Tumbleweed Music Festival 2019: Day 2
After staying up well into the night to listen to the campground song swap, I got a little later start to the morning of Day 2, Friday May 31, than I had planned. It was more than worth it though. It’s exciting and heartwarming to share those kinds of moments with your friends and “music family.”
After preparing for the day ahead, I made my way down to the festival grounds just before Chad Vaughn took the stage shortly before noon. Chad is a local Kansas City, MO singer-songwriter that made his first Tumbleweed appearance last year after winning the Fan Vote set. Joining him on stage were Will Wails on lead guitar, Jeff Nickolson on bass and Tom Winborn on drums. Chad started the second day of the festival off with a favorite of his, “Part of the Pain.” The song concludes with redemption and hope, but not before weaving through the struggles of depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide. Another song that I found interesting was “Bootlegger.” Upon questioning Chad on the inspiration for the song, I learned that his grandfather, Danny Vaughn, actually penned the moonshining tune. Vaughn said, “He taught me how to play, sing and write starting when I was 8 years old. I recorded it and began playing it live in tribute to him and his contributions to my life around 2014.”
103.9 WDEB radio personality, Mustang Mitch did a great job of emceeing the festival and gave very entertaining and personal introductions to each artist and band. However, he was swiftly, yet lovingly, corrected by the next artist when he proclaimed the wrong Kansas City as his hometown. It’s fairly easy to slip up and say Kansas City, Missouri, but Chris Stewart is proud to hail from Kansas City, Kansas. If you are familiar with the Kansas City area music scene you may have seen Chris Stewart and Chad Vaughn swapping songs together at a local venue or watering hole. Chris’s style is more traditional country than that of Vaughn’s but they complement each other very well. Vaughn actually joined Stewart on stage to play guitar for the set. A couple of other familiar faces in Chris’s band were, again, Tom Winborn on drums and Al Enzian on the resonator guitar. Most of the returning Tumbleweed fans and artists may remember Al from Bryan James’s band last year. However, it’s also worthy to note that Al once played with Janis Joplin! Chris likes to mix in a couple Merle Haggard covers into his sets as a nod to his biggest musical influence, but Chris has quite the arsenal of country tunes that can impress any Haggard fan. A couple of my favorites are “From Now On” and “Take the Blame.” “From Now On” is about a relationship that is falling apart with the male protagonist leaving. In a brief exchange about his music, Chris stated that he wrote the song about 3 years ago and it has become one of his favorite originals. Sometimes alcohol makes people do things that get them in trouble with the law and that’s exactly what “Take the Blame” reminisces about.
One of my favorite artists of this past year, Chelsea Nolan, followed in the lineup. Chelsea came to Tumbleweed with fellow Kentucky artists, Senora May and Laid Back Country Picker. Her set included songs from her debut self-titled EP, released October of 2018, and a few new songs that she recently began working into her live shows. Chelsea has such a devoted following that I had friends and fans of hers messaging me to do a live Facebook video in her fan group page during her set. I obliged for a couple songs, but the service was spotty out there and my connection wasn’t great. A few songs she played for us were “Build a Fire,” “Rock Bottom” and “If You Think It’s About You, It Probably Is.” “Build a Fire” is about what it must have been like to be the first man to discover fire and how it is to be person trying to discover their own “fire.” “Rock Bottom” is in reference to a former boyfriend that Chelsea hates to admit to having. “If You Think It’s About You, It Probably Is” is about exactly that. A new song of hers that I really enjoy and hope to see on an upcoming album is, “Camel Wide Blues.” She wrote it after a dream she had about smoking cigarettes, which she does not do, but can understand how relaxing they might make a person feel. For Tumbleweed, Chelsea’s band included her own brother, Josh Nolan, and Kenny and Hayden Miles, who are brothers that have their own band, Wayne Graham. About three quarters of the way through her set, Chelsea and the Miles brothers took a break to allow Chelsea’s brother, Josh, to sing “Revelations: Things Could be Different,” from his own recently released album, Kind Heart to Follow. The song and Josh’s delivery are very moving and it left me a bit emotional. Trying to contain myself, I looked over at his adoring sister, side stage, with tears of pride in her eyes, and I was in full-on tears. It was a really endearing moment that I was glad I got to witness.
Next up was a set I was really looking forward to, Sarah Shook and the Disarmers. This was my first chance at seeing this North Carolina band live and that classic country meets punk rock sound left me excited for the next. I was glad to hear the slow burning heartbreak ballad, “Dwight Yoakam.” Her latest album, Years, received a lot of positive buzz, but I really enjoy all of her Sidelong album as well. I enjoy the grit in her delivery and the fierce truth in her lyrics. “Nothin’ Feels Right But Doin’ Wrong” and “Fuck Up” were a couple of my other favorites they performed from the Sidelong album. Sarah and her band, Phil Sullivan on pedal steel, Aaron Oliva on upright bass, Eric Peterson on lead guitar and Kevin McClain on drums, brought a tight set of songs from the 2018 album, Years. Just to highlight some of my favorites, “New Ways to Fail,” “Damned If I Do, Damned If I Don’t” and “The Bottle Never Lets Me Down” could all be heard throughout their set.
Another highly anticipated set was from the sons of the late, great Merle Haggard, Noel and Ben Haggard. When the brothers took the stage and began their set, I was still back stage taking a break from the afternoon sun. I couldn’t see them, but could only hear them and I have to admit that when Ben Haggard began singing, tears welled up in my eyes as I could’ve sworn I was listening to a young Merle. I was supposed to see Merle Haggard perform in the late spring of 2016, but he unfortunately passed away about a month prior to that concert. So, seeing and hearing Noel and Ben were as close as I am ever going to get. Noel and Ben filled the crowd with nostalgia on “Are the Good Times Really Over” and “My Favorite Memory.” They got them moving and singing aloud to “Workin’ Man Blues,” “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” and “Mama Tried.” They definitely had a special showing and I look forward to seeing more of them in the future.
