Review: Willie Nelson Delivers Strong, Emotional Performance at Outlaw Music Festival Tour Show in Bethel, New York

Willie Nelson was back in the saddle again for the July 6 edition of the Outlaw Music Festival tour, which took place at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in Bethel, New York. The country legend had missed the first eight performances of the trek due to illness, but Nelson was able to perform at his 4th of July Picnic event in Camden, New Jersey, before officially rejoining the tour two days later.

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Bethel Woods Center for the Arts is located at the site of the 1969 Woodstock festival, and peaceful vibes were in the air on a balmy summer night on July 6. Nelson, backed by his Family band and his son Lukas, headlined the show. The event also included sets by Celisse, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, and Bob Dylan.

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About Willie Nelson’s Performance

Nelson played a full 20-song set flanked by Lukas and the Family band member Waylon Payne, both of whom played guitar and sang on and off with Willie throughout the show.

The 91-year-old country legend seemed to be a bit out of breath at some points during the concert, but for the most part, his singing was strong, and he energetically played jazz-flavored riffs on his famous acoustic guitar “Trigger” on every song.

[RELATED: Willie Nelson and Lukas Nelson Team up for a “Simply Amazing” Duet of “Living in the Promiseland”]

Meanwhile, the Bethel, New York, crowd showered Nelson with love and hearty applause over and over again during the concert.

Nelson and company offered plenty of highlights, including renditions of such classics as “Whiskey River,” “Bloody Mary Morning,” “Angels Flying Too Close to the Ground,” “On the Road Again,” “You Were Always on My Mind,” “Georgia on My Mind,” and “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”

Willie also sang a couple of the major country hits he had with his late friend Waylon Jennings—“Good Hearted Woman” and “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.”

Lukas also had the chance to deliver lead vocals on versions of Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe” and Larry Davis’ 1958 blues gem “Texas Flood.” Lukas also played some blazing blues-guitar solos on the latter tune. Payne, meanwhile, got his turn to take over lead vocals on a version of Kris Kristofferson’s classic “Help Me Make It Through the Night.”

As Nelson’s set wound to a close, Willie and the band played a rousing medley of the traditional sings “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” and “I’ll Fly Away.” He and Lukas then did a poignant duet version of his 1986 country chart-topper “Living in the Promiseland.”

Plant & Krauss’ Set

After a show-opening performance by up-and-coming singer/songwriter Celisse, Plant and Krauss hit the stage. The duo’s set mainly featured songs from their two acclaimed collaborative albums—Raising Sand (2007) and Raise the Roof (2021). They also performed reworked renditions of the Led Zeppelin tunes “Rock and Roll,” “The Battle of Evermore,” and “When the Levee Breaks.”

Another highlight was a medley that combined Plant’s 1983 solo hit with the traditional English folk songs “Matty Groves” and “Gallows Pole.” The latter tune, of course, was recorded by Led Zeppelin for their 1970 album Led Zeppelin III.

At one point during the show, Plant reflected on getting to play at the site of the Woodstock festival, while explaining why Led Zeppelin didn’t play the historic event. According to Plant, the band’s manager, Peter Grant, didn’t think the festival was the right audience for the group. On the dates of Woodstock, Led Zeppelin wound up playing shows in Asbury Park, New Jersey; Wallingford, Connecticut; and Toronto.

Throughout their set, there was great vocal chemistry between Krauss and Plant, with Alison’s pristine and beautiful voice blending nicely with Robert’s smooth croon. Krauss also played enhanced several tunes with her fiddle talents.

Bob Dylan’s Set

Between Plant & Krauss’ performance and Nelson’s concert-closing set, it was Dylan’s turn to entertain the crowd. Fans of the iconic singer/songwriter know that he’s infamous for playing fast and loose with the melodies and meter of his songs when he plays live, and the Bethel concert was no exception.

It was sometimes hard to decipher what song Bob was performing as he gutturally spoke-sung his way through the show.

Dylan’s set featured a mix of well-known originals, deeper cuts, and interesting cover tunes.

Among the classic older songs he performed were “Highway 61 Revisited,” “Ballad of a Thin Man,” “Simple Twist of Fate,” and “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight.” Dylan also played his Oscar-winning tune “Things Have Changed” from the 2000 film Wonder Boys.

Among the deep cuts he played were “Shooting Star” from Oh Mercy (1989), “Love Sick” and “Can’t Wait” from Time Out of Mind (1997), and “Soon After Midnight” and “Early Roman Kings” from Tempest (2012).

The covers included versions of Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie,” doo-wop group The Fleetwoods’ “Mr. Blue,” and The Grateful Dead’s “Stella Blue.”

Upcoming Outlaw Music Festival Tour Shows

The current leg of the Outlaw Music Festival tour wrapped up Sunday, July 7, with a show in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

The trek will start up again on July 29 in Chula Vista, California, and will run through a September 20 performance in Gilford, New Hampshire. John Mellencamp will take over Plant & Krauss’ slot for the remainder of the tour.

Tickets for the Outlaw Music Festival tour are available now via various outlets, including StubHub.

Wille Nelson and Family’s Set List, Bethel Center for the Arts, Bethel, NY, 7/6/2024:

  1. “Whiskey River”
  2. “Stay a Little Longer”
  3. “Still Is Still Moving to Me”
  4. “Bloody Mary Morning”
  5. “I Never Cared for You”
  6. “Texas Flood”
  7. “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”
  8. “Angels Flying Too Close to the Ground”
  9. “On the Road Again”
  10. You Were Always on My Mind”
  11. “Just Breathe”
  12. “Good Hearted Woman”
  13. “Georgia on My Mind”
  14. “I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train”
  15. “Help Me Make It Through the Night”
  16. “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die”
  17. “The Border”
  18. “Write Your Own Songs”
  19. “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”/“I’ll Fly Away”
  20. “Living in the Promiseland”

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss’ Set List:

  1. “Rich Woman”
  2. “Fortune Teller”
  3. “Can’t Let Go”
  4. “The Price of Love”
  5. “Rock and Roll”
  6. “Please Read the Letter”
  7. “High and Lonesome”
  8. “Trouble with My Lover”
  9. “In the Mood”/“Matty Groves”/“Gallows Pole”
  10. “The Battle of Evermore”
  11. “When the Levee Breaks”
  12. “Gone Gone Gone”

Bob Dylan’s Set List:

  1. “Highway 61 Revisited”
  2. “Shooting Star”
  3. “Love Sick”
  4. “Little Queenie”
  5. Mr. Blue”
  6. “Early Roman Kings”
  7. “Can’t Wait”
  8. “Under the Red Sky”
  9. “Things Have Changed”
  10. “Stella Blue”
  11. “Six Days on the Road”
  12. “Soon After Midnight”
  13. “Ballad of a Thin Man”
  14. “Simple Twist of Fate”
  15. “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”

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Photo by Matt Friedlander

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