There are many music festivals held in Texas and beyond each year. It seems like new ones are popping up all over the place all the time. Some stand the test of time and some are ill-fated pipe dreams.
Larry Joe Taylor’s Texas Music Festival is the squarely in the former category. It is a special, transcendent event that stands out in the crowded and competitive field of music festivals. There are many reasons for this, and it starts with the nature of community that is built and bonded among the varying socio-economic degrees of attendees. People from all walks of life find themselves on equal footing the moment they travel through the gates of Melody Mountain Ranch. There’s something about camping out and roughing it in a cow pasture filled with cedar smoke and campfire tunes for five days that puts everyone on the same level. Neighbors cooking breakfast for one another, sharing supplies and stories, watching over each others belongings, spending Sunday morning worshiping together before heading home, and building lasting friendships typify what the festival is all about.While those relationship building exercises provide the spark of uniqueness to LJTs festival, it is after all, a first-rate music festival. And, most of what make the festival special is found through the music. There are several musical moments that stand out in my brain as to exemplifying the best of LJTs Music Festival.
However, there were a couple moments that occurred at the 2008 festival I will never forget.Nothing personifies the overall spirit of the festival better than Rusty Wier. A survivor of the high flying Texas music 70’s Outlaw Movement, Rusty forged ahead through the 80’s and has been taking part in LJTs Festival almost the entire 21 year run. Wier performs in the coveted Saturday afternoon slot just prior to the announcement of the chili cook-off winners. Rusty’s zest for life and desire to entertain are always on display, yet those qualities seem to always be magnified at LJTs. In the fall of 2007 Rusty was diagnosed with cancer and began receiving treatments, yet he did not let the setbacks deter him from making his annual appearance at the festival in 2008. Wier arrived on Friday night in a van that had seen its fair share of miles traveling down Texas highways and hopped out of it obviously weak; but maintaining that eternal gleam in his eye.
Immediately the backstage area was abuzz because this was a surprise appearance. As members of No Justice and Reckless Kelly and other bands crammed the side stage area to catch a glimpse, Rusty joined Stoney LaRue onstage and performed a goose-bump inducing rundown of “Can’t You See” for what was the first in a series of emotional appearances. Despite having to be helped onstage, once Rusty got there and felt the energy of the crowd, he was able to turn that switch on and become the ultimate showman he has been for over forty years. Rusty got stronger as he went, and the smile on Stoney’s face was as big as the Texas moon they were playing under. He was just another fan basking in the glow of Rusty Wier, and it was wonderful.Just as quick as Rusty had appeared, he disappeared back into his van and was gone, creating a buzz about his Saturday performance. Saturday afternoon rolled around and Rusty was back, and still very weak. Rusty’s voice wasn’t as strong as it had been in years past. The bottle of tequila wasn’t present for “Quervo’s Gold”…but his smile and his spirit, two things he always took with him everywhere, were undeterred. As he tore through the songs and jokes we’d all heard a thousand times before, everyone began to realize just how special what we were witnessing was. By the time he reached his signature song, “Don’t It Make You Wanna Dance?” there was no long winded intro about Chris LeDoux and Bonnie Raitt, just a knowing smile. As the song reached its climax there were people everywhere just clapping, smiling, crying and doffing their hats to the man that has influenced so many and paved so many of the roads that all of the acts we dig so much travel down today.
As the last note drifted out of the speakers and Rusty was being helped off stage a large chant of “Rusty! Rusty!” erupted across the thousands of outstretched arms and faces in attendance. Rusty spun around, sunk his head, soaked up the last bit of energy he had and worked his way back to center stage. He leaned back into the mic and repeated his desire that we thank God and angels for his being there…and then showcasing his signature sense of humor, he grinned while saying “Oh, and Larry Joe Taylor too.”It was then that he launched into his gospel tinged “I Stood Up”, and caused there not to be a dry eye anywhere. As he reached the second chorus, he was surrounded by all the artists who had been standing side stage…they sang harmony and hugged Rusty as they sang a refrain of “I stood up…I stood with Jesus”.
The aforementioned zest for life that Rusty exuded onstage that day was infectious and indicative of things I see at LJT Festival each year. Be it the supportive nature of established artists going out of their way to make a campfire jam and play with some young kids who just know three chords as I saw Pat Green and Cody Canada do back at one of the Meridian festivals. Or, be it Jack Ingram getting one of his first tastes of playing to a huge crowd and rocking them full band all night before making them contemplate through an acoustic rendering of “Goodnight Moon”. Or, Josh Grider showing up to his first LJT Festival and being completely in awe. Grider took part in campfire jams, radio shows, bluegrass breakdowns, and an acclaimed acoustic tent performance that left him the talk of the festival the rest of the weekend.
Larry Joe Taylor has created an organic musical environment where magic and music combine for a few days each spring. That special environment is embodied by Rusty Wier who, like the festival itself, is a one of a kind Texas original. On the days you spend out in Melody Mountain Ranch this year, remind yourself how lucky you are to be there and strive to always carry the passion for life and music with you that live inside Rusty Wier.
- Born To Do This
- Tom Gillam – Live, Somewhere in America: Play Loud, Dig Deep