The 18th Annual Larry Joe Taylor Music Festival lived up to it’s reputation as the premiere event of it’s kind for our kind of music this year. I kept mental notes on my weekend’s highlights and here’s all the news that’s fit to print. Wish you’d gone now, don’t you!
Thursday morning started out with an early call from the rooster as we headed out for Stephenville. After another agonizing 11 month and 27 day wait, we were headed back to LJT’s Texas Music Festival and Chili Cookoff. This was our 8th year to attend and we get better and more efficient each year. Adding elements to our preparation and supplies that can meet any challenge we may face weather wise or good-times wise. We had a compound of 6 campsites spread out over 2 sections of the camping area. Our RV left town around 6AM and was the first to arrive with the rest of us fully set up and drinking beer by 10AM. This was our first day there, but some lucky folks had been partying and enjoying the music since Tuesday! There were no acts I was super jazzed about on the acoustic stage today so we did what we do best at LJT’s until the mainstage got to rocking. We sat in chairs under the shade of our Bud Light tents and heckled passersby while chugging brew. A return favorite from past years was the ol’ wallet on fishing line trick. We caught several great marks, including the black gentleman on the LJT staff and several cops who were working security. Mardi Gras beads were also in order as several young ladies (and old!) showed the whole camping section their business for the cheap plastic status symbols. The people across from us had a big bus they had converted into a party machine and a few people from our crew went to get up on the platform of the bus that overlooked the whole LJT’s scene. Reports were that you could see the whole conglomeration of the festival and see some really wild stuff up there. Some of Tarleton State’s finest camped across from us and passed the time with horseshoes and washers. A lot of the music that people were jamming at their campsites was great stuff like Eli Young Band, Charlie Robison and Wade Bowen. By far the most popular music of partying choice all weekend was Cross Canadian Ragweed and Randy Rogers Band. Their tunes were spun all weekend as people caroused, aroused and amused themselves in between trips to the music stages. “When It Rains” was the most heard song as the Eli Young Band tale had a fitting connection to Friday night’s weather. Larry Joe Taylor himself rolled up on a Gator to deliver one our lost compadres and hang with us for a bit. He’s a class act and the festival’s thriving success is a testament to his hard work and vision. Anyhow, in the midst of our time killing, the LJT’s video production crew showed up to film us and our campsite for a piece they were going to show on the jumbotron between Boland and Ragweed. After debating what we would yell and do for the camera, we settled on “Welcome to Redneck Woodstock!” It did make its debut on the big screen minus audio though. The producer came to me and apologized and informed me that the audio would be working on it for Friday and Saturday nights. It came off great and would make an awesome commercial should the LJT officials choose to use it. When we finished up with that, we loaded up a significant amount of beer and some chairs and a caravan of about 20 Texas Music fans left our campsites to join thousands of others at the mainstage for Stoney LaRue, Reckless Kelly, Jason Boland & The Stragglers, and Cross Canadian Ragweed, respectively. You won’t find a better lineup all year. Those four bands back to back was a supreme sonic seduction of musical perfection. Before Stoney started, I ventured backstage to the hospitality area and ate some great catered BBQ and mingled with the musicians. Randy Rogers Band and crew arrived a day early on their day off just to hang out and enjoy what Willy Braun called “one of my top 3 favorite gigs every year.” The mood backstage was that of a family reunion with all of the Stillwater boys (Ragweed, Boland, Stoney) in the house and playing with a band (Reckless Kelly) that influenced them a great deal and a hanging with a band (Randy Rogers Band) that their music has helped to shape. The weather was perfect and the tone was as good as one could ask for. Stoney kicked things off as only he can. His voice was in fine form and the band was as tight as I’ve seen them, and their free-wheeling improvisational style helped to make it a very unique and good set. The highlight of Stoney’s portion was when a young man proposed during “Closer To You”. Stoney congratulated the happy couple and wrapped up his set with the crowd really into what he was offering. After a quick change over, Reckless Kelly hit the stage and their set was like a splash of cold water on a hungover face. It was a jolt of energy, music and passion that only happens at LJT’s.
