Interview – Jason & Anthony of Muddy Roots Festival

At South by Southwest this March, I had the opportunity to sit down with Anthony and Jason Galaz, the brothers behind Muddy Roots Music and the Muddy Roots Festival happening in Cookeville, TN this September 3rd & 4th.

My plan was to get some information about how the Muddy Roots Festival had come about, and maybe try to dig deeper into the reasons of why the participants of the inaugural festival last year had such high praise for it. I secured that information just fine, but the Galaz brothers had a lot of wisdom to offer as well; for example the idea of looking at music in eras as opposed to genres, and taking an “it’s just money” approach to following your dreams and doing something you believe in.

You can listen/download the 20+ minute interview below, and for those that prefer to read,  the bigger points are transcribed below as well.

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Triggerman: I started this thing over three years ago, and in the first year I wrote an article about how much we needed one festival that could unite all this music. From the country side, from the roots side, from the blues side. There’s was always rumors that one of these would happen, and then all of a sudden there’s Muddy Roots. Where did you come from, and where did you get the inspiration to put on the Muddy Roots Festival?

Jason: Originally we are from California, but I live in Tennessee now, I’ve lived there 5 or 6 years now. Anthony still lives in California. We started off just booking bands locally, bands we love. (The artist) Soda was a big inspiration for all of this. I decided to start booking shows in Nashville, which led me to Keith from Hillgrass (Hillgrass Bluebilly Records). Definitely a snowball is what happened from there.

Triggerman: So you started out as a local Nashville booking agent or promoter?

Jason: I would say “promoter” is an official term, but more just a fan that wanted to see these bands. It was selfish reasons. I wanted to see them in my town, so I brought them to me.

Triggerman: Where did the term “Muddy Roots” come in? And what does “Muddy Roots” mean to you?

Jason (left) Anthony (right) at SXSW

Jason: We had booked shows in the past. We’d been messing with entertainment since High School days. Anthony actually coined the term when we were trying to come up with some kind of name. And it just made sense because we like a lot of music, we’re very eclectic, but it just seemed like all the music we liked fell between genres or classifications. And we were discovering roots music and liked bands that paid homage to it. So it just made sense that roots bands that were hard to define, would be “Muddy Roots”.

Triggerman: So Anthony, you’re trying to change a light bulb, and you slip on the wet porcelain of a toilet seat and the term “Muddy Roots” comes to your brain like the flux capacitor?

Anthony: There was just something so deep about this music, like it says so much, but it’s not polished like mainstream country and all of that. No cookie cutter, it was just muddy, but not in a dirty way. I guess it’s hard to explain, it kind of just came out of nowhere and it was like “This is Muddy Roots music”. It defined it for me in my head. It’s down in the trenches and swamps. This is the original stuff.

Triggerman: So how do you go from booking shows locally to putting your ass on the line booking a whole festival?

Anthony: It’s hard to tame Jason honestly. We do this as fans first. He just wanted to see the bands that he was a fan of. And then he was like “You know what, I want to throw a festival. I want to bring everyone together. Everybody can camp.” There was really no limit, he was like “Let’s just do it.” And it just seemed to form and grow itself. It was awesome. Booking these bands before, we knew there was a demand, seeing the fan’s reaction and the community. We said “let’s do this on a bigger scale”. What’s the worst that happens, you go into debt? Well, that’s just what happens. It’s just money.

Jason: Ironically being a fan of all these bands first, we really don’t get to enjoy them at the festival because we’re working too much. It became kind of a cause for us, because we believe that most of these bands we book are better than anything you’ll hear on the