Outlaw Music Festival
Montage Mountain Scranton, PA
September 18 2016
by Ryan O’Malley (photos and words)

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Live audio from the Cabinet archive page.

Although it was a late announcement, many people were surprised to learn of a new single day festival coming to The Pavilion at Montage Mountain in Scranton, Pa. The festival – The Outlaw Music Festival – took place on Sunday and showcased an eclectic mix of musicians from the country, bluegrass and rock genres.

Kicking off the festivities was Cabinet, a Scranton based seven piece jamgrass outfit who has a healthy following in the region. Banjo player Pappy Biondo and his cousin J.P. led the outfit through upbeat cuts like “Mysterio” and “Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow” amongst others. The musicianship of the band is ridiculously tight, including the dueling drums of Jami Novak and Josh Karis which provides a thumping groove. After ending with the fan favorite “Diamond Joe,” the events host, actor Earl Brown (“Preacher,” “True Detective”) took to the stage to praise the outfit and thank the local fans for helping to spread the band’s music to new followers like himself.

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Throughout the day, various members of Cabinet joined friends Justin Mazer and Christopher Kearney for sets on the side stage that paid tribute to some of country music’s biggest influences like Hank Williams and Merle Haggard, Also on the side stage, Lukas Nelson, son of Willie and a member of Promise of the Real, provided a nice mix of bluesy country music in the midafternoon. Back on the main stage, Lee Ann Womack, a popular voice of country in the 90’s, delivered a fine set including her biggest hit “I Hope You Dance.”

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Chris Robinson Brotherhood, a bluesy rock outfit featuring the former lead singer of the Black Crowes,brought about one of the of the better sets of the day including its cover of the Hank Ballard and the Midnighters standard “Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go.” The band is almost a supergroup by today’s standards with lead guitarist Neal Cassal and keyboardist Adam MacDougall serving as members of many jambands including being frequent Friends of Phil Lesh. Other highlights included a spirited take on Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and the set-closing “Rosalee.”

Grabbed from Sheryl Tones youtube channel.

Up next on the main stage was the most questionable artist to fit under the “outlaw” category, Sheryl Crow. Yes, the same Sheryl Crow who became part of everyone’s lives in the 1990’s thanks to her barrage of Top 40 hits. Whatever the reason for her inclusion, Crow’s set left many in the crowd raving about the performance. For starters, Crow looks and sounds nearly identical to the way she did when she burst onto the scene. Secondly, her set provided a non-stop assault of hits. People may know one or two Crow songs when you strike up a conversation, but when you start to hear other songs it’s amazing to admit how many songs you recognize. Starting off with one of her most recognizable numbers, “Every Day is a Winding Road,” she launched into an array of hits including “A Change Would Do You Good,” her breakthrough hit “All I Wanna Do,” “My Favorite Mistake,” “Can’t Cry Anymore,” and “Strong Enough.” Her powerhouse band sounded flawless throughout the night including the ending of “If It Makes You Happy,” and the summer anthem, “Soak Up the Sun.”

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Easily the highlight of the show followed Crow, in the form of the iconic Neil Young who brought along Promise of the Real for a set that will have people talking for months. The last time Young played Scranton was 2003 as part of his Greendale tour, and since then, locals have been anxiously awaiting his return. Since touring with Promise of the Real, Young’s set lists could be either hit or miss in terms of playing the “hits” his fans want to hear. His appearance at the Outlaw Festival was nothing short of superb as the legend started his set off solo with a tender run through his hit “Heart of Gold,” which saw Young handle the guitar and harmonica parts in flawless manner. Promise of the Real emerged to back Young on the rest of the acoustic set including runs through “Out On The Weekend,” “Unknown Legend,” and “Human Highway,” before slowing things down with a beautiful rendition of his long-admired ballad “Harvest Moon.”

While the acoustic material was delivered with strong vocals and tight musicianship, Young has a reputation for his louder electric rock, and by the time he strapped on his signature black Gibson guitar and strummed the familiar opening of “Powderfinger,” Young had the crowd singing along with feverish excitement. A rocking “Welfare Mothers” was a debut song for the current outfit, and saw Young bounce all over the stage while wailing on distorted solos. An extended “Cowgirl in the Sand” led into the bluesy “Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere” which saw some great harmonies from his backing band. One of the biggest ovations of the night came with the instantly-recognizable opening to “Cortez the Killer.” Channeling the spirit of Young’s on again/off again other band, Crazy Horse, Promise of the Real provided some solid improvisational jamming to the chestnut, which eventually topped the ten minute mark. A driving “Fuckin’ Up” followed, and while the end of the song marks the finale to some Young shows, the rock legend played around with his guitars tuning before breaking into the grunge-laden opening of his anthem “Rocking in the Free World.” By the time the song ended, many in the crowd had lost their voices from screaming along with the thumping rendition.

Even though he’s listed as the curator of the festival, country music legend Willie Nelson had big shoes to fill following Young’s monstrous performance. Nelson being the legend that he is, brought 15 songs to his 70 minute set, kicking off with “Whiskey River,” which saw some fine harmony between Nelson and his son Lukas. After quick but spot-on takes on “Still is Still Moving to Me,” and “Beer for My Horses,” Nelson paid tribute to one of country music’s true outlaws and a longtime friend, the late Waylon Jennings, with a brilliant “Good Hearted Woman.” Nelson also paid tribute to one of country music’s forefathers, Hank Williams, with spirited runs through some of Williams better known material like “Jambalaya (On The Bayou),” “Hey Good Lookin’,” and “Move It On Over.” Besides country music, something else Nelson is known for made its way into the ending of the set with fun runs through a duet he sang with the late Merle Haggard, “It’s All Going to Pot,” and the popular “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” before the night wrapped up with a touching “Amazing Grace.”

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Aside from a no-reentry policy during a 10 hour concert, there were not many complaints to be found at the Outlaw Music Festival. When you look at the amount of music that was played, the return of Neil Young to Scranton, the arrival of Sheryl Crow, and the hometown feeling Cabinet provided, the Outlaw Music Festival provided the perfect end of season party for the people of Northeast Pennsylvania. Provided artists and management are happy with the way this year turned out, the festival will hopefully be a recurring event.

To Submit a review or story for consideration hit us at [email protected]

Check out the huge gallery of photos here.