I’m pretty fond of Reckless Kelly shows, so of course, I was happy to see them land on the bill for Tumbleweed this year. In late January, I was able to see one of the last performances of Reckless Kelly before long-time lead guitarist, David Abeyta, retired in February of this year. Now taking the stage in David’s place is Idahoan artist, Jeff Crosby. Crosby is an accomplished singer-songwriter and musician in his own right. He has garnered four studio albums and toured extensively across the U.S. and abroad with his band, Jeff Crosby and The Refugees and also playing guitar for Jerry Joseph of Widespead Panic. Jeff appears to be settling in well with the Red Dirt legends. The rest of the band is made up of two of the four Braun brothers; Willie with lead vocals and guitar and Cody on vocals, fiddle, mandolin and harmonica, Jay “Nazz” Nazziola on drums and Joe Miller on bass. As I prepared my notes to write this article, Reckless Kelly released their Bulletproof Live album on June 21. It’s a reprise to their 2008 release of Bulletproof. With 20 years of music in their collection, they kept the songs rolling throughout their set. Their lead-off was “Passin’ Through” followed by many of my favorites like “Nobody’s Girl,” “Radio,” “The Champ,” along with crowd favorites, “Seven Nights in Eire” and “Crazy Eddie’s Last Hurrah,” just to name a few. Reckless Kelly left the crowd pumped up and ready to rock out for the follow-up headliner.
Atlanta, Georgia’s Southern rockers, Blackberry Smoke, packed the festival grounds for their Friday night headlining show. As one of the tightest and most talented bands out on the road today, you can always be guaranteed a genuinely impressive show. Lead guitar and vocals belong to Charlie Starr, Paul Jackson is on guitar and vocals, Brandon Still on keyboards, and Turner brothers, Richard on bass and vocals and Brit on drums. From their more country style album, Little Piece of Dixie, they played “Good One Comin’ On” early on in the set; along with “Nobody Gives a Damn” from their 2018 album, Find A Light. Among some of the songs that made the set list and the encore, came from their The Whippoorwill album, “Six Ways to Sunday” and “One Horse Town,” in the regular set. Like an Arrow got a lot of love on the set list as well. A few to mention are the hard rocking “Waiting for the Thunder” and also “Let It Burn.” “Workin’ for a Workin’ Man” and the groove-heavy title track, “Like an Arrow” were obvious favorites throughout the crowd. After a brief stage exit at the conclusion of their set, BBS returned for an extended encore that was dedicated to the late Allman Brothers Band co-founder, Gregg Allman. They performed a medley of songs that included, “Free on the Wing,” which Gregg Allman lent vocals to on their 2016, Like an Arrow album. “Ain’t Much Left of Me” is one of my BBS favorites that was played during the encore. I love the opening line: “Well, my fall from grace was a sight to see” because who hasn’t shuddered at the thought of what you must have looked like to those around you when the bottom falls out of your life. They finished up the encore and left everyone in bliss with their version of Bob Marley’s “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.”
By the end of a truly great musical day, I was a little “worse for wear” due to an old foot injury I had aggravated earlier that day. (Some of you may have noticed me gimping around the festival grounds.) So, by the time Blackberry Smoke was finished and the late-night acts were gearing up to perform, I was in need of a break. In my quest to be present for at least a few songs from every set that weekend, I decided to tough it out and stay for part of Jackson Taylor’s set.
I hadn’t seen Jackson Taylor and the Sinners perform in a few years, so I was a little interested to check them out again. His brand of country music is a little crasser than I typically listen to, but that is what sets Taylor apart from the other “outlaw” country acts. Jackson has a bit of shock-value in his lyrics and delivery. He has a long-standing career and I don’t expect his style to change because of people like myself. Joining Jackson on stage that night was Earl “Huggybear” Hinton on bass and Brandon Burke on drums. I caught his tunes, “Long Legs and Long Necks” and “Maria” before making my way back to camp to try to catch a little rest before the last performance of the night. On my walk, I could hear Jackson apologizing to the crowd for his scratchy voice; exclaiming he was ill and needed whiskey to help him sing. From camp, I couldn’t tell if it worked, but I could still hear him asking for several pulls of whiskey throughout his set. With songs like “Jack’s Drunk Again” and “Whiskey Drinking Song,” I’m not as surprised as someone who has never seen him perform before.
The final set of the Friday line up belonged to Florida singer-songwriter, Bryan James, who made his Tumbleweed debut on the late night stage of last year’s festival. Bryan formed a fine band of musicians to back him up again this year. This year’s band included, Al Enzian on resonator, Chad Vaughn on electric guitar, Duncan Butts on drums and Don Rowe on bass, while Mr. James, himself, played rhythm guitar. Bryan is a traditional style country music singer who treated us to several original songs and a few covers from the artists that influence his style. Originals, “Give a Damn” and “Maybe I Am” are a proclamation to caring less about what people think of you and living your best life as you see fit. “This New Way’s Getting Old” and “If It Ain’t Broke” speaks to the current state of mainstream country music. If you have attended Tumbleweed in the last three years, chances are you are tired of the pop country on the radio and have been seeking out the more traditional sounds that you’ll find being performed at this festival. I thought Bryan did a great job covering Sturgill Simpson’s ballad of frustration, “You Can Have the Crown” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Southern rock tale, “Ballad of Curtis Loew.”
The first full day of music was exhilarating and I knew I was going to have a big day on Saturday, so I didn’t waste any time getting back to camp to get to sleep while many of my friends kept the party going into the night…or should I say…early morning.