Willie Nelson brings Outlaw Music Festival to Montage Mountain in Scranton
SCRANTON — Willie Nelson is coming to Northeastern Pennsylvania, and he’s bringing the whole family.
The inaugural Outlaw Music Festival takes place Sept. 18 at the Pavilion at Montage Mountain, and it features performances by headliners Willie Nelson & Family, Neil Young + Promise of the Real and Sheryl Crow with supporting acts Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Lee Ann Womack and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre bluegrass ensemble Cabinet.
Co-headliners Neil Young + Promise of the Real have a new record to showcase and a natal connection to Nelson.
Nelson’s sons, Lukas and Micah Nelson are part of the touring group that backs Young and was with him in 2015 when live performances of his most environmentally conscious songs were recorded and compiled into 2016’s “Earth,” which fuses those tracks with natural and animal sounds.
Mickey Raphael has played harmonica in Willie Nelson’s band, Family, since its earliest formation in 1973. The “family,” also fittingly includes Nelson’s sister Bobbie Nelson on piano and percussion brothers Paul and Billy English.
Throughout his career, Raphael has played with the likes of Elton John, Vince Gill, Neil Young and U2, but he’s remained a fixture with Nelson & Family for reasons of loyalty and sheer appreciation.
“It’s my main gig, because it’s my first gig, really,” Raphael said. “(Willie) is the man. He’s a great guy. I’m a fan first and foremost.”
Nelson’s latest album, “For The Good Times: A Tribute to Ray Price” is scheduled for release on Sept. 16 and pays homage to a musician who Nelson knew as friend, collaborator and influence.
On six tracks, Raphael collaborated with the Vince Gill-led western swing supergroup The Time Jumpers to form the backing band on the record.
“It was great,” Raphael said of the recording process. “We all know the songs. They’re all classics. I knew Ray a little bit, so it was a good chance to pay my respects also.”
Raphael called The Time Jumpers great musicians and said working with them was “pretty amazing.”
“It was fun,” the harmonic player said. “All those guys are friends, so it was a great opportunity and it was fun to see everybody.”
The Outlaw Music Festival came together, Raphael said, when Nelson’s manager, Mark Rothbaum presented the idea to Nelson to give the country legend his own festival.
“Willie’s manager is one of the most musical people in Willie’s life,” Raphael said of Rothbaum. “He’s like the fifth Beatle, but you never see him or hear of him, because he stays under the radar.”
Musicality has been at the heart of what the Chris Robinson Brotherhood does since its start in 2012. Their latest album “Any Way You Love, We Know How You Feel,” is an invigorating blend of psychedelic rock, Americana, funk and progressive blues jammed out in long-form recordings.
“The diversity in the sounds on the record is a direct product of the diversity of the people in the band,” guitarist Neal Casal said. “With CRB, it’s a very open band. There aren’t many rules in this group when it comes to the sounds that we make.”
Casal said that liberation from constraints works into CRB’s live performance as well.
“There are plenty of sections of our live shows that are built for improvisation,” Casal said. “They’re left open every night. We never really play the same set twice. We always mix it up, and that’s what we’re all about.”
As a member of Ryan Adams & The Cardinals, Casal recorded Nelson’s “Songbird” album with him and said the country icon was great to work with over the weeks they collaborated.
“Willie is right there in the moment at all times, and I was absolutely beyond honored to be able to play with him for a while,” Casal said. “I learned a lot from being around him.”
Also an accomplished photographer, Casal tends to journal the musical moments around him, and he plans to take some photographs at the Outlaw Festival when he’s not performing.
Lee Ann Womack worked with Nelson in 2003, singing on the Grammy-winning “Mendocino County Line.” Her most recent album, 2015’s “The Way I’m Livin’” earned her two Grammy nominations and was heralded as a thoughtfully gathered collection of songs.”
“We were all responding to what the music made us feel, and that brought us into the songs from a deeper, more connected place,” Womack said.
The celebrated vocalist said her studio collaborators really listened to what she was singing and moved to create parts that let the emotions in her voice shine. During live performances, Womack said, it’s apparent how much the audience is intent on listening.”
Womack said it is a privilege for her any time she gets to work with Nelson, and she appreciates the diversity of groups at the Outlaw Festival.
“I don’t know, even with what we’re doing now, if there would be any other way Chris Robinson and I could share a bill — but maybe we could — except under this tent Willie pitches,” Womack said. “Whatever it is the people are coming to see, I think everyone is going to get turned on to one or two things they might not have otherwise, which, to me, is exactly what Willie does best.”
Nelson & Family return to Montage Mountain for the second time in two years, as they played a headlining set at the 2015 Peach Music Festival at the Pavilion.
“It’s gorgeous in the hills there,” Raphael said. “I’m looking forward to it. The back stage is cool, because it’s like a compound where everybody can sit down and visit.”
Visiting with friends is an aspect for which Raphael said he’s excited.
“It’s going to be like a family reunion for us, because there are a lot of bands we haven’t seen in a while,” Raphael said. “Just to hook up with my friends who are travelling musicians who I don’t get to play with or see — like Neil (Young) and Sheryl (Crow), who I haven’t seen in a long time, and I’m friends with all the people in her band — I’m looking forward to that.”
The family reunion comes into play for NEPA music fans as well, as Cabinet is a late addition to the bill. The Cabinet Family, which is the moniker by which the jam-laced Americana group affectionately refers to its fan base, has added reason to attend the festival.
Cabinet kicks music off with a 1 p.m. performance on the main stage.
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or Twitter @TLArts
If you go:
What: Outlaw Music Festival
Where: The Pavilion at Montage Mountain, 1000 Montage Mountain Rd., Scranton
When: Music starts at 1 p.m. Sept. 18.
Additional information: Tickets range from $30 for general admission to $275 for premium seating and are available at the Montage Mountain box office, online at ticketmaster.com and by phone at 800-745-3000.