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January 2024: Festivals of Vision

Reporter: They say you're a man of vision. Is that true?

Woodrow Call: [flashing back to all that has gone on] 

Reporter: Captain Call?

Woodrow Call: A man's vision, you say. Yeah. Hell of a vision...


When people talk about the Mt. Rushmore of this music scene, they’re often referring only to artists.  But, I posit there are three candidates who are just as important due to their music festival creation, promotion, endurance and absolutely their vision.   Larry Joe Taylor. John Dickson. Kyle Carter.


The Galleywinter crew loves festivals.  We redneck Woodstock’d for 20 years straight at LJT.  We hit the slopes at Steamboat MusicFest for 15 consecutive Januarys.  And we are about to embark on our 7th Mile 0 Fest in a row.  Each of these events are unique, special and a foundational building block of what has made the music scene what it is today.  


It’s a much different world than when we first rolled into LJT at Meridian in 1998 or the BigSkiTrip that was advertised mainly only in College Station, Lubbock, Stephenville and San Marcos in 1999. By the time we hit Key West in 2018, the entire landscape had changed.  The lineups had some overlaps, but that is fading away more and more each year as the old dogs age out and retire and the new blood takes over.  


LJT at Meridian was a special place and time.  Situated on the banks of the Bosque River steps from the county courthouse was a quaint, yet substantial enough pasture to hold thousands of Texas Music lovers.  The first time we arrived, we weren’t really sure what we were getting into.  That would become a theme.  We showed up with a case of Keystone and not much else.  We were welcomed to the sounds of if memory serves, Ed Burleson on stage and Jack Ingam blasting from just about every campsite.  The buzzed about bands were Cross Canadian Ragweed and Bleu Edmondson. That evening’s headliner was Pat Green…and the main reason we were there.  


We encountered a field full of Willie Nelson/Rusty Wier/Ray Wylie Hubbard loving hippies and oldheads combined with a raucous batch of college kids ready to jam to Jack Ingram and Charlie Robison from across the state but mainly College Station, Lubbock, Stephenville and San Marcos.  Amid the myriad of campers, RVs, boats, tents was a sizable teepee that we learned big jams happened at.  Rumor had it that Guy Clark appeared there from time to time.  We would go on to witness that once.  Jason Boland, Doug Moreland, Cody Canada and others were always over there passing the guitar.  A young Ryan Bingham would play “Southside of Heaven” every time the guitar got passed to him.  Pat Green mingled among the crowd and shotgunned a beer with us.


We had discovered Texas Music heaven.  And the vibe remained that way for years.  Even once the transition to Melody Mountain Ranch happened, the vibe remained.  Rowdy yet peaceful.  Friendly, musical.  We were living the good times we had only heard about.  It was a continuation of the 70s Outlaw thing and we were now writing the story. The thing was, it was still pretty much our little secret.  Each passing year the festival grew.  New amenities. Glamping options. The music moved from being the centerpiece to an accessory. It became less fun.  The secret was out. It became about boutiques and beer showers.  Stolen coolers and live streams.  No longer would your neighbor offer you a breakfast taco because somebody had stolen their tortillas. 


But, for 20 years it was magical.  The Taylor family is as responsible for the growth of this music scene as anyone.  They provide a playground to live out your bawdiest fantasies…with the best soundtrack around.  Try as we may, we could never quite recapture the glory of that 98-2013ish run.  We held on through 2017, but gave up the ghost.  The dragon could not be caught.


Right as the early internet was taking off and message boards were becoming a thing, the forerunner to this website was launched: ToreUpFromtheFloorUp.com.  Just a few spots down the Texas Music internet dial was an address of BigSkiTrip.com.  You’d see flyers for it at shows.  Maybe a bus bench in your college town would have an ad for Pat and Cory’s big ski trip.  There was nobody bigger in the musical world at that moment in history than Pat Green and Cory Morrow.  Everything ran through them. 


John Dickson had been putting the event on for many years, but had begun to include the two upstart sensations as a gateway to get more folks up to Colorado each January. It was the kind of event you’d rack up college kid credit card debt to get to.  Colorado may as well have been Mars.  The first few years the GW crew hit the mountain there was the big tent, the Grand and a few other tiny hamlets of music.  


