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L.A. Beat

Great tunes on Outlaw Country Cruise 4

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 I joined the cruise ship Norwegian Pearl for the Outlaw Country Cruise 4 last week as an excuse to escape the cold (yeah right) for a few days and in the process catch a whole lot  of really good bands who seWebb Wilder playing the Outlaw Country Cruise 4. Photo by Richard Ameryldom, if ever, get up to our neck of the woods.

 I usually listen to bands even hipsters have never heard of, so it was really cool to commune with people from the U.S. and Canada and as far away as Ireland even, who not only have heard of bands like Govt. Mule and the Bottle Rockets, but who are really into them. Unfortunately there were no Bottle Rockets this year, who were on last year’s cruise, and no Govt. Mule. But there was a lot of really amazing music and of course pleasant surprises as always.
  This yearMargo Price playing the Outlaw Country Cruise 4. Photo by Richard Amery, I finally caught a couple of Steve Earle shows, who I missed last year because his band was competing against bands I really wanted to see like Blackberry Smoke, but this time I caught the set of hits, which was supposed to open the cruise but had to be rescheduled like several shows due to a downpour in Tampa.

 The Outlaw Country Cruise is put on by  Sirius XM’s Outlaw Country Station every year, so they feature plenty of bands ranging from outlaw country, alt country, punk and traditional country playing on five stages all over a boat which is basically as big as a small town. It really is all about the music, and communing with people who love the same type of music as you do. A few people noticed my CKXU sweatshirt and immediately asked if  I knew Corb Lund, when I told them I was from Lethbridge, which was pretty cool.

 So I spent a solid five days running around a boat and around a couple stops in the Bahamas trying to catch as much as I could, the only difference being I wasn’t taking pictures or writing a review of them, which was a weird feeling on it’s own as I feel horribly out of place at a live show without a camera and a purpose. It was a challenge as a lot of bands and artist were competing with others I really wanted to see like country legend Bobby Bare, who I only caught during a workshop/ mutual admiration session with Steve Earle, pianist Terry Allen and Lucinda Williams, who was in awe to be on the same stage with legends. Earle noted he doesn’t usually play requests but was happy to play a couple obscurities for Bare and Allen.

Steve Earle playing to most of the Outlaw Country Cruise. photo by Richard Amery
 There were a lot of highlights. Willie Nelson’s presence was felt on the first night in his daughter Paula Nelson’s band. She did an admirable job of both crooning out jazz and singing twangy old school country. Another Nelson daughter, Amy Nelson was brilliant in twisted folk duo Folk Uke along with Woody Guthrie’s granddaughter Cathy.

 The main draw for me this time was the fantastic Texas alt country/rock band The Old ’97s who played all kinds of catchy songs that should be hits, but I only caught them once, though I caught  their frontman Rhett Miller, who was also playing a few guitar pulls and solos slots.

Elizabeth Cook hands out Squidbiillys swag. pHoto by Richard Amery
It was the same case for another big draw the Drive By Truckers, who used to include Jason Isbell. The two main frontmen, Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley also played heartfelt solo sets on other stages on other days. I caught bits and pieces of their shows, got to hear “Hell No I Ain’t Happy,” which finished a set on the main, pool deck stage.

I caught their main show on the last day in the Stardust Theatre on floors 6 and 7 and was impressed by a set ending cover of  the Ramones “The KKK Took My Baby Away” and a moving version of “What it Means” before ending with “Surrender Under Protest.”

I caught a couple  of bands who were supposed to be on the cruise last year but had to cancel due to health issues, namely Webb Wilder and Dan Baird, who is best known as the Georgia Satellites’ frontman, but has a hot band called Homemade Sin with Warner Hodges, who also founded country punk pioneers Jason and the Scorchers.
 I only caught Webb Wilder once, in time to hear “Powerful Stuff” a song his band wrote that was recorded by the Fabulous Thunderbirds. He noted he also one of the first bands to record Steve Earle’s earliest songs, “The Devil’s Right Hand.”

It was great to see Dan Baird a couple oJohn Doe playing with Jesse Dayton and his band. Photo by Richard Ameryf times, once on the main pool deck stage and again on another stage in the entrance atrium, which is where most of the coolest shows happened. Like pianist Jason D Williams, a phenomenal pianist, drawing heavily from the spirit of Jerry Lee Lewis, playing the piano with every possible appendage. Apparently he also jammed with Mojo Nixon’s band and ended up breaking the piano on a jam with Mojo’s pianist, which I missed as it was one of several shows where I couDan Baird and Homemade Sin playing the Outlaw country Cruise 4. Photo by Richard Ameryldn’t actually see the stage for all the people in front of of it.

 Baird, Wilder, Hodges, Rosie Flores and John Doe from the punk band X plus host Mojo Nixon participated in a great workshop/ live session about cow-punk ( a mix of country music and punk rock),  during which all of them pretty much said how much they hated the label cowpunk, as they just wanted to be in a rock and roll band when they started out, coming to that mix independently.

John Doe was definitely a highlight. He played with Texan artist Jesse Dayton’s band for his main show on the atrium stage, which included country music, rock and roll and even some old X songs. He also played in an excellent workshop with the Mastersons’ Bonnie  Whitmore, Rhett Miller and a cool new up and comer from Dallas, Jonathan Tyler.
They other band I really wanted to see was Reckless Kelly, an Austin, Texas band transplanted from Idaho. I only caught a couple of their shows, missed their excellent song “On the Radio” and their great cover of Alejandro Escovedo’s “Castanets.” But I caught them backing folk icon Joe Ely in a collaboration they named JERK. Ely  also played an excellent set with the Flatlanders aka Jimmie Dale Gilmour and Butch Hancock, who were also playing solo sets.

Jason D Williams doing his best Jerry Lee Lewis. Photo by Richard Amery
 The Reckless Kelly show I caught began with another Alejandro Escovedo cover “Always a Friend.”
They had a pretty inspirational moment on the pool deck stage as the clouds set in, asking the audience using their drink packages to  bring them pina coladas, otherwise they’d play the Pina Colada song over and over again until that happened “Even though we don’t know it.” They were good for their word , playing the verse they did know of the pina colada song several times until they received more drinks than they could possibly consume. So they shared the drinks with the front row after playing “Pina Colada” once more.

I also got new appreciation for up and coming country songstress Margo Price, performing on the pool deck six months pregnant, belting out heartfelt songs.
 She showed she is also an exceptional drummer, playing a dual drum solo with her drummer during the part of her second show.
And I came back exhausted, but also inspired.

— by Richard Amery,L.a. beat Editor

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