April 24, 2022 Luckenbach Bluegrass Festival

Yesterday was the first annual Luckenbach Bluegrass Festival. This was a great experience that I highly recommend. Luckenbach has a lot of character, and the informal feel of the festival is a perfect fit for bluegrass fans. There are chickens strutting around and one fan brought a well-mannered pet goat on a leash.

There were five scheduled acts: Cruz Contreras, SpringStreet, Breaking Grass, Tony Kamel, and Ricky Skaggs. Each act was given a good hour, closing with Ricky, who was scheduled for 90 minutes, but played for two hours.

There was an unannounced preshow from an acoustic duo, Jimmy Lee Jones and Dino. Fittingly, they opened their set with the song “Luckenbach, Texas.” They were a nice bonus to start the day.

Cruz Contreras is best known in the Americana scene for The Black Lillies. His solo career was just getting going when Covid derailed the whole music industry. His brother Billy played fiddle and is also the fiddle player for Ricky Skaggs. The third member of their group couldn’t make the trip from Tennessee, so banjo player George Guthrie filled in. The Contreras brothers grew up in Tennessee and are still based there, but have Texas roots.

Next up was SpringStreet from Oklahoma. If you like traditional bluegrass and also a bit of gospel and classic country, you’ll definitely enjoy these good folks. They posted many videos of their performances yesterday, so you can see them in action. Their performance of “Milk Cow Blues” includes many animal noises. At one point during the their set, a chicken flew over the audience.

Breaking Grass from Mississippi was up next. One thing you immediately notice is the stick bass fiddle. Most of their songs are originals, and one curious exception is a medley of songs from other musical styles from the 1950s-present. The group has been around for 15 years, and they’ve recorded their sixth album. They said they hope to release it in late May. If any of you are near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, be sure to catch their show next weekend as the featured guest of the Southeastern Fiddle Championship, which is free to attend.

Tony Kamel was up next. The last time we saw him was as a solo opener for Ricky Skaggs at Gruene Hall a few months ago, but he brought a band this time. The Texas singer-songwriter has a bluegrass background (Wood and Wire), but this particular band setup was more of a Texas Americana type of situation, with steel guitar, electric bass, and drums. Kamel played acoustic and electric guitars, and picked some fine banjo solo numbers.

Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder put on a generous two hour show. With seven elite pickers on stage, there’s always a lot going on. There’s not much I can say about Ricky Skaggs that hasn’t been said. He’s already in every sort of hall of fame and has done about everything that can be done in bluegrass and country music. After the show, he stuck around to talk to fans and I got to take a picture of him with my brother, who has been a huge fan forever. During the afternoon, I also got to talk briefly to Cruz Contreras and members of SpringStreet and Breaking Grass. The whole atmosphere was so relaxed and informal and enjoyable.

After the bluegrass festival, Lee Mathis played at the indoor dance hall. His style is very much in the honky tonk and outlaw country style. The little dance hall filled up quickly, so we weren’t able to get in, but we enjoyed hearing him while eating dinner at a picnic table outside. We heard covers of Waylon Jennings and David Allan Coe, among others.

I hope this festival catches on as an annual tradition.

On Friday, my brother and I saw Billy Strings at the Moody Amphitheater in Austin. The great-looking venue opened a few months ago, just a couple blocks from the Texas state capitol. Billy Strings sounded great, too. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see him. We were in the handicapped section, which was behind a seated section. That would have been perfectly fine, if the people in the seated section had been seated. They chose to stand the entire time, completely blocking our view. The other wheelchair people on our row got so frustrated that they left very early. I have seen hundreds and hundreds of acts at all sorts of venues and this is the only time I couldn’t see the act at all. We could hear the show great, so we still enjoyed it as best we could.

Happy Easter, 2022

It’s been a month since my last post, so let’s catch up a little.

The first lineups for CMA Fest were released a few days ago, so today’s post will be about that. When I went to CMA Fest five years ago, there were two dedicated classic country stages, the Durango stage inside Fan Fair and the Forever Country stage at the park by the amphitheater. The next year, the Durango stage went away. What about 2022? It appears the Forever Country stage is now the Dr. Pepper Amp stage.

Here is the official description from CMA Fest:

Do you love throwback Country Music tunes?! Then you’ll love all the artists who perform on the FREE Dr Pepper Amp Stage at Ascend Park, located behind the amphitheater!

Well, that sounds like a description of a classic country stage, doesn’t it? Look at the lineup, though. Does anyone, including the artists themselves, consider acts like Kidd G, Willie Jones, Caitlyn Smith, Shy Carter, Filmore, and Brittney Spencer as “throwback country” selections ? No offense to any of the acts themselves, no matter their style, but when you specifically advertise “throwback country,” you should book “throwback country.”

Five years ago, you had two classic country stages, then you went to just one, and now that one throwback country stage doesn’t appear to have much throwback country.

CMA Fest is in early June every year, except the last two years, when it was cancelled. In 2018 and 2019, the first lineups were announced in March. This year, they waited until April 12. I guess their multi-day lineup isn’t selling well, because they’re now trying to sell single day tickets, too.

19 Nissan Stadium acts were announced on April 12. One of those, Parker McCollum, no longer appears to be on the schedule. The app originally showed Nissan set times beginning at 7PM, then they changed the earliest slots to 8PM, and now they don’t list set Nissan times at all. Yes, all of those changes were in four days. They’ve had three years to prepare for this, but it appears to be a total cluster. Fans spend hundreds of dollars or more a long time in advance for this deal to see the very biggest names and legends, and in fairness, acts like Alan Jackson (the only Nissan act over 60 years old) do fit the bill. How do you justify charging fans hundreds of dollars for Lainey Wilson (nothing against her) at the stadium, when we can see her free afternoon show at the Riverfront stage? I realize that you have only 18 evening acts booked so far, and that many more should be forthcoming, but the event is less than two months away. Get your act together.

In other news, I’m going to a bunch of concerts soon. In the next couple of weeks, I’m going to see George Strait with Willie Nelson and Randy Rogers, Billy Strings, Doug Kershaw, and the Luckenbach Bluegrass Festival featuring Ricky Skaggs. I recently saw polka great Alex Meixner in New Braunfels. Since Meixner’s recent move to New Braunfels, he has been collaborating a lot with area country and Americana musicians, and he has done interviews with the local Americana radio station KNBT. I went to the Alamo Aloha Fiestaval in San Antonio, and one of the acts (Maui Jam Band) featured the lap steel guitar and told the audience about the history of the instrument and Joseph Kekuku. I went to the Texas Brewers Fest in Buda, which featured a curious lineup. The first two acts, Jukebox Preachers and Tanner Usrey, were very much “Texas country,” but the closer was Vanilla Ice. He was one of the most crowd-friendly acts I’ve seen, even inviting the audience on stage and going out into the audience. I’m usually more into country music and usually the older the better, but I give credit where it is due when any artist of any genre makes the effort to put on a fun show.

I’ll probably post again next month or sooner if I think of something to write about.