Each year we got more adept at proper attire and routes.  Attempting a new way of getting to Steamboat each time until we had perfected it.  Much like LJT, each year the word creeped out.  Each year people discovered that this was a place they could get to and see all their favorite bands at once.  Each year the lines got longer.  This was not a spring break in the snow for college kids anymore.  If the snow and mountains are your jam, this is your place.  If you’re just there for the music, it becomes a challenge. You find yourself in an elevation and Tito’s induced hangover haze wandering from venue to venue and smelling the infamous tent broken wind everywhere you go. 


MusicFest is unique, transformative and important.  It proved you could do an annual destination music festival.  Period.  Not just for Texas Music, but any music.  This is pre-Bonaroo and Coachella on the level they have become. In the ensuing years, promoters from all genres would copy Dickson’s formula and apply it to every type of locale you can imagine. 


But, there was one Steamboat attendee that had an ace up his sleeve.  Kyle Carter.  Carter, who once infamously beat Cody Canada in a HS talent show, had an affinity for Key West, FL…and Red Dirt Music.  He saw what was happening on the mountain and heard conversations many of us were having about if this can happen on a mountain, why not a beach?  While the rest of us were dreaming, he got busy planning. 


On a wing and a prayer, Carter started exploration and ground work in the land of Hemingway, Buffett and dreamers. Nevermind the criminals, pirates, hippies and outlaws. It was a marriage that made too much sense.  Once the city of Key West constructed a state of the art amphitheater right on the water, he knew what had to be done.  And, thus, Mile 0 Fest was born.  I’ve written about that first year at length.  It was like exploring a new planet. The locals didn’t know who we were or why we were there.  They had never heard of any of the bands.  They certainly couldn’t believe that these no-name bands could draw a couple thousand people from Texas and Oklahoma to Florida for a few days.  Few festivals are a success from moment one, Mile 0 was.


Year one was the spark, year two was the flame and year three was the explosion.  By year there was no longer any confusion.  The locals knew who we were.  They knew the bands.  We knew our favorite bars and restaurants.  We knew our way around Duval St as well as the drag in our hometown. The fantastic became familiar.  A community sprung up amid the attendees.  It remains the best combination of LJT and MusicFest.  There’s a fun loving communal atmosphere with the destination/vacation aspect.  Plus, it’s (usually) warm enough for shorts and flip flops in January. Like Steamboat, it’s hard and expensive to get to.  Like LJT, once you’re there you know you’re home. 


Taylor, Dickson and Carter are smart businessmen with a heart for the music.  They’ve created family run organizations that support and promote this music in ways nobody else can.  In a fractured entertainment industry with streams overtaking radio, YouTube overtaking network TV and TikTok overtaking everything, they know the last bastion of musical love is the festival.  Fans of music still want to get together with like minded people at a cool place with their favorite bands.  Be it Bethel, NY, Texas World Speedway, Meridian, TX, Melody Mountain Ranch, Steamboat, CO or Key West, FL. Each has poured their heart, soul and bank account into their respective festivals and each have been rewarded.  It’s not easy or for the faint of heart, but damn should we all be glad they chased their dreams and had a vision. A hell of a vision.  


MINOR CHORDS:


-It’s interesting to watch the showbills of these festivals evolve each year.  Some bands never leave the lineup.  Some are here one year and gone the next.  


-We will be relaunching our listening room shows in West, TX soon.  The comma, not the direction. Who do you want to see?


-Saban and Belichik both gone within 24 hours.  That’s crazy.  It’s almost like Robert Earl Keen and Robert Earl Keen retiring from the road close together.  Wait a second…


-I hate winter.  Detest it.  I wasn’t built for it.  I’m of the give me 105 over 25 club.


-How many of you are still on track with your resolutions?  Did anyone resolve to see more live music this year?


-The Red Clay Strays continue to blow up. Happy for those guys.  The real deal.


-A regular reader and commenter of this column and just about everything else we post, create, host and share at Galleywinter, Kace Phillips, passed away recently.  Far too young.  He was a great dude and will be missed.  


-This month’s recommended album: Uncle Lucius - Like It’s the Last One Left.  This thing spun out on December 8 and slid right under everyone’s radar.  But, it’s got everything you love about this band. Kevin Galloway’s voice.  Allman Bros twin guitars.  Jams.  Hooks.  Just try to not sing “All the Angelenos…” after hearing that track once.  Turnpike’s reunion got all the buzz, Lucius still has all the groove.


-”Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” - Mark Twain


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1 Comment


Being a little agoraphobic, I really appreciate some of the smaller festivals. Not gonna name names, though. You gotta do your own research.

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