Billed as a gathering of free musical spirits, the CMT Outlaws concert taping Tuesday night (Sept. 7) exceeded expectations. A high-octane evening of free-spirited music rocked Nashville’s Gaylord Entertainment Center for nearly four hours, with performances by Hank Williams Jr., Kid Rock, Gretchen Wilson, Montgomery Gentry, Big & Rich, Tanya Tucker, Jessi Colter, Shooter Jennings, Metallica’s James Hetfield and members of Lynyrd Skynyrd — Gary Rossington, Billy Powell and Johnny Van Zant.
The CMT Outlaws event will premiere Oct. 29 as part of an exclusive two-part special on CMT
The musical tribute to the earlier Outlaws era in country featured several memorable nods to its most famous performers. Original member of the Wanted: The Outlaws album Jessi Colter sang “Mama Said” with Metallica’s James Hetfield. Her son (with original Outlaw Waylon Jennings) Shooter Jennings dueted on “The Conversation” with Hank Williams Jr. And the latter brought back the old Waylon-Willie Nelson number “Good Hearted Woman,” this time pairing on it with Colter.
In a pre-concert press conference, many of the artists emphasized the independent nature of the original Outlaw movement and its continuing influence. When asked if he planned to blow anything up, Hetfield wryly replied that “you don’t need pyro to be original.” Hetfield, who performed a mesmerizing metal version of Jennings’ “Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out of Hand,” said he was drawn to the music by Jennings and the strong and independent road he trod. “Waylon had walked the path before me,” he said. “I followed in his footsteps.”
Wilson, asked if the Outlaw label was detrimental to her as a woman artist, said, “I have no problem with the image. Outlaw to me means that we all had to claw through the dirt. Nobody on this stage was handed anything. Wearing the Outlaw badge is a badge of honor, and I wear it proudly.”
Asked about the usual Music Row tendency to copycat any huge commercial successes — such as Gretchen Wilson and Big & Rich this year — all parties concerned were united in a response. “They already tried,” said Wilson. “You can’t do it,” said Rich. “You can’t try to manufacture what is already real.”
Tucker noted that when she tried expanding her country music early in her career, “I was booed on the Opry stage.” She was trying, she said, “to broaden its appeal,” much as current audiences for Wilson and Big & Rich have demonstrated. John Rich amplified that message by pointing out that the same week that Big & Rich’s single “died at country radio, the album hit No. 1.”
Referring to the changing nature of popular music, Skynyrd’s Rossington said flatly that “Skynyrd would be considered a new country band, if we came out today.”
Shooter Jennings said, “I grew up on rock ‘n’ roll as much as I grew up on country music, because my dad loved rock ‘n’ roll. He loved the Stones, so you end up putting all those influences on your records.” In fact, the senior Jennings followed the Beatles and Rolling Stones’ careers and cut songs from the two bands’ song catalogs. In that spirit, said Shooter Jennings, he’s titling his forthcoming Universal South debut album Put the ‘O’ Back in Country.
For more photos from the CMT Outlaws concert, visit Hank Williams Jr.’s artist page at CMT.com.