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No Willie at Outlaw Music Festival, but Lukas, Dylan, Krauss + Plant make up for that

Xfinity Center, Mansfield, Mass., July 5, 2024

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

The creator of the Outlaw Music Festival was not there in the flesh, but he was there in song and spirit.

That's the case when your son, aka Lukas Nelson, has the same timbre and vocal quality. The elder Nelson, 91, was recuperating from an undisclosed illness and was slated to return to action in two days.

Nelson was not the only highlight of the festival, which also featured the always excellent Allison Krauss + Robert Plant and an engaged Bob Dylan.

Nelson and Family pretty much played meat-and-potatoes Willie. That meant starting off with "Whiskey River." It was almost uncanny how Lukas, who put out one great record last year and has developed as an artist standing on his own, sounds like his father with that nasally vocal. He's also quite a good guitar player, having a lot of turns on acoustic.

The staples of a Willie show followed for most of the too-short headlining set (Lukas played for an hour, 20 minutes shorter than the Dylan and Krauss + Plant sets). That meant songs such as "Funny How Time Slips Away" segueing into both "Crazy" and "Night Life," the sad sounding lament of "You Were Always on My Mind," "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground" and "On the Road Again" (it would have been nice to acknowledge Willie would be back real soon).

And then the religious revival of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" coupled with "I'll Fly Away."

Nelson's voice was a bit smoother than his father's, and he did justice to the material.

Nelson took the opportunity to sing three of songs recorded with his now on hiatus backing band, Promise of the Real. "Just Outside of Austin," "Forget About Georgia" (Lukas smartly and cutely followed with this with "Georgia (On My Mind)") and "Find Yourself" all stood up next to the Willie's typical material.

Nelson also was aided by the super backing band with Mickey Raphael a huge highlight on harp. Yes, he offered some background harmonica, but his leads were as good as any lead guitar might be. And having Waylon Payne on guitar, Kevin Smith on bass and Anthony LoGerfo on percussion made Nelson's night that much easier.

A Dylan outing can be a bit of a crapshoot depending on songs, what his voice is sounding like and the overall vibe. Well, kudos on all fronts on his showing.

Dylan, decked out in an off-white suit and hat was going strong at 83, starting with "Highway 61 Revisited" and ending with "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight."

He's not the greatest at enunciation out there (the other performers tonight all had him beat on that by a long shot, and he was hard to understand in his limited comments towards the end of the set) and his delivery could be a bit off-handed at times. But, hey, he can do his songs like he wants as he has for a very long time. "Simple Twist of Fate" was evidence of that.

Dylan offered some strong covers as well, which leaned into the roots and country side of musical life with Chuck Berry's "Little Queenie," the Dead's "Stella Blue" and "Six Days on The Road."

Dylan played piano for the entire show, almost always standing up. He clicked extremely well with his backing trio, weaving his piano licks in and out of the guitar lines.

It felt odd for Dylan to not be headlining, but no matter. This was a good outing.

The pairing of Alison Krauss and Robert seemed like strange bedfellows a long time ago (2007's "Raising Sand"), but their brand of folk rock and Americana sound as great as ever. They've worked very intermittently over the years, unfortunately, releasing a follow-up, "Raise the Roof," in 2021.

They made clear time and again during their 85 minutes that they mesh so well together in an invigorating, muscular set mainly of material they recorded and Led Zeppelin tunes.

Plant assumed the lead role. At 75, his voice has lost nothing. Neither has Krauss' with this angelic quality about her. Plant was the more animated of the two, doing most of the talking and clearly into the music as he always has been.

They put their own stamp on such songs as the country rocker "Can't Let Go" and closing with perhaps their best known recording, "Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)," one of several songs courtesy of The Everly Brothers.

A few Led Zep tunes ("Battle of Evermore" and "When the Levee Breaks") sounded fresh as well. But nothing sounded better than "Please Read the Letter," a song Plant did with Jimmy Page back in 1998 for "Walking to Clarksdale" and was on "Raising Sand."

Surely, it helped that JD McPherson was on guitar because that guy can play and did so from start to finish. Ditto for Jay Bellerose on drums, Dennis Crouch on bass, Stuart Duncan on guitars and Viktor Krauss, Alison's brother, on keys and guitar.

With two musical geniuses in Plant and Krauss combining their immense talents, their 85 minutes was about as good as music can get.

This was not the Outlaw Music Festival many probably expected. Maybe Krauss + Plant and the unpredictable Dylan met the bar. Having Lukas sub for his father was not the same as Willie being there, but he sure came mighty close in ending the festival.

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