They showcased mostly new material, but the Braun boys made sure to incorporate all the crowd favorites, and this culminated with Cody Canada joining them on acoustic guitar and vocals for “Crazy Eddie’s Last Hurrah.” I took in this whole set from the stage and it was amazing to witness the crowd in the palm of Willy Braun’s hand the whole time. No tricks, no catchphrases or big sing-along type songs. Just great musicianship and songwriting showcased to a mob of eager to listen fans. The sun was setting behind them and it was as Rockwellesque as a big rocking festival can get.
Reckless and Cody Canada
I maintained my seat on the stage to take in Jason Boland & the Stragglers. The crowd was jumping as Boland started off his set with “Somewhere in the Middle”, the snare drum pop of the chorus had them hopping in time with the music. The band played several new tunes from the forthcoming Bourbon Legend album and if they are any indication, this may be Boland’s best work yet. As the Boland set wrapped up, I made my way back to the front of the stage which is truly the best place to catch a show.
Boland and Stoney
Singing along and spilling your beer on your buddy next to you is the best way to enjoy yourself. The crowd had swelled to what appeared to my eyes to be the biggest Thursday night crowd I’ve seen at eight LJT’s. Ragweed strode onstage and right out of the box tossed out “Carney Man” and the crowd went wild. Chants of “State Fair!” were going up before the guys even got to that part of the song. As they finished the tune, Cody leaned into the mic and said “Thank you, goodnight.” They strode offstage to thunderous cheers and some mild confusion only to return seconds later and kick off the rest of their set. Those Ragweed boys are tricky! They also had one of the longest “Boys From Oklahoma” jams that I’ve seen. I was disappointed that Cody didn’t get to do a set at the acoustic tent this year, but the full band show was great as usual. At this point, our crew had been in full party mode at the mainstage for over 6 hours and we began to pack up and head back to camp. As we returned to our compound, we stoked our firepit, lit the tiki torches and began the after party in full effect. Willy Braun, Randy Rogers, Roger Ray and other musicians of note hopped on the LJT hayride and played, hung out until around 4AM. I also heard that several other top notch musicians were out and about roving the campfire after parties and sharing songs and stories with fellow festival goers until sunrise. Nighttime at LJT’s means a mix of laughter, fire popping, singing, buzzing generators, the smell of smoke, people falling asleep in front of a campfire and general awareness that something really cool is going on. Several fireworks were set off, against LJT’s rules about 1AM and many people got a kick out of that, while others weren’t so happy about it. Most of our crew called it a night between 1 and 3AM, it had been a long day. A good day, but a long one.
After about four or five hours of sleep, depending on when you went to bed, it was time to get up and start all over again. Many people bring their own food and cook all their own meals. Over the years, we’ve done that as well as just bring snack food and depend on the vendors for sustenance. There is an awesome breakfast taco stand that is always crowded from about 8-10AM with people wanting some tortilla wrapped goodness and coffee. This year we were at the vendors mercy as far as good food goes. We also had some super friendly neighbors who shared their wares with us. On Friday morning, they had some leftover S.O.S. they had made with wild hog. It was fantastic and really hit the spot. After getting a bite to eat, many people begin biting the dog that bit them the previous day and night. I’ve witnessed some people drink nothing but beer the whole time they are out there, no matter what time it is. I don’t know how they do it and major props to those of you who do the Tuesday through Sunday experience. My body is usually not very happy with me on Sunday afternoon after returning from LJT’s. Several days of alcohol, little sleep, sun and fried food does wonders for your skin and your overall well-being. Back to Friday, the weather was pretty miserable.
