Event organizer

Event organizer Powell never imagined Outlaws 9.0

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Mark Powell has a long checklist when it comes to the Outlaws & Legends Music Festival.

It’s more than just bringing great artists to the event, which is taking place for the ninth year on Friday afternoon.

The task list

He talked about parking. He worked to get the city’s water service, which was supposed to come to fruition this week. He wants the venue to feature something new every year.

He wants the experience to be memorable for everyone involved. That means keeping VIPs happy, long-time attendees happy, newbies happy, vendors happy…everyone, happy, happy, happy.

This year, that meant adding 50 more RV spaces to bring the total to nearly 400. This turns Texas’ Back Porch into a small suburb of Abilene.

He wants to save energy to perform. He and his own musical formation, Lariat, perform every year. Powell is above all an artist.

He never dreamed the first year, in 2011, that a small musical event would grow to attract 10,000 fans, as he did last year for the first time. It has become a must-attend event for fans from dozens of states and even faraway countries.

He also needs to calm down to get through the late night jam session. It has become an annual tradition, and this year inspired the construction of a teepee-like structure over the fire pit.

Instead of performers singing above the main stage between acts, the music will move to the teepee area this year.

His wife’s idea, he admits, and a good idea.

And Chris?

Finally, there is the task of bringing great artists to come and choose and sing for a while on the Back Porch. This year, he was able to access his personal to-do list and date Kristofferson.

Continued: Fiddler Joss helps Kristofferson get through the night

Legend Kristofferson will wrap up the event on Saturday night, and the rising trio from Texas Midland will top Friday’s music slate.

Powell was lucky enough to bring in Kristofferson two years ago, but the singer was involved in a movie project. Not wanting to risk a late unavailability, Powell backed off.

Then last year, Powell was in Nashville considering buying the original Haggard tour bus. He was talking with longtime manager Frank Mull over dinner when Mull asked about the outlaws.

“He asked me who I was going to get this year,” Powell said. Kristofferson would still be good.

Mull chewed that and while Powell was away from the table he made his move.

“Kris is here,” Mull told Powell upon his return. One text is enough.

Getting the Outsiders to support him was the icing on the cake.

“I was thrilled,” Powell said.

He is enthusiastic about Midland, which relies on old-school country, and the mix of newcomers and returnees. A recognized singer is outlaw southern country rocker Shooter Jennings, the son of the late Waylon Jennings. Jennings performed at the Lumberyard in Roscoe.

Continued: Country trio Midland try not to have a stardom problem

Save the date March

“It’s way beyond what I thought,” Powell said of Outlaws & Legends.

He recently looked at a photo from the freshman year, when the festival kicked off at Lytle Bend Ranch, Joe Allen’s BBQ, southeast of Abilene.

“It was weird seeing that. I didn’t want to get into an annual reunion,” he said.

But it became what is being billed as the biggest musical event on a single stage.

Whether he intended to create a permanent festival or organize a backyard style musical event, this is what he has now.

He even bought the stage instead of Allen and each year tweaked the performance setup to better accommodate the crowd.

This year there will be a larger screen attached to the top of the covered stage to give people from afar a better view.

Video: How the Outlaws and Legends concert found its way to Back Porch of Texas

Fingers crossed on the weather

One thing Powell can’t control is the weather. No one can in West Texas. Heck, we never know what this is going to do from one minute to the next.

The event has been blessed with near perfect weather for the past three years.

The latest forecast calls for rain on Friday, but there’s a chance on Saturday, hopefully just overnight. Temperatures will rise into the 70s.

It is, after all, March in Texas, that time of year with sunscreen, umbrella, overcoat and tank top.

Either way, the excitement has been building for this show for months.

Advance ticket sales and promotions are up 34%, Powell said, and all promotional offers have sold out this year. As the final weeks approached, only general admission tickets remained.

Powell will tell you that he works hard to keep the event in top shape every year. He is active, but also involves his friends. He sought community buy-in.

He listens to those present. As an artist, he has the perspective to cope, but it is the spectators who experience the event.

The Saturday night jam is an example. A few years ago, a fan asked Powell to do a song in the tailgate area. He made it worth Powell’s worth.

While traveling to the area, Powell met Gary P. Nunn and Dean Dillon and they joined him.

“Maybe (Kevin) Fowler too,” Powell recalled. And the nocturnal tradition was born.

“It’s as organic as it gets,” he said. Possibly his favorite part of the whole event, playing any song with any artist walking around for whoever wants to listen.

“For me, that’s the best thing, picking without any structure,” he said. “We’re all independent, and that’s the best part.”

It’s extras like this that bring fans back, Powell said.

“They like the vibe,” he said. “For them, it’s become this massive family reunion. We have 24 people from Oregon. Some from Chicago and Maine.

“They love it here.”

Raise your guns!

Powell embarked on the story of performing in Poland and how some of the friends he made there will be in Abilene for the show.

It seems that Powell was the headliner and what he discovered by watching others perform is that Polish music fans have their own way of appreciating a song. They fire guns in the air. Scared his wife at first, but once it was explained that it was appreciation and not violence, they relaxed.

When he performed and only received three shots after a slow song, Powell said he berated the crowd for not liking him enough. It soon looked like a shooting gallery at the festival.

That won’t happen here, of course. But the social media comments, the applause, the surge in attendance and now 1,500 people staying Saturday before Sunday for the jam session tell him festival-goers are having fun.

The event will again benefit the Ben Richey Boys Ranch. Over the years, this has been to the tune of over $300,000.

More in Do Abilene!

Interviews with violinist Scott Joss of The Strangers and Saturday afternoon performer Mike Ryan.