On Saturday, as the rain poured outside of the historic Southfork Ranch in Parker, just east of Plano, nothing could dampen the beautiful and electric vibes inside the complex's conference center where the annual Texas Music Revolution (hosted by KHYI 95.3 The Range) was taking place. The 17th edition of the day-long festival began at 2:00 pm with hundreds of folks ready to witness Houston's Folk Family Revival blaze a blues-rock trail, and by 4:00 pm, there were thousands inside taking in the main-stage set of North Carolina's American Aquarium, who mainly drew from their latest stunner-of-an-album, Burn.Flicker.Die and also the full-band folk-rock energy of Dallas' Ronnie Fauss on the second stage. More on the many performances in a bit, because when taken as a whole, the day was about more than set-times, merch booths and long lines for Shiner Bock.
Between the grittier and overall younger line-up of bands and the energetic crowd that was truly engaged in whichever act was performing on either of the day's stages, a different "Texas Music Festival" experience was enjoyed. An experience that isn't had enough around the state, frankly. But perhaps a day like Saturday is a sign that a new type of Texas Country Festival can be repeated more often. One sign that it was a unique Texas Music event, was how the bill consisted of some killer out-of-state acts.
Now, that might not have been very "Texan" of independently owned and operated KHYI, but it was a wise move to use the spiritual make-up of our state's diverse brand of country music to be the guiding light in booking the acts and not confining themselves within the borders that make up the physical state map.
Events such as the Texas Music Revolution or Green Fest (produced yearly by the popular website, Galleywinter.com), that regularly showcase edgier, lesser-known, and perhaps, more exciting talent than the larger festivals such as Austin's Lone Star Jam or the Stephenville-located Larry Joe Taylor's Texas Music Festival don't have the burden of selling 15,000 or more tickets in order to be successful. For the most part, a festival in Texas not willing to put mini-van mainstays Eli Young Band or Josh Abbott at the top of the bill run the risk of taking a financial bath. But just like bourbon, well-tended, smaller batches is the way to go when it comes to the all-day concert line-up. Saturday at Southfork was vibrant, engrossing, intimate, and sweaty -- and that was just from the bands performing.
This year's bill held not a weak-link at any point. Simply put: opting to skip one of the 30 to 40 minute sets in favor of hunting for food or beer meant missing a performance that wasn't worth missing. Showing up at 6:00 pm, four hours after the first band played, meant missing a handful of Americana's brightest hopes from our region and beyond (The Will-Callers and the Bigsbys, along with the aforementioned Folk Family Revival, Ronnie Fauss, and American Aquarium). Deciding to leave at 7:00 pm after showing up when the doors opened meant missing three specific bands that could very well be the three best touring bands the Red Dirt scene has to offer at this moment (Dirty River Boys, Uncle Lucius and Turnpike Troubadours).
There were two key, special, points during the day that vividly represented the power of Saturday's show. Prior to the day's official opening performance, an acoustic show by McKinney's Zane Williams took place in a small conference room tucked into the side of the Southfork facility. As twenty or so people (who paid a hefty, extra fee for the privilege) watched on, Williams, a regular on the syndicated television show "Texas Troubadours" who has flirted with Nashville stardom, sincerely played tunes from his sterling, but small catalog and engaged the group with tales behind some of the songs. Having perhaps the best country songwriter in North Texas play the role of Storyteller as if he were in his own living room was the stuff goosebumps are made from.
Later, as daytime rolled into the evening, local roots heroes The O's, with a six-foot, illuminated cursive "O" behind them, played to a tightly packed crowd that numbered well over a thousand on the smaller stage located in the conference center's massive reception hall. Any questions of whether John Pedigo and Taylor Young's often irreverent stage-banter and banjo-plucking would translate from the Deep Ellum clubs they typically frequent to a stage with plenty of cowboy hat-wearing, electric cigarette-smoking rural-residents were answered quickly by the amount of hats bobbing to the beat and beers raised in the air at the end of each song. Pedigo and Young used this show to perform a handful of new tunes that will be on their soon-to-be-released new album. Such a seemingly small note was profound in how it kept with the day's theme of fresh, fun and unusual.
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As the last beat of Young's kick-drum dissipated, gritty Kentuckian, farmer and poet of all things grizzled, Chris Knight began on the main stage in-front of approximately 3,000 people. A favorite of KHYI's listeners for over a decade now, Knight tours the world and is an authentic mix of John Prine and Steve Earle, yet very much his own artist. As the audience sang along to "Becky's Bible," and "Rural Route," it was impossible to not think of the symbolic significance of walking from the smaller stage where The O's had just captivated in their own, giddy, plucky way, and into the cavernous main room where Knight, the respected veteran, held court in a different manner while captivating his crowd all the same.
This year's Texas Music Revolution served as a great example of not throwing the established out for the budding, but of combining the most enthralling of the the two. Certainly, this was an event which blossomed with special moments thanks to bold booking and a true understanding of what fans desire.