It wasn’t raining yet but it was dark, gray and misty. The kind of day that makes you want to take a nap and not wake up until the next day when things have cleared off. We spent the day entertaining ourselves in much the same way as Thursday. Around 1:30PM it began to rain really badly. We lowered our shade tents and protected everything that needed it and huddled down to wait the storm out. Some of us took naps, others listened to the radio and tried to get the weather forecast on their cell phone internet service. Some of the more hardcore attendees didn’t let the rain interrupt them and they continued throwing horseshoes and drinking beers. The storm lasted for about 2 hours and left a humid pall and a ton of mud in its wake. Unfortunately it would not be the last time Mother Nature would cry for us. Due to the weather, the music was kept under the acoustic tent through the early evening. Bonnie Bishop won a slew of new fans as she took to the stage backed by a ringer band including Coby Wier on lead guitar. Her powerful vocals matched by his blistering guitar had several in the crowd scratching their heads and asking why they hadn’t checked her out sooner. I had to leave and go back to camp to get prepared for the evening’s shows. Big props to the corndog stand and the patty melt stand. First rate carnival food. Along the way, I ran into Larry Joe Taylor on his Gator again. This time he was accompanied by Randy Rogers and they were driving around visiting campsites and hanging with the fans. They resembled politicians on an election day mutli stop rally. It was not uncommon to see people like Brady Black, Mike Mancy, Magee Payne, Susan Gibson and other artists watching the shows from the crowd just like you are. Things like this are what set LJT’s apart from other Texas Music events. After collecting our gear and beer, I ambled backstage to assess the planning that the LJT folks were doing for the rest of the evening.
About to get real rowdy
I hung with Randy Rogers for a bit as we both worried about the rapidly approaching storms. Django Walker was rocking onstage and did the most lively set I’ve seen him play in about 3 years. The crowd really enjoyed the “College Life”/”Alright Now” jam. By the time Mike McClure Band took to the stage, the planners had determined that McClure, Deryl Dodd and the Randy Rogers Band would have to play shorter sets so that they’d all get to play and avoid the rain. The crowd was full of troopers, sitting patiently until Randy’s last note. It was satisfying to see Randy go from a festival newcomer 2 years ago to one of the headliners this year. The band has worked extremely hard for it and nobody deserves the success they are enjoying more. The line at the SoThread/Lonestarmusic.com booth was full most of the day and the Kinky for Governor crews were working overtime to get petition signees. The emcee came onstage before Randy was finished and informed us all that we were in for a Woodstock type storm and thousands of people chanted “No Rain! No Rain!” It began to rain pretty steady and hard during Randy’s set but not many people left the stage area. We were all advised to head back to our campsites immediately after Randy concluded his set and batten down the hatches and hold on for a bumpy night of weather. This put a damper on the after party festivities for some. However, others once again did not let this stop them. As we settled in early and listened to the radio weather reports we could hear the sounds of people partying right through the worst part of the storm and all the way to around 5AM.
The calm before the storm
Overall, the rain wasn’t as bad as it was in 2004 and it didn’t really hinder anything but the campfire parties of Friday night and shorten a couple of sets. It could’ve been much worse. Great planning and preparation by the LJT staff helped everyone remain safe.
Saturday morning we woke up to a clearing sky and a mudpit disguised as a road. It would be nice if Melody Mountain Ranch could gravel the roads to avoid all the mud and 4X4 action that several idiots kept enjoying at others expense until the cops put the stop to it. These folks tore up the road with ruts and threw mud all over people’s campsites for seconds of enjoyment. Maybe there should be a mud area in the back of the site for them to get their rocks off, just a suggestion. The sun was starting to poke out as we headed for the stage around 9:30AM. We ended up not leaving the stage area until Larry Joe Taylor closed out the festival around midnight. This made for several frantic trips back to the campsite for more beer and chairs. Not to mention many trips to the ice stand for more ice. The first bit of music of the day came courtesy of the Mike Mancy Band who played an unofficial festival show at a campsite around 10:30AM.
