Indestructible super-Texan troubadour Willie Nelson brings the band he calls Family (sister Bobby plays piano with him) to headline the “Outlaw Music Festival” Sunday at Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC – Rts. 9 and 50, Saratoga Springs).
Bouncing back from health challenges, he tours and records at the pace of a much younger stoner, displaying the work ethic of a caffeinated chainsaw. Now 85, he’s released three studio albums in the last 16 months; “My Way” is his 68th studio release, and he’s acted in more than 30 films. Texan in the deepest most progressive way, Willie is earning plaudits and taking heat for supporting Beto O’Rourke’s challenge to Ted Cruz. Willie is hard-country, he’s folk-rock, he’s Great American Songbook crooner; he’s high-plains drifter, he’s Nashville outlaw. He’s Willie Nelson, and we will only ever have just this one. Willie Nelson and Family hit at 9:35 p.m.
This long show starts early, at 2:30 p.m. with Particle Kid (J. Micah Nelson, Willie’s son); then Lukas Nelson (another of Willie’s sons) & Promise of the Real at 3:30 p.m. Soul rockers Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats rock neo-soul at 4:10 p.m. The extraordinary singer-songwriter Sturgill Simpson plays at 5:50 p.m. Then Neil Young plays with Promise of the Real at 7:35 p.m. They’ve toured and recorded together since 2015, releasing three albums. Amphitheater seats may be available only through resellers; lawn $45. 800-745-3000 www.LiveNation.com
Stellar vibraphonist Warren Wolf leads his quartet – Alex Brown, piano; Kris Funn, bass; John Lamkin, drums – Friday at A Place for Jazz (Unitarian Universalist Society of Schenectady, 1221 Wendell Ave.) Impressive in shows here with guitarist Mike Moreno at A Place for Jazz and with the San Francisco Jazz Collective at The Egg, Wolf follows Sharel Cassity who set the bar crescent-moon high in the season opener two weeks ago and who closed Jazz at the Lake (George) last weekend. 7:30 p.m. $20. 518-393-4011 www.aplaceforjazz.org
Robbie Fulks and Linda Gail Lewis team up Saturday at WAMC’s The Linda (339 Central Ave., Albany). He’s a soft-spoken singer-songwriter all about quiet and witty articulation, though he’s also known to hoot and holler at times. She’s a big-voiced piano pounder as intense as older brother Jerry Lee, who hails their “Wild Wild Wild” album as product of “the best duo of our time.” 8 p.m. $18. 518-465-5233 www.thelinda.org
Except for classic-rock or band-specific cover acts, we see more singer-songwriters playing here than performers in any other style. A good thing.
Ani DiFranco returns tonight to The Egg (Empire State Plaza, Albany). The intrepid singer-songwriter/record-label chief makes the most of her move to New Orleans, touring these days with keyboardist Ivan Neville and drummer Terence Higgins from her adopted home, also with California-to-New York fiddler-singer Jenny Scheinman. DiFranco has made almost as many albums as Willie Nelson; OK, I exaggerate: 25 studio albums, three EPs, four compilations and 20 live releases. Guided equally by firm principle and sheer joy in music making, she’s a force of nature, in the best way. Fellow veteran troubadour Peter Mulvey opens. 8 p.m. $35. 518-473-1845 www.theegg.org
Old Songs (37 Main St., Voorheesville) revs up its new season with Celtic folk band Imar Saturday and fiddler Donna Hebert’s 70th Birthday Celebration Sunday. (See Indiana Nash’s interview story on Donna Hebert on page 13.)
Imar is Ryan Murphy, pipes, flute and whistles; Tomas Callister, fiddle; Adam Rhodes, bouzouki; Mohsen Amini, concertina; all are veterans of previous bands. They’ll soon release their second album, “Avalanche,” and will likely introduce its songs on Saturday. 7:30 p.m. $25, children 12 and under $5. 518-765-2815 www.oldsongs.org
The Park Theater (14 Park St., Glens Falls) presents a troubadour one-two of David Wilcox and Girl Blue Friday. While k.d. lang and others have recorded Cleveland-born Wilcox’s tunes, his own easy-going baritone/fingerpicking renditions remain definitive on his 18 albums and seemingly non-stop touring. Area star Girl Blue emerged with exciting promise as writer and performer; our NEXT BIG TALENT? Seems so. 7:30 p.m. $27 advance, $30 door. 518-792-1150 www.parktheatergf.com
Also Friday, the Nell and Jim Band plays bluegrass at WAMC’s The Linda (339 Central Ave., Albany). Nell is singer Nell Robinson, Jim is guitarist Jim Nunnally; the band is Jim Kerwin, bass; Rob Reich, accordion; and Jon Arkin, percussion. 8 p.m. $20 518-465-5233 www.thelinda.org
The 8th Step fans the bright flame of the late great folksinger Phil Ochs with its annual Phil Ochs Song Night, happening Saturday in The Addy at Proctors (3rd floor, 432 State St., Schenectady). An all-region cast will celebrate Ochs’ 60s/70s/timeless songs: Greg Greenway, Reggie Harris, Magpie, and Pat Wictor. This also marks the 45th anniversary of Magpie (writers-singers-guitarists Terry Leonino and Greg Artzner) who formed three years before Ochs’ tragic death in 1976. Harris spoke brilliantly about his creative process in a recent Vox Pop (WAMC) episode shared with novelist Barbara Chepaitis and hosted by Ray Graf; and he has a new album. Greenway and Wictor perform both solo and occasionally with Joe Jencks as Brother Sun. 7:30 p.m. $50-$26 general admission. 518-434-1703 www.8thstep.org
A homecoming show by former Saratoga stalwart Don Armstrong always brings musical pals lining up to play with the skilled songwriter/engaging performer. With his late, great life-and-musical partner Victoria, Armstrong played Caffe Lena often. He returns there Saturday in strong and able company, and he’s been guesting on others’ shows at the Caffe since arriving last week from Arizona. He brings guitars and banjo and songs from his own 50-years-deep writing work as well as older material from the southwest. Top area talents Tony Markellis, bass; Michael Markowitz, mandolin & guitar; Teresina Huxtable, accordion and keyboards, and very likely additional musical friends and allies will play and sing in happy support. 8 p.m. $16 advance, $18 door, $9 students and children. 518-583-0022 www.caffelena.org
The Caffe’s weekend starts with the raucous New York City blues of guitarist Popa Chubby tonight (7 p.m. $22 advance, $25 door, $12.50 students and children), returns to the folk realm Friday with Canadian (and proud of it!) troubadour Dave Gunning Friday (8 p.m. $16 advance, $18 door, $9 students and children) and wraps up Sunday with regional old-country veteran Smokey Greene and his band Sunday (7 p.m. $16 advance, $18 door, $9 students and children).
Hamell on Trial plays a 1937 Gibson acoustic almost as beat up as Willie Nelson’s old Martin. Willie bought his new and has picked a hole through its top, but I digress. Hamell will look kinda folk-ish for only about half a nanosecond when he takes the stage at The Low Beat (335 Central Ave., Albany); then things get wild, wild wild. Hamell on Trial plays every Wednesday this month, except the car trouble-cancelled one. For fierce wit and rock-show intensity, Hamell on Trial is unprecedented and dependably great. Wednesday is the last chance to see him in this month-long residency. 7 p.m. $10. 518-432-6572 www.thelowbeat.com