental and psychedelic sound. Nelson kicked off his boots, introduced his touring mascot, an orange octopus named Long John, and proceeded to play his acoustic guitar through a range of effects to achieve his unique sound as he sang along – mostly with his eyes closed. “Someone Else’s Dream” and “Bleed” resonated well with the crowd that decided to be in their seats for the early start. Nelson’s unique sound with distorted acoustic guitar and the use of multiple microphones that also were run-through effects created a trippy soundtrack to welcome the festival’s guests.

Brittney Spencer

Spencer and her band made quite the impression by mixing rock and roll, country and soul into her too short of a set. Spencer commanded the stage and held the audience in the palm of her hand with her amazing voice. Between songs she engaged with the audience by sharing some insight into her life and already impressive career. Every song in her set was great but “Sober & Skinny”, “Better as Friends” and a countryfied version of “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” slayed. She proved why she is on many “one to watch” lists and why she has caught the attention of country music’s elite.

Larkin Poe

Sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell, who has quickly risen amongst the ranks of the “Who’s Who” in music, was undoubtedly the act not to miss on this tour. The Nashville transplants, along with their Atlanta roots were most impressive. Let’s start with Rebecca, who takes on the majority of lead vocals all while balancing near-flawless fretwork on her favorite Stratocaster. Her vocal prowess is beyond her age and was downright jaw-dropping during the entire set. Megan, A.K.A. the Slide Queen has an uncanny presence with her lap steel guitar while expertly harmonizing with her sister. Together, they are an absolute powerhouse and joy to listen to. At Friday’s fest, the sisters, Tarka Layman (bass) and Kevin McGowen (drums) put on a clinic during their set. “Trouble In Mind”, “Self Made Man” and “Wanted Woman” were nothing short of amazing.

Billy Strings

Simply put, bluegrass phenom Billy Strings and his ensemble tore up the stage. Strings’ unique style was hypnotic. It’s not every day you see someone so young attack an acoustic guitar with such technical savvy all while singing and conducting his band. What was refreshing was Strings’ humility and casual affect throughout his set. His voice never faltered, his band nerve missed a beat and without a doubt put smiles on his fans’ faces. “The Fire on My Tongue” fired up the crowd. “Fire Line” continued to fuel the flames and a jovial collaboration with Micah Nelson for “Blue Skies” was sublime. 

The Avett Brothers

Playing a full set, Scott and Seth led their seven-piece folk-rock juggernaut through 15 songs that allowed all on stage to share the spotlight, seemingly with the greatest of ease. Whether it was guitar, banjo, upright bass, cello, fiddle, organ, or drums, the music followed seamlessly together. Scott and Seth both have their own personalities with Scott being a bit more stoic than the cagey Seth who appeared to have more energy than the collective army on stage. Regardless, the whole band clearly was in sync and was enjoying every note and beat together as they connected to the sea of fans in front of them. The fans basked in the glory of “Laundry Room”, “Locked Up” and “No Hard Feelings” amongst other favorites. Reaching deep into their impressive catalog, the set was a success for all.

Willie Nelson

At 89, Willie Nelson continues to amaze as he continues to record multiple albums a year and embark on what seems like a never-ending tour around the world. Nelson and Co.’s stop in Mansfield was most appreciated by his longtime legion of followers. Nelson’s voice was pleasantly full of life. The band ripped through 20 plus songs that included set staples “Whiskey River”, “Stay All Night”, “Still Is Still Moving to Me”, “Mammas Don’t Let Your Baby Grow Up to be Cowboys”, “On the Road Again”, “Always on My Mind”, “Good Hearted Woman” and “Georgia” all of which found his fans happily singing along to every word. “Bullshit”, duetting with son Micah, brought smiles and laughter from many as they responded to Nelson’s powers of observation and sarcasm. “Roll Me Up and Smoke” drew cheers and more collaboration between the artist and the audience. In a fitting tribute, many artists from the day joined Nelson for “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” giving them all one more chance to wave good night and say thank you before Nelson closed the night with “It’s Hard to Be Humble”. 

Overall, it was a wonderful event led by a living legend who doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Nelson is a troubadour who truly personifies his own lyric, “The life I love is making music with my friends.” Nelson’s fans loved it too and one can only hope that the OMF rolls into town again next year with more amazing talent, all led by ol’ Willie.

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