THROUGH THE LENS: Cowpunk Sets Sail on Outlaw Country Cruise West
Jim Lauderdale - Outlaw Country West 2022 - Photo by Lisa Costantino
After six highly successful Outlaw Country cruises from the eastern portion of the United States, organizers Renegade Circus and Sixthman decided to take their talents to the West Coast for the aptly titled Outlaw Country West (OCC West). Billed as a celebration of California’s country rock and cowpunk legacy, OCC West sailed from Los Angeles to Cabo San Lucas and Ensenada, Mexico. It certainly did not disappoint.
ND was fortunate to have two cruise (and ND) veterans, Boom Baker and self-described California punker Lisa Costantino, on board to soak in the Pacific vibes while listening and photographing one whale of a cruise. Below are their reports.
Loading the lineup with legendary Los Angeles cowpunks for the inaugural West Coast cruise was an inspired choice, and a natural one, too. After all, what’s more “outlaw” than punk? Bands such as Social Distortion, The Beat Farmers, The Long Ryders, Mojo Nixon & The Toad Liquors, and the progenitors of L.A. punk, X, rocked the Baja-cruising boat to a dynamic and raucous beat. Throw in roots rockers Dave Alvin, Los Lobos, and Chuck Prophet and just try to stay seated. Anyone who didn’t expect a loud and rollicking time didn’t read the lineup.
However, there was also plenty of variety for everyone, from the upbeat Deke Dickerson and the Whippersnappers and Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys to rockin’ women Shannon McNally, Lillie Mae, Jade Jackson, Elizabeth Cook, ageless firecracker Rosie Flores, and, to top it off, the Queen of Americana herself, Lucinda Williams.
OCC West featured a few differences from its Caribbean sibling: Pacific waters made for cooler nights on the pool deck, five nights rather than the usual seven meant fewer concert conflicts, and the crowd in general was more relaxed and diverse. However, many of the usual events remained: the Guitar Pull, the Sirius XM Sessions at Sea, the late-night jams, and artist-hosted fun such as Beat Farmers Bingo and book signings.
And, of course, tributes. Musicians packed the Stardust stage to fete California native son Merle Haggard, including Norm Hamlet, Haggard’s pedal steel guitarist. Several SoCal musicians re-grouped as The Pleasure Barons to pay tribute to the late Country Dick Montana, co-founder of the Beat Farmers.
A number of musicians could be tagged OCC West’s “most valuable player,” but guitarist Wayne Kramer of the proto-punk band MC5 led the list. He sat in with Rosie Flores, the Long Ryders, and Lucinda Williams during their respective sets.
All I can say now is bring on OCC West 2023!
The initial OCC West opened with Los Lobos playing the sail-away pool deck show with everyone on their feet dancing. It was a joyous soulful start of five days of music from the 30+ artists that ranged in style from country and western to rock and rockabilly and punk, and cowpunk. There were two more sail-away shows with Terry Allen and the Panhandle Mystery Band leaving Cabo San Lucas and a fiery show with Social Distortion accompanied by a beautiful sunset over Ensenada.
You could chose to go from show to show from noon to after midnight, or you could enjoy some of the boat amenities, see your favorite artists, catch only the shows from artists who are new to you, or end your day on your balcony watching the moonbeams dancing on the water.
A guitar pull with Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Stuart Mathis, Charlie Sexton, and Dave Alvin had many highlights, including a little bit of humor when Sexton was getting a little long-winded in his song introduction and Steve Earle (Mr. Loquacious himself) said “Play the song,” to which Sexton replied, “Accused of talking too much by Steve Earle … wow.”
Dave Alvin received a warm and loving reception for his high-energy performances. In the past two years, Alvin has received three separate cancer diagnoses and spent months undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. He was absolutely amazing with no signs of being off his game.
Both Lucinda Williams shows were as good as it gets with her stellar backup band Buick 6. The last song of her final set was a barn burner. Joining Mathis on stage were Charlie Sexton and MC5’s Wayne Kramer, who brought fireworks to the stage performing “Rockin’ in the Free World.” Fellow cruiser Candice Oxendale Fowler said it best: “If love were dynamite, that room would be rubble.”
I second Lisa, and I cannot wait for next year’s edition.
Click on any photo below to view the gallery as a full-size slideshow.