Sturgill Simpson performs during the opening song of his set. A capacity crowd was in attendance for Outlawfest, which also featured performances by Ryan Bingham and Willie Nelson. The concert was held at Dos Equis Pavilion in Dallas on June 30, 2018. .

Sturgill Simpson performs during the opening song of his set. A capacity crowd was in attendance for Outlawfest, which also featured performances by Ryan Bingham and Willie Nelson. The concert was held at Dos Equis Pavilion in Dallas on June 30, 2018. .

Steve Hamm/Special Contributor

Summer weather with temperatures nearing triple digits was enough to make any Dallasite consider staying in the comfort of an air-conditioned home. But it didn't sway thousands of country music fans, who crowded the Dos Equis Pavilion in Fair Park to see Willie Nelson headlining one of his newer music events, Outlaw Festival.

Outlaw Festival made its second trip to Dallas on the heels of a successful first year. In 2017, we called it one of Nelson's best concerts of recent memory. In late-May, however, when the 2018 concert tour stopped Charlotte, N.C., Nelson made an appearance on stage before tossing his hat to the crowd and exiting without strumming a single note.

There was a moment of anticipation Saturday night at Dos Equis Pavilion when Nelson and his Family Band took center stage. Sporting his signature braids beneath a white cowboy hat, the Red Headed Stranger waved to the crowd, put his red, white and blue guitar strap around his neck, and hooked his trusted wooden companion, Trigger, against his chest. With the first notes of "Whiskey River," a massive Texas flag unfurled behind the band, and locals knew the daylong wait to see a living legend was worth the while.

Willie Nelson performs during the Outlaw Music Festival 2017. Nelson usually encourages the audience finish the lyrics to popular songs songs, such as "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys."

Willie Nelson performs during the Outlaw Music Festival 2017. Nelson usually encourages the audience finish the lyrics to popular songs songs, such as "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys."

Tailyr Irvine/Staff Photographer

Not that it had been chore. Outlaw Festival's lineup was nothing short of exceptional with performances by Sturgill Simpson, Ryan Bingham, the Head and the Heart, Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians, the Wild Feathers, Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real, and Particle Kid — all of which proved that outlaws take many forms and fashions, and so does their music.

Outlaw Festival's name alludes to the outlaw country genre that Nelson and his cohorts made famous, but the contemporary acts on the bill only used that as backbone to support their tunes that veered into rock, folk, Spanish, jam and numerous other styles.

For example, Sturgill Simpson, who is known for his polished twang, won a Grammy for best country album in 2017 for A Sailor's Guide to Earth. While many of the songs on the record have underlying psychedelic vibes, Simpson and his band went full-on Pink Floyd in concert, ending each tune in a whirl of seemingly endless instrumentation. The performance of "It Ain't All Flowers," off Simpson's 2014 album Metamodern, culminated with several minutes of head-banging over wild piano, sharp guitar picking and trudging bass lines. It's a wonder the musicians didn't shred their instruments to pieces.

Sturgill Simpson rocks the stage at Dos Equis Pavilion at Outlaw Festival

Sturgill Simpson rocks the stage at Dos Equis Pavilion at Outlaw Festival

Steve Hamm/Special Contributor

Texas-raised country musician Ryan Bingham also turned up the volume with the help of his backing fiddle, saxophone, guitar, drum and bass players. Beloved ballads like "Tell My Mother I Miss Her So" and "Hallelujah" were kept intact with Bingham's raspy voice leading the way, until the rest of band joined in and gave them, in the singer's words, a "foot clapping, hand stomping" energy. 

Having lived in Laredo, Bingham always infuses some Spanish flavor into his set. At Outlaw Festival, he did it with "La Malagueña," a song he learned to play after receiving his first guitar at 16.

Festival attendees who arrived prior to the three biggest acts — Bingham, Simpson and Nelson — were either diehard fans of the opening bands or could be considered slightly crazy. As the weather climbed to near unbearable temperatures, many went into survival mode, finding the limited shade on the lawn or ducking into an air-conditioned lounge near the concession area. Still, the humidity couldn't dampen the festive spirit, even if fans' Fourth of July-inspired red, white and blue outfits and Willie Nelson-style braids were completely soaked through.

The effects of the heat were apparent when the Head and the Heart's lead singer Jonathan Russell messed up the timing on one lyric, but the band's powerful harmonies still managed to give fans goose bumps.

"Anyone back there working on a Slip 'n Slide? Because that would be nice after this," Russell said. "I'll throw down $10 for the tarp."

Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians, who were playing to a hometown audience, showed promise with their new material, especially a groovy little tune called "What Makes You Happy."

Willie Nelson performs at PNC Music Pavilion on June 20, 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was originally scheduled for May 26, but spontaneously canceled the show due to illness.

Willie Nelson performs at PNC Music Pavilion on June 20, 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was originally scheduled for May 26, but spontaneously canceled the show due to illness.

Jeff Hahne/Getty Images

Once the sun finally set, it was all about the main attraction, Mr. Willie Nelson. For those who have seen him live before, Nelson's show is predictable but no less captivating each time. Saturday's performance was merely an hour, but it covered the bases: Nelson opened with "Whiskey River," sang duets with the adoring crowd on "Beer for My Horses" and "Mammas Don't Let your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys," and tossed his iconic red bandanas into the seats with the swagger of his younger self. Because the set was so short, it didn't even touch material from Nelson's latest album, Last Man Standing.

Nelson looked nimble as ever on guitar during a cover of "Texas Flood," during which his son Lukas adequately channeled the spirit of Stevie Ray Vaughan on lead strings and vocals. The 85-year-old welcomed Bingham and other members of the opening acts — or as Nelson called them "the tabernacle choir" — to finish the set with honky tonk hymns "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," "I'll Fly Away," and "I Saw the Light."

Watching the generations of country music artists stand side by side on stage Saturday, it was evident the genre has evolved well beyond when Nelson was helping define it. Outlaw Festival proved the Red Headed Stranger is still a treasure to witness and his influence will live on indefinitely.

What's Happening on GuideLive