Texas Music Revolution Celebrates 20 Years Atop the Country Festival Game

Zane Williams greets the Southfork Ranch crowd at the 2014 KHYI Texas Music Revolution.
Zane Williams greets the Southfork Ranch crowd at the 2014 KHYI Texas Music Revolution.
Melissa Arnold / Texas Red Photography

They don't make music festivals in North Texas like they used to. Or at least they don't make them like KHYI 95.3 FM's Texas Music Revolution, the longest-running Texas country and Americana festival in the area. Celebrating its 20th installment this weekend, 95.3 The Range's festival, known as TMR to the thousands of yearly attendees and religiously loyal listeners, is closing out its second decade with a bang, expanding from one to two days and moving to a brand-new location.

Getting a festival to stick is a tricky business, but KHYI general manager Joshua Jones says that “brand loyalty” has been the core of TMR’s successful lifespan. That seemingly simple but elusive ingredient makes sense when thinking about what sets The Range apart from its country counterparts, and offers TMR a unique position in the local festival landscape.

Independently owned and operated, KHYI has been the go-to station for artists not typically heard on regular country radio, especially back in TMR's early days during the late-1990s. The festival has averaged between 5,000 and 7,000 attendees over the years.

Americana artists such as Rodney Crowell, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Chris Knight, Texas country studs like Charlie Robison and Jack Ingram, and, perhaps most important, locally based acts including 1100 Springs, Tejas Brothers and Zane Williams, have had a home on The Range for years as the conglomerate-controlled stations in town merely paid lip service to the Texas country crowd. Fans of the station share a musical outlook that’s carried out on each TMR bill. It engenders an us-against-the-world type of bond.

In fact, that defiant attitude was behind Jones' favorite TMR moment. “Getting on stage with a hammer,” he says, “at the first TMR and starting the event by smashing a Billy Ray Cyrus CD into a million pieces. The crowd went wild.”

Because The Range has long included up-and-coming indie artists in heavy rotation, TMR has served as a coming-out party for some acts that have since become household names in Americana and country circles. In 2005, Hayes Carll, yet to become well known across the country for his razor-sharp wit and storytelling gifts, walked out onto the small TMR second stage to see a massive throng waiting for him. A couple of his songs, including the galloping “Down the Road Tonight,” had already become KHYI listener favorites and built a buzz he clearly hadn’t expected.

“I remember telling him backstage he had to have that song on his set list. I insisted. He was like, ‘Man, I wrote that song in the studio right before I recorded it and I've never played it live in front of a crowd before,’" Jones remembers. "He had to remember and write down all the lyrics and tape them next to the monitors so he could play the song. When he did play it, thousands of people were singing along. They knew his song better than he knew his own song! Years later he told me he considered that a defining moment of his career."

Later on that same day, a young Randy Rogers Band, touring behind its now-revered Rollercoaster LP, had their own breakthrough moment inside the Southfork Ranch main ballroom. Such watershed moments haven't been uncommon. In subsequent years, attention-grabbing bands such as Turnpike Troubadours, American Aquarium, Dirty River Boys and Band of Heathens have seen a significant boost from not only receiving airplay on The Range, but prime slots on the TMR schedule.

For this new two-day edition, the festival moves from its longtime home at Southfork to a new location at the Amphitheater at Oak Point Park in Plano. Local bands the O’s, Buffalo Ruckus and Quaker City Night Hawks make up TMR's signature mix of local acts. Meanwhile, Texas country and red dirt hit-makers John David Kent, Zane Williams and Mike Ryan are joined by John Moreland, one of the most buzzed-about Americana artists of the past couple years. And then there are bona fide commercial stars and critical darlings like LeeAnn Womack and Stoney LaRue.

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There are plenty of reasons for Jones and the KHYI crew to believe the future of their "Revolution" is as bright now as it’s ever been. The move to a true festival-conducive venue is chief among them. It ought to make for a truly grand gift for TMR’s 20th birthday.

“All I know is we couldn't have picked a cooler venue for this year's show,” Jones insists. “It's going to be epic.”

The Toyota Texas Music Revolution is on Friday, March 25, and Saturday, March 26, at Oak Point Park in Plano. Tickets are $29-$199. www.khyi.com

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