For Summerfest’s 50th anniversary, festival organizers have presented a first: a festival inside of a festival, with the touring Outlaw Music Festival. The festival takes place July 9 at the American Family Insurance Amphitheater and features a conglomeration of acts both old and new: Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow, Jason Isbell, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, Margo Price, and Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real. Each artist has paved their own distinct path, a reason why they’re represented in the Outlaw tour.
Micah Nelson, Willie Nelson’s youngest son, will be performing with his band Particle Kid (which features members of Promise of the Real) on many of the later Outlaw Festival tour dates (he also has his band Insects vs Robots). For this show, he’ll join his father for his set, along with brother Lukas, and may jump in on Lukas’ set. He’s played in his father’s band his whole life and has played with the who’s who of musicians, including Neil Young.
Margo Price doesn’t have the esteemed heritage, but is one of the rising voices in country and Americana. The 34-year-old Nashville singer is enjoying the surge of success from her 2016 debut album, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter (which was released on Jack White’s Third Man Records). Her year includes a performance on Saturday Night Live and many trips around the world. She plans to release a new album later this year, which she says documents her growth as an artist.
Nelson feels the event will be one people are talking for a long time to come.
“I think people will remember it forever,” he says. “It’s going to be one of those things where we’ll all be better people by the end of it. Or least different. I think it’ll be like summer camp or something. There will be lots of great memories and stories.”
We talked to both individually about playing the festival and what being an outlaw means to them.
What do you think of being part of Summerfest’s 50th anniversary?
Micah Nelson: Oh wow, that’s right. It’s a full circle thing. It’s cool because the Rebel Content tour with Neil [Young] was at Summerfest in Milwaukee. It’s an honor to be part of that. It’s pretty cool.
Margo Price: I’m really excited. I can’t wait for the lineup. I could not be more thrilled for that show in particular.
What do you think of being part of the Outlaw Music Festival tour?
MP: I was thrilled when the call came in. I’m a big fan of Willie Nelson and his band and what he’s doing for a long time. And Bob Dylan is my all-time hero. It’s really cool to see my name on a poster with them.
MN: I’m excited to play. I’ve never played my songs with a full band live. It’ll be a first, very fun thing. Promise of the Real, half those guys played on the Particle Kid record anyway and they’re looking forward to it. They’re like family so it all fits together pretty well, like a puzzle. It feels right. We’re all going to have a great time.
What do you think when you hear the word outlaw?
MN: I don’t think outlaw ever specifically meant a style of music. It never meant country cowboy hats and boots and jackets and stuff which most people associate it with. But to me the outlaw thing is a spirit of fearlessness and artistic integrity and recognizing yourself and expressing that through your music and art or whatever it may be against all odds and against expectation.
I think being my dad’s son, people expect me to do certain things. But outlaw doesn’t mean living by expectations or conventions or what people want you to do. It means doing what your spirit is calling you to do. To me, to live up to any expectation in that sense, would be to do my thing. Like my dad did. He just happened to make country music. And they didn’t start calling it that when he started making it because country was shiny and polished. His style of country is broad and gritty.
Red Headed Stranger is pretty much a punk rock album to me. It’s a punk album in the context country music was expected to be at the time. To me, Dylan going electric at the Newport Folk Festival was outlaw. Nobody expected that and a lot of people didn’t like that. But he didn’t give a fuck, you know? He was following his muse. That’s what outlaw means to me. So I feel like I fit into that category.
MP: I think it’s a word with many layers. It’s like an onion. It may mean one thing to one person and another thing to another person. The original definition of it is somebody who plays by their own rules, and I definitely connect the dots on that aspect. I think it’s seen a lot of changes over the years.
How do you think your music fits in that outlaw category?
MN: I think there’s something about every genre that I can appreciate and inspires me. I tend to gravitate towards alchemy of a lot of different musical flavors and a lot of experimenting with combining things in a way that creates something that’s different but also familiar I definitely like psychedelic rock. And classical and orchestral music. I love film composers. I’m definitely interested in adapting pop or rock platforms and seeing what happens.
I just converted my car to a veggie oil bio system so I don’t have to pay for these wars that we like to engage in just to get from A to B. I like the idea of using waste oils at restaurants to fuel my car…It’s all part of being alive, having my life be a statement. I can’t really sing songs and talk about wanting to make the world a better place without backing it up with practical, pragmatic action.
MP: I don’t want to say my music only fits in one spot but I didn’t changed anything on my record for any label or for management or anyone who tried to make me fit one mold. So I guess when it comes to that I play by my own rules and stick to my guns about what I want my message and songs to say and stand for and mean.
You’ve been enjoying quite a big year following your debut’s release. Can you talk about that and how life and changed for you?
MP: It’s a great feeling knowing that people are coming to my shows now, and that I’m in publications that I really respect. I couldn’t be more pleased not to have to struggle to make ends meet. It’s a weight off my shoulder. I’m looking forward to keeping it real and keeping my career afloat. It’s been great.
I talked earlier this year with Milwaukee favorite and current Nashville resident Hugh Masterson. It sounds like you’ve been friends a couple years. What have you learned about Wisconsin playing with him?
MP: Well, I’m originally from the Midwest, so I’ve got a lot of ties to Wisconsin. My great grandfather is from the area outside of Milwaukee. And my family is from Illinois. So I have a pretty strong connection with the Midwest and the people there. We have definitely connected on that level because he’s from the Midwest and I am too. So we took him out for a couple of dates on tour with us this year. It was a good time. I also have a brother-in-law that’s from Wisconsin. I get to hang out with a lot of folks from up there during the holidays. Lot of Packers talk.
Anything special you’re planning for the Milwaukee performance?
MP: We’ll probably be playing a couple new tunes that we’ve been keeping for the new record mostly. We always try to change the setup, so maybe we’ll do a special song for Milwaukee or something.
Has your family helped get you into music?
MN: Sure, of course. Naturally my family is very musical. So I grew up listening to a lot of different types of music. Being exposed to music and growing up around encouraging musical people inspired me to do it myself.
Did you feel there was an expectation to go into music? Or was it more of a natural thing?
It was pretty natural. No one stuck anything in my face and said, “Do this.” It’s just kind of what we do. I was an artist for the beginning of my life. In my preteens and adolescence, I was deeply into filmmaking and animating. And I still do all those things. And I was playing in bands, it was a given. I was serious about it but it wasn’t until the end of high school that I started writing songs and started considering myself a composer and experimenting with that.
They’re all one thing to me. The visual and aural, they compliment each other in symbiosis. They seem to go in cycles. It generally revolves around music even when I’m painting. Like I’m painting backgrounds to be animated for Earth, Wind and Fire’s visual show or David Gilmour’s show at the Hollywood Bowl. Or with my band and animating music videos.