Mike Mancy Band playing at the campsite
Mancy told me he’d only gotten 2 hours of sleep and the campfires had been hell on his voice but you couldn’t tell by their performance. These guys are the ultimate road warriors. After driving 12 hours in snow and ice to perform at Greenfest in February, they were headed to Houston immediately following their impromptu LJT performance. By the time the Mancy band had finished it was time to head back to our stage area setup for the first set of the day, which was Brandon Rhyder at noon. He played acoustic and you could have heard a pin drop in the acoustic tent which has big signs that say “Quiet Please!” for those who don’t get the hint. He mostly played stuff off of Conviction, but the showstopper was a new tune he has just written about his baby boy. Think of a country version of John Lennon’s, “Beautiful, Beautiful Boy” with more complex lyrics. I saw several people wiping away tears as he played this stunningly heartfelt song. When, Rhyder finished, we moved back out into the sun and whipping wind to stake our mainstage seating spots and enjoy the rest of the acoustic acts on the jumbotron. Susan Gibson performed next and showed why she is so respected in this business. She’s a musician’s musician. She performed with Mike McClure on the mainstage on Friday night and enjoyed a large and enthusiastic crowd of her own on Saturday afternoon. After Davin James turn on the acoustic stage, the mainstage fired up with the Dallas honky tonk of Ed Burleson. The crowd was growing larger by the minute and the weather was improving by the minute as well. Burleson gave way to Tommy Alverson and after a rollicking set of good time country music, Alverson passed the torch to Rusty Wier. Always the consummate showman, Wier did not disappoint. I moved from our seats to a spot right in front of the stage to soak in the magic that is a Rusty Wier show. Nobody’s as consistent as Rusty Wier; he’s always humorous, affable and happy to be onstage. His exchanges with the crowd are legendary, his jokes are as good the 100th time you hear them as they are the first. He played all the crowd favorites including “Agua Dulce” and wrapped up with a rocking version of his signature tune “Don’t It Make You Wanna Dance”. He even abandoned his beloved stool for the last 2 songs and commented that “Contrary to popular opinion, I can stand up.” Wier is a true Texas treasure and everyone should take the time to enjoy him before he hangs it up for good someday. When Wier finished, it was time for the chili cookoff winner announcements on the mainstage. While the winners were being announced, Hayes Carll began getting set up. Hayes Carll is an extremely unique talent and his style is as appreciated at LJT’s as it will be at any venue all year. Hayes did a blistering set that mixed tunes from both of his albums. He told a humorous story of how he was a veteran LJT attendee and had camped out in a tent like so many others 2 years ago when he was on the bill very early on the acoustic stage. He described how his minivan got stuck in the mud after it rained that year and that he was glad to have good weather this time at one of his favorite gigs all year. “Down The Road Tonight” was the musical highlight as the crowd sang along with every word and Hayes seemed to be enjoying the unbridled enthusiasm the crowd was giving him and his music. Lee Roy Parnell was up next. For those who just think he’s some guy who had a couple radio hits in the 90’s, you’d be sadly mistaken. He’s a blues guitarist of the first degree. He plays slide exclusively with an old glass pill bottle and has a warm, friendly voice that is appealing to the ear. His set was sprinkled with familiar tunes and some great music I had not heard before. Cooder Graw hit the stage next and their high-energy show had most of the crowd forgetting that the festival was almost over. Matt Martindale is a tremendous front man and his band just keeps getting better. They have one of the best live shows you’ll see and they did not disappoint at LJT’s this year. The final act of the night was the namesake himself, Larry Joe Taylor. LJT brought his Buffettesque Texas Coastal country to a rabid throng of thankful fans. LJT’s set is always noted for its marathon length. He played for well over two hours and the crowd was not ready for him to stop when he did. People made up for Friday night’s after party rain out by going full bore on Saturday night. We had a private port-o-potty on our campsite and we had to keep it locked even when we were there because several drunken rabble rousers mistakenly thought it was public. We had to yell at them and safeguard it at all times. The port-o-john company came around everyday and cleaned it up for us. It was a great investment. Personally, I went to bed about 3:30 AM but I could’ve gone until sunrise. I was having that good of a time and I didn’t want it to end. That could be said for the whole festival, each year. I am already looking forward to next year and can’t wait to see what LJT has in store for #19!