Robert Plant and Alison Krauss melded their different musical worlds

They join Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan at Outlaw Music Festival on June 21.
The Grammy-winning duo Robert Plant and Alison Krauss promise a set list featuring tracks from their two albums as well as reimagined renditions of Plant's Led Zeppelin material when they perform as part of the Outlaw Music Festival on June 21 at Ameris Bank Amphitheatre at Encore Park.
(Courtesy of David McClister)

Credit: David McClister

Credit: David McClister

The Grammy-winning duo Robert Plant and Alison Krauss promise a set list featuring tracks from their two albums as well as reimagined renditions of Plant's Led Zeppelin material when they perform as part of the Outlaw Music Festival on June 21 at Ameris Bank Amphitheatre at Encore Park. (Courtesy of David McClister)

The Outlaw Music Festival tour will soon hit the road at full gallop, spotlighting artists who break conventions and shrug off labels. At 91, headliner Willie Nelson can easily croon a standard or duet with Snoop Dogg as he can tell mamas not to let their babies grow up to be cowboys. The incomparable Bob Dylan has been breaking rules since the 1960s. And the once-unlikely pair of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss continue proving a rock god and an angelic, fiddle-playing bluegrass singer are a match made somewhere along heaven’s stairway.

“I don’t know whether we are challenging convention,” Plant said during a recent phone call alongside Krauss. “I mean, we just do what we do. I suppose we are, because we come from different corners of the musical spectrum. But yeah, we’re part of that great movement aren’t we, all of us?”

Together, Plant and Krauss’ own melodic movement kicked off with the phenomenal success of their 2007 album “Raising Sand,” where their contrasting pedigrees and styles meshed magically, resulting in a string of Grammy wins and a shower of critical praise. Their 2021, Grammy-nominated follow-up, “Raise the Roof,” explored the same formula of roots-heavy readings with producer T Bone Burnett at the helm. Although interest in their pairing spans 17 years and is inspiring their second summer trek in a row, it began as an unforeseen experiment.

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss are featured along with Willie Nelson & Family, Bob Dylan and Celisse on June 21 for the Atlanta-area stop of the Outlaw Music Festival tour.
(Courtesy of David McClister)

Credit: David McClister

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Credit: David McClister

Plant, the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer best known as Led Zeppelin’s vocalist, and Americana icon Krauss first crossed paths when paired at a Lead Belly tribute in the early aughts. The initial chemistry and mutual adoration for roots music prompted the pair to give recording a shot. And the result exceeded their expectations.

“Well, it was something,” said Krauss. “The whole thing has been a surprise, from just the first idea of going into the studio. We had no expectations at all. And when we first talked about recording together, Robert says, ‘Let’s go in for three days, and if we don’t like it, goodbye for now.’ And it was great.”

That would be an understatement. Plant recalls listening to a recording shortly after their initial session. “I [thought] what is this thing, this amazing shudder of energy and unexpectedness?” he said. “It was magnificent. Yeah, I got out of jail free.”

Their recorded material ranges from Everly Brothers classics to Allen Toussaint’s New Orleans R&B to Doc Watson bluegrass and a variety of points in between. Yet the duo doesn’t simply dust off hidden gems from the record bin. Their thoughtful interpretations honor each composition by creating something refreshingly its own.

“A great song has many lives and survives all kinds of different arrangements,” Krauss said. “And I suppose the approach is you have to forget the original if you’re going to do it at all. You have to be OK with it having another life.”

That new life continues to evolve, she said, from the studio to the stage. While Krauss and Plant may only initially play a song a few times during a recording session, the tunes really come alive once they’re taken out on the road, she said.

The songs “find their home and they have an ability to change [nightly] depending on moods or what the crowd’s doing or what song you just played prior,” said Krauss. “They really develop their own life and those changes that happen night to night are always exciting, especially with this band.”

Alison Krauss recalls, "When we first talked about recording together, Robert [Plant] says, ‘Let’s go in for three days, and if we don’t like it, goodbye for now.’ And it was great.”
(Courtesy of Alysse Gafkjen)

Credit: Alysse Gafkjen

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Credit: Alysse Gafkjen

Yet the duo’s dynamic was something Plant himself was a bit weary of out of the gate. When fronting Led Zeppelin, he rarely sang harmony, and he wasn’t sure he could hold up his end of the bargain. It’s a surprising and vulnerable revelation coming from a legendary rocker whose commanding presence and vocal prowess have been conjuring a “Whole Lotta Love” from audiences for decades.

“It was something I wasn’t used to because I’d never actually been in a collaboration before really on such an intimate level, certainly not vocally,” he said. “I didn’t really have a great deal of self confidence. … I didn’t know whether vocally I could actually get it. And as time went on, I think we both learned that sometimes after a little while you find something that had nothing to do with the original idea, but it’s just really good. It’s something that we cherish quietly without actually talking about.”

On stage, Plant and Krauss let the music do the talking. Their sets typically find them plucking favorites from both “Raising Sand” and “Raise the Roof,” while reimagining Led Zeppelin classics such as “Rock and Roll” and “When the Levee Breaks.” In fact, they’ve been known to push that creativity by weaving a patchwork consisting of Plant’s solo hit “In the Mood,” the English folk song “Matty Groves” and Zeppelin’s traditional arrangement of “Gallows Pole.”

While the idea of revisiting rock standards on stage with their co-creator might be daunting to some, Krauss said she enjoys the ride. “Well, I know that all those tunes as he’s played them through the years have already evolved into another version of themselves,” she said. “And we weren’t trying to copy anything. It very much changes them. … And so I wasn’t too stressed about it. I think if I was trying to emulate something that I’d be in real trouble.”

Plant and Krauss continue putting their stamp on music in front of audiences this summer with their 10 dates on the Outlaw Music Festival tour sandwiched between their own headlining jaunt. And they believe that sharing a bill with their fellow Outlaw luminaries will prove to be inspiring and reinvigorating in the midst of it all.

Plant and Krauss are excited to be doing 10 dates on the Outlaw Music Festival tour along with Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan. "All his magical words and his rough and rowdy ways is just something I’m beside myself with," Plant says of Dylan. "For me, I’m just part of the audience."

Credit: AP PHOTOS

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Credit: AP PHOTOS

“If you think about my heritage as a singer through the years,” Plant said, “this is such a great place to be and to precede Bob Dylan, all his magical words and his rough and rowdy ways is just something I’m beside myself with. For me, I’m just part of the audience. I think I’m in a great, blessed position to be alongside my partner here and teaming up with these people who’ve had such remarkable and incredibly impressive periods in our consciousness.”

Once their summer touring wraps, what’s next for Plant and Krauss? Although they recently released their live version of “When the Levee Breaks” as a single, they’re not saying much about the future of their partnership. However, the door seems open for a possible third album, hopefully without the extended break.

“Fourteen years was a while to do the follow up, wasn’t it?” said Plant. “Yeah, great business idea that was. Well, let’s try and make it less than 14 next time.”


CONCERT PREVIEW

The Outlaw Music Festival

Featuring Willie Nelson and Family, Bob Dylan, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Celisse. 5:30 p.m. June 21. $86 and up. Ameris Bank Amphitheatre at Encore Park, 2200 Encore Parkway, Alpharetta. 404-733-5013, 1-800-653-8000, encoreparkamphitheatre.com.