When the fourth annual Outlaw Country Cruise docked in Nassau in the Bahamas on Wednesday morning, it picked up a new passenger: Country Music Hall of Fame member Bobby Bare. The 83-year-old singer, who became synonymous with the Outlaw genre via progressive albums like Bobby Bare Sings Lullabys, Legends and Lies, boarded the ship for two special concerts, one with his son Bobby Bare Jr., and another that evening as the subject of an all-star tribute.
Emceed by Deadwood actor — and perennial tribute host — W. Earl Brown, the production was a loose, freewheeling affair, with artists from Steve Earle to Margo Price performing songs that Bare made famous, with the guest of honor looking on from the front row of the Norwegian Pearl’s Stardust Theater.
Jim Lauderdale, a ubiquitous presence on the cruise (who, when not fist-bumping fans, was teaching them tai chi on the beach), summoned the eeriness of Cowboy Jack Clement’s “Miller’s Cave.” Dale Watson, with his white pompadour and Haggard voice, interpreted Tom T. Hall’s “How I Got to Memphis.” And Shooter Jennings delivered “Quaaludes Again,” drawing out each of Shel Silverstein’s lyrics with a knowing wink. Nearly as much as Bare himself, Silverstein and his subversive worldview was a dominant presence throughout the night, with host Brown telling tall tales about the poet.
Later, John Doe and Drive-By Truckers’ Mike Cooley set aside their rock tendencies for two of Bare’s more twangy recordings. Doe offered a mournful “Streets of Baltimore,” while Cooley playfully crooned songwriter Paul Craft’s cheeky waltz “Dropkick Me Jesus.”
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While many of the artists were backed by house band Heybale, a who’s who of touring and studio greats like pianist Floyd Domino and guitarist Dallas Wayne, others brought along their own groups. Chief amon them: Earle and the Dukes, who kicked off the show with “New Cut Road,” and Margo Price, who let her crack band, led by bassist Kevin Back, set the tempo for Bare’s “Tequila Sheila.” Blake Shelton recently covered the song in anticipation of his Friends and Heroes Tour, but in Price’s hands the boozy daydreamer’s anthem was more fantastical and less party-hearty, elevated by her Tammy Wynette-like vocal runs.
Naturally, Bare took the stage to close the night, offering a satisfying sing-along of “Detroit City” with its “I want to go home” refrain especially fitting on Day 4 of a five-day cruise. Nonetheless, it was hard to top the concert’s high point, which came only four songs into the set when Outlaw Cruise favorite Jesse Dayton howled his way through “Marie Laveau.” Dayton alone would have been enough to sell the song, but fiddle great Doug Kershaw was an added bonus. The Ragin’ Cajun, at 83, was undeniably magnetic, backing up Dayton with his wild, irreverent style of playing. Much like Laveau, Kershaw worked a voodoo magic all his own.