Outlaw Country West cruise: A wide net of rocking, raucous music

Outlaw Country West cruise: A wide net of rocking, raucous music

By Paul T. Mueller

Despite its name, the inaugural Outlaw Country West music cruise wasn’t just about country music. Producers Sixthman and Renegade Circus cast a wider net, including a couple of Southern California punk bands as well as several purveyors of West Coast country and rock. The floating festival departed Los Angeles on November 3 aboard the Norwegian Jewel, making stops at the Mexican ports of Cabo San Lucas and Ensenada before returning to Los Angeles on November 8.

X and Social Distortion, longtime mainstays of the Southern California punk scene, brought rock ‘n’ roll energy and attitude to the festival, an offshoot of the well-established and mostly Miami-based Outlaw Country Cruise. Artists offering a purer country sound included Jim Lauderdale, Wade Sapp, James Intveld, Deke Dickerson and Elizabeth Cook. Also featured were East LA roots music icons Los Lobos, cowpunk pioneer Dave Alvin, bluesy folksinger Lucinda Williams, rockabilly guitar-slinger Rosie Flores and Texas iconoclast Terry Allen, among many others.

Lucinda Williams (Photo by Paul T. Mueller)

Some highlights from the packed schedule of nearly 60 shows and numerous other activities:

Los Lobos got things off to a rocking start with a first-day sailaway show on the pool deck that featured hits such as “Don’t Worry Baby,” “Will the Wolf Survive?” and “Kiko and the Lavender Moon.” The band also threw in some excellent covers, including a joyous rendition of “Not Fade Away” and the Grateful Dead’s “Bertha” to close the show.

Terry Allen brought his offbeat West Texas style to the Jewel’s Stardust Theater the first evening. Allen has long been a favorite in his home state, and his sets, supported by the brilliant Panhandle Mystery Band, won him a slew of new fans. High points included some Allen originals possibly better known from being covered by others – “Amarillo Highway” (Robert Earl Keen), “New Delhi Freight Train” (Little Feat) and “Gimme a Ride to Heaven” (The Flatlanders).

Also impressive were less-familiar songs such as “Death of the Last Stripper,” “All These Blues Go Walking By” (featuring powerful vocals by Shannon McNally), and “City of the Vampires,” which Allen said was based on suggestions from his 9-year-old grandson. Later in the cruise, veteran singer-songwriter and activist Steve Earle interviewed Allen for his SiriusXM radio show, giving Allen a venue for fascinating and often funny stories about growing up in Lubbock and working with artists such as Guy Clark and David Byrne.

Terry Allen (photo by Paul T. Mueller)

Lucinda Williams, continuing her strong comeback from the stroke she suffered about two years ago, played a powerful first-night set in the Stardust with her excellent band, Buick 6. She drew from her extensive catalog with older songs such as “Right in Time,” “Lake Charles” and “Those Three Days,” and newer tracks such as “Big Black Train” and Memphis Minnie’s “You Can’t Rule Me,” which she dedicated to the U.S. Supreme Court. Williams hasn’t yet regained her ability to play guitar onstage, but her voice sounded better than it has in a while, despite some occasional glitches (“Dammit! Son of a biscuit baker!” she said at one point while reaching for her throat spray). One couldn’t help but be moved by the care and support shown by her band members – guitarist Stuart Mathis, bassist David Sutton and drummer Butch Norton.

Exene Cervenka and John Doe of X (Photo by Paul T. Mueller)

Dave Alvin and his band, The Guilty Ones, packed the Stardust for a Friday show featuring Alvin’s sometimes dark songs about the California experience. Alvin, in remarkable form after some recent health issues, led his excellent outfit through “The King of California,” “Ashgrove” and “Dry River,” among others. Jimmie Dale Gilmore, who’s been touring and recording with Alvin in recent years, was scheduled for the cruise, but he came down with Covid-19 and was unable to participate. His son Colin Gilmore, a fine singer-songwriter in his own right, filled in for him, joining Alvin for “Billy the Kid and Geronimo” and his father’s “Dallas.” Also making guest appearances were two members of Los Lobos, guitarist/singer David Hidalgo and saxophonist/keyboardist Steve Berlin.

A wide range of artists converged on the Stardust for a Sunday evening tribute to California native Merle Haggard. The setlist included Jim Lauderdale with “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive,” Shannon McNally with “Mama Tried,” John Doe of X with “Silver Wings,” Terry Allen with “Okie from Muscogee,” Rosie Flores with “My Own Kind of Hat,” Dave Alvin with “Kern River,” and Norm Hamlet, longtime steel guitarist with Haggard’s band, The Strangers, with “Today I Started Loving You Again.” Everyone returned to the stage for the big finale, “Sing Me Back Home.”

Southern California punk rockers Social Distortion brought their high-energy, high-volume songs of anger and pain to a Monday pool deck show as the Jewel departed Ensenada, Mexico. Founder and lead singer Mike Ness rather sheepishly owned up to enjoying the clearly non-punk experience of cruise ship life before launching into powerful renditions of “I Wasn’t Born to Follow,” “Sick Boys” and “Ball and Chain,” among others. Longtime Social D guitarist Jonny Two Bags was absent, reportedly because of an injury, but Josh Jove (Eagles of Death Metal) filled in capably.

A Monday evening guitar pull in the Stardust drew a large crowd for a song swap featuring Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams (with Stuart Mathis handling the guitar work), Charlie Sexton (filling in for Jimmie Dale Gilmore), and Dave Alvin. The show featured some excellent performances — Sexton honoring Gilmore with a rendition of the latter’s “Treat Me Like a Saturday Night,” Alvin’s moving take on Tom Russell’s “Blue Wing,” Williams’ wistful “Passionate Kisses.” Other high points included Alvin’s funny story about once having had to follow the legendary Barrett Strong in a songwriter round, and Sexton’s amazement at being chided for talking too much by none other than the notoriously loquacious Steve Earle.

All of this hardly scratches the surface, of course. The festival’s big lineup and short duration made it pretty much impossible to see every artist, let alone every show. But by all accounts, there were fine performances by Steve Earle, Elizabeth Cook, Chuck Prophet & the Mission Express, Big Sandy & His Flyrite Boys, Deke Dickerson & the Whippersnappers, Rosie Flores, Lillie Mae, Jim Lauderdale, the Slim Jim Phantom Trio, the Beat Farmers, the Long Ryders, Charlie Overbey, Jo Harvey Allen, Mojo Nixon & the Toad Liquors, Andrew Leahey & the Homestead, Jade Jackson, James Intveld, Norm Hamlet & Mario Carboni, Wade Sapp and Roger Alan Wade & Honky Tonk CIA. There was also a previously unannounced appearance by guitarist Wayne Kramer of the Detroit-based band MC5, who sat in with Lucinda Williams, Rosie Flores and the Long Ryders, among others.

Source link