Tumbleweed Music Festival 2019: Day 1
My festival resume isn’t long, and some have consisted of just one day experiences. However, I can confidently say that of all of the festivals that I have attended so far, the fellowship of music fans is one of the best I’ve seen. This year was my third year attending since they began shaping the festival into a more independent country music-based line-up. The festival was previously held in Sugar Creek, MO and moved, last year, to its current location near La Cygne, KS – both outside of the Kansas City metropolis. Even though the festival was held in the same location as last year, the layout was much different. There was only one stage this year as opposed to the main stage and smaller side stage of the last two years that I had attended.
The festival is very easy to access from Kansas Highway 69, south of Kansas City. One thing I was disappointed to find upon arrival was that the passenger vehicle parking was moved farther away from the camping area. I imagine this was to make more room for the expanded RV camping, but I feel that the “Early Arrival” pass holders could have also fit into this area for parking. Unless you were lucky enough to snag a horse or tractor-drawn flatbed trailer to haul your belongings, you had to wait a while, or it was quite a trek to the campgrounds. Within the campground, which is heavily wooded, hilly terrain, there are pedicabs to take your belongings from the flatbed or camping entrance to your camping spot of choice. Arrival to the festival is always exciting for me as I run into many of my friends and acquaintances while getting settled in. I don’t think I could ever attend without doing the “Early Arrival” option as it takes me so long to get unloaded and camp set up between all of the chatting and catching up with folks I may not have seen since the previous year’s festival. I really enjoy that part of the experience though. Conversely, the one thing I don’t enjoy about the camping is the not-so-affectionately named, “Buzz Kill Hill.” This is the mulched path on a steep hill that winds through the middle of the campgrounds that leads to the festival grounds.
The festival grounds had a new configuration this year that I think flowed a little better. The stage backed up to a pavilion to form the backstage. Around the back side of the side-stage where the production equipment was being ran, were the port-a-potties. I understand that you don’t necessarily want them to be forefront, but they were a bit harder to get to this year, especially if you were located on the other side of the stage/crowd. The vendors were set up in a horse shoe around the festival grounds and were easy to get to. I did notice that they seemed to have several more merchandise and food vendors, which made for a nice variety. I did find that the VIP Lounge was not equipped the same as the year prior. Last year we had our own bar within the building and multiple Igloo beverage coolers filled with water. New to that general outdoor vicinity was a truck with a bar, but that was accessible to all patrons. At my request, there was finally an Igloo water cooler set up in the VIP Lounge, however, never any VIP bar.
As my friends and I were finishing up our camp set-up we suddenly heard Ram Jam’s Black Betty start up. Only thing was, it wasn’t Ram Jam being played over a loudspeaker like we initially thought. It was the kids from the local School of Rock! They were asked to open the first night of the festival when the Fan Vote winner couldn’t make it. Those kids played a very impressive set of rock tunes to kick things off. I think it's safe to say that the future of rock and roll looks promising in their hands.
The rest of that first night was essentially dedicated to Appalachian musicians. Kentucky’s Laid Back Country Picker continued the party with his style of country and rock and roll. If you haven’t seen LBCP, Honey, and the crew perform, you need to rectify that. I thoroughly enjoy his anecdotes that accompany the great music. Before playing it, Laid Back Country Picker told us an entertaining story about how the song “David Bowie” came to be. LBCP is a bit notorious for his 2004 Ford Crown Victoria. It has 300,000 plus miles and was a former border patrol vehicle. That car is immortalized by one of his most popular songs, “Magoffin County Cadillac.” Another favorite he played is “Party Line.” It’s just a fun song about the days of telephone lines that were shared by two or more households. In the song, he talks about being mindful of what you say because you don’t know who could be listening in on your conversation. LBCP is a fantastic guitar player and a joy to watch. Backing him on stage were his wife, Honey, on rhythm acoustic guitar and brothers, Kenny on electric bass, and Hayden Miles on drums. Kenny and Hayden are also the core members of the band Wayne Graham which is also another excellent group out of Kentucky.
Next on the lineup was Senora May. She is small in stature but fills the big production stage with her grace, beauty and ethereal voice. Her debut album, Lainhart, is called as such for her maiden name and it features songs inspired by her family and the area of Kentucky from which she hails. A couple of the songs that she performed, “Lainhart” and “Semper Fi,” were written for her younger brother who is in the United States Marines and were very well received by the crowd. A couple of my personal favorites that she played were “Dogs of Mexico” and “Country.” She explained that she wrote “Dogs of Mexico” about missing her husband while she was away performing on a music cruise in Mexico. Senora was raised to live off of the land and to protect and wisely use its resources. This is the inspiration for the song, “Country.” Senora May brought along with her to play electric guitar, Josh Nolan, Hayden Miles on drums and Kenny Miles on electric bass. I look very forward to watching Senora May’s popularity grow as she comes into her own as the talented artist she is.
Having not seen them perform live before, Town Mountain was my most anticipated set of the evening. I will say that I was very impressed and will definitely take any opportunity I can to see them again. They are a very talented and entertaining group of gentlemen from Asheville, North Carolina. The band consists of acoustic guitarist and vocalist - Robert Greer, banjoist - Jesse Langlais, Phil Barker on mandolin, Bobby Britt on fiddle and stand-up bassist - Zach Smith. Their sound spans from traditional bluegrass, old school rock and boogie-woogie honky-tonk. Since I’m not as familiar with their songs, I wasn’t able to pick out specific songs from their set list to discuss, but I look forward to providing more coverage on them in the future.
The final set of the night was a bit more special and garnered a lot of excitement from the artist and his followers. That artist is singer-songwriter, Ritch Henderson. Ritch has been building up quite a fan base in the last year since he attended Tumbleweed in 2018, as only a fan and aspiring musician. Last year Ritch impressed the campground crowd with his original and cover songs he performed at a late night song swap. Since last summer he has recorded a live EP called, Live from Southern Harmony Recording Studios, and has been hitting the road as much as possible to play acoustic gigs and song swaps in an effort to promote his music. In that whirlwind year, Ritch earned a late night spot on stage performing for the 2019 Tumbleweed crowd. It was a very heartwarming performance for both Ritch, his fans and especially his mother who was in attendance. To elevate his sound and stage presence, Ritch brought guitar players, Levi “The Legend” Dukes and William “The One Stop Chop Shop” Falkner, from his home state of Alabama. Ritch performed a solid set of original songs that included, to just name a few, “The Story So Far,” “Autumn Moon,” and “Some Other Way,” with a couple covers by his musical influences, Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell.
Night 1 concluded with a song swap in the RV camping area organized and hosted by The Honky Tonk Hotel and the band, The Comancheros. There were songs performed by Oklahoma Reviews columnist - Hannah Jo Lally, Tim Allen, Tate McLane, Cody Tyler, Mark Conley, Hannah Fletcher, Jon Green, Cole Hinshaw, Abbie Hullinger, Hailey Jane, Kansas Naquin, Dayne Proctor, Sean Taylor, Cody Williams, Chad Vaughn, Chris Stewart, Tanner Bryce Jones, and Ritch Henderson. All performers on the horizon; many performing regular gigs on the road regionally.