Willie Nelson has defined outlaw country by defying definition.

Willie Nelson has defined outlaw country by defying definition.

Jason Davis/Getty Images for SiriusXM

When it comes to this year's Dallas stop of the Outlaw Festival starring Lone Star legend Willie Nelson, the lineup feels like a game of "One of These Things is Not Like the Other."

Of course, more than 40 years ago, Nelson helped usher in what we now know as the "outlaw country" era in music alongside iconic pals with Texas roots: Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Billy Joe Shaver. Having the Red Headed Stranger headline the 2018 Outlaw Festival is a no-brainer. A slam dunk. The Dallas stop also features some more recent additions to the anti-country establishment world in gravelly-toned Academy Award-winner Ryan Bingham and enigmatic country-soul rocker Sturgill Simpson.

Country artist Sturgill Simpson performs at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

Country artist Sturgill Simpson performs at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

Jason Kempin/Getty Images

It's easy to spot the differences in the sounds and styles of these maverick artists, but there's a philosophical symmetry in the way each gallops down his own path.

And when fans hear the rest of the lineup, don't expect images of black leather vests and back-alley chicanery: Seattle folk-rock collective the Head and the Heart, Dallas' own '80s hit-makers Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians and Nashville's slick Wild Feathers, a roots-rock band that's more rock than roots, aren't exactly oozing with the macho muscle many attach with the outlaw moniker.

But maybe it's the variety and left-field feel that makes this bill more outlaw than it seems?

Ryan Bingham performed at the Toyota Texas Music Revolution at Oak Point Park in Plano on Saturday, March 24, 2018.

Ryan Bingham performed at the Toyota Texas Music Revolution at Oak Point Park in Plano on Saturday, March 24, 2018.

Rose Baca/Staff Photographer

Last month at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, a new exhibit entitled Outlaws and Armadillos: Country's Roaring '70s opened, featuring a sprawling collection of artifacts from the era that birthed outlaw country. When describing the new exhibit, Nashville Scene writer Marissa Moss highlights how a pair of Nelson's blue Adidas tennis shoes capably encapsulates the spirit of the outlaw country movement.

"They are as emblematic as anything else from a period when what was important was not to rebel for rebellion's sake," Moss writes. "The important thing was indulging vigorously in one's creative spirit and taking ownership of art."

Outlaw Music Festival: Willie Nelson / Sturgill Simpson / Ryan Bingham

The most beloved country outlaws are defined by a fierce drive to maintain independence. Just as in 1964 when Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously stated "I know it when I see it," in regards to pornography, the same holds true for outlaw country. Some performers may have a long beard -- like current Texas indie outlaw king Cody Jinks. Others might boast a decadently low baritone voice -- similar to platinum-selling singer-songwriter Jamey Johnson. But if being a country outlaw were only about costumes and basic vocal tricks, then poppy R&B wannabes Florida Georgia Line would be the Waylon and Willie of this generation. And let's be clear here: They are most certainly not.

Yet another definition of outlaw on dictionary.com offers a keen description that fits not only Nelson, Simpson and Bingham, but any festival that features a diverse range of artists in an effort to simply bring about new and unique style:

"A person who refuses to be governed by the established rules or practices of any group," the definition continues: "rebel; nonconformist."

Outlaw Festival takes place June 30 starting at 1:20 p.m. at Dos Equis Pavilion, 3839 S. Fitzhugh Ave., Dallas. $32-$174.20. ticketmaster.com.

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