A single stage towered over one end of the park, while a 40-foot Ferris wheel anchored the opposite end. In between, patrons could sample corn dogs and cotton candy, try their luck at a variety of carnival games, or stake out a lawn spot to view the day’s nine musical acts.
Nine acts on one stage might seem a little cramped, but the set-up proved to be just right. The bands were never outside earshot, no matter where you were in the park, and a single stage meant there was no agonizing over which acts to see and which to skip. The more youthful acts played in the early afternoon before conceding the stage to bigger names later in the day.
A trio of local acts followed Loveless. The Vandoliers, Jonathan Tyler and the Texas Gentlemen peppered their sets with shoutouts to other emerging North Texas artists. They then did what they do best, which is play blisteringly honest takes on the blue-eyed country soul of artists such as Laurel Canyon, Neil Young, Willie Nelson and Leon Russell.
There were also a few cameos during these sets, which saw the crowd continue to grow. Paul Cauthen joined Texas Gentlemen for a pair of songs, and Tyler invited a local guitarist who’d rescued one of his stolen guitars onstage for a spirited romp through “Johnny B. Goode."
Up next came soul legend Mavis Staples, taking the stage after her backing band had already launched into a warm-up tune. Staples moved across the stage with the energy and passion of a woman half her age. “I’ve been around for a long time. I’m tired,” she shouted to the crowd. “But I’ll keep fighting!”
Staples’ performance was so powerful, in fact, that the stage’s sound system sputtered out, forcing a couple of brief, unplanned breaks in her set. Fortunately, the outages didn’t prevent her from belting out her signature 1972 hit, “I’ll Take You There.”
In between, Williams covered many highlights of her vast catalog, ripping through tracks including “Drunken Angel,” “Changed the Locks” and “Foolishness.” She even added some new lyrics to the latter: “I don’t need any fearmongering in my life. I don’t have time for racism or sexism in my life.” She sang them as if they were a mantra.
At long last, the headliners took the stage. Though it was only a little past 9 p.m., most of the vendors had cleared out their wares, and the carnival games had slowed to a halt. The energy was all turned toward the stage, which made the park feel more like a sweaty, packed rock club – the kind of venue Old 97’s prefer to play.
Miller seemed to bask with pride as he looked out on thousands of patrons gleefully singing and dancing along, Music was roaring across downtown Dallas, and for another Saturday, he and the 97’s were its kings.