Wade Bowen is a music fan first and foremost. It’s the reason anyone picks up the pen or guitar in the first place. They find something in the music that connects to a part of their soul so deeply and vividly that it cannot be ignored. It’s a spiritual, life-long journey. The music we connect with in our adolescence is the music we connect with the rest of our lives. There is scientific research that states musical taste peaks in our teen years. That teenage springboard is often what causes artists to springboard from fan to performer. That’s the leap Bowen made. A college kid with a heart for music and a driven determination to make it happen. It is difficult to devote yourself to such a lost cause at the early stages. Empty barrooms, lonely highways, bad songs and unfulfilled promises abound. Those that push through all that to reach success, often find themselves tasked with a desire to give back. That can arrive in many ways. Mentoring, co-writing, playing a benefit songswap…or creating one of the biggest damn charity concerts to not involved Bob Geldoff.
That is where Wade Bowen finds himself in 2019. His musical career has grown in lockstep with his charity namesake benefit concert. There are dozens of legitimate charity events across Texas each year, but perhaps none have as much musical fun as Bowen’s. Bowen Music Fest has grown into a genre-bending, hell-raising, stadium concert. Country, classic rock, folk, Americana, jam band exploration…it’s all there. What once was a haven for Texas/Red Dirt only has branched out to include attendees by the thousands and performers by the dozens. REO Speedwagon and Cheap Trick are bonafide rock n’ roll legends. Charlie Daniels and Jamey Johnson are country music legends. Throw in dashes of 90’s country stalwarts Tracy Byrd and Neal McCoy. Make sure you don’t leave out songwriter’s songwriters such as Courtney Patton and Drew Kennedy. Top it all off with just about anyone who’s anyone in the larger Texas scene and you get a true sense of what Wade Bowen’s playlists sound like. And it’s a lot like everyone else’s.
Assembling all that musical firepower is one thing. Scheduling it is a whole ‘nother ordeal entirely. Bowen works year round on ensuring that the lineup is indicative of what he wants to promote. Details such as availability, draw, style, belief in the mission and more are all considered. Bowen says, “It’s a lot of work, figuring out who is close, who we haven’t called on before, artists that I love, artists that will sell tickets. It seems to get tougher to pull off every year, but there is always an amazing group of people that want to step up and help us out.”
For many folks, planning their own music festival is the stuff of dreams. Bowen actually gets to live that dream and then turn the proceeds over to worthy causes across his hometown community. “This festival and event is different than most. It has the look and feel of a big-time music festival, but it is actually a charity event,” Bowen continues “, To me, that’s what makes it special. Seeing artists pull up thinking it’s just another charity show and they soon find out what we’ve built. It makes me extremely proud.”
Bowen puts his money where his mouth is. Millions of dollars have been raised over the event’s history and he spends the other 51 weeks of the year doing his best to attend, participate and reciprocate the charitable goodwill that is extended to him by playing charity events, donating auction items and repaying favors. Bowen jokes, “I call in every favor I have for this event and then spend the rest of the year trying to pay everyone back (laughs).”
When it came time for the 2019 event, Bowen and company knew they wanted to extend the brand that worked for the 2018 event, which was the first at McLane Stadium. Landing Cheap Trick was huge for mass appeal ticket sales and good times, but Bowen also keeps his ear to the ground of our local scene; which is where the rest of the line-up is rounded together. “Whiskey Myers is hot right now and I love those dudes, Josh Weathers is the constant entertainer so I wanted him to kick off the day and get people out to the site early and partying. Throw in all the acoustic acts and that’s me trying to cram as many songwriters I respect on the bill in front of a large audience,” Bowen adds.
A unique aspect of the event is the jam portion. Created by the need to get as many acts onto stage as possible in a small amount of time and fostered by the Allman Brothers/Umphrey’s McGee devotion of Bowen’s ace road band, the jam is now the event’s musical signature. Bowen’s band learns well over two dozen songs from his peers, throws in a a couple curveball covers and tries to ride the wave of goodwill and music without falling off the path of the correct key and time signature. “Those jam artists are my good friends, people I believe in, people I respect…and in the end people who I know will help us raise money all while having a damn good time,” Bowen says.
Wade Bowen is a music fan living the ultimate dream. He’s created a major musical event in his hometown that features rock n’ roll hall of famers right alongside folk songwriters he respects. Thousands of people show up and raise thousands of dollars for charity. It’s a true win, win. Bowen sums up that feeling thusly, “So many kind and genuinely unselfish hearts in the music industry that are so willing to help whenever and however they can. I’m lucky to be friends with all these fine people and bands.”
2019 Bowen Music Fest takes place Sunday June 2 in Waco at McLane Stadium. Tickets can be found HERE.
Gates open at 1PM
2:00 – Josh Weathers 2:35 – Joshua Ray Walker/Shea Abshier 3:00 – Shane Smith and the Saints 3:35 – Juliet McConkey/Chris Colston 4:00 – Tracy Byrd 4:35 -Josh Grider/Drew Kennedy 5:15 – Whiskey Myers 6:30 – Cheap Trick 7:40 – Courtney Patton/Ben Danaher 8:10 – Wade Bowen and Friends Jam (Randy Rogers, Cody Canada, William Clark Green, Jamey Johnson, Paul Thorn, Brent Cobb, Stoney LaRue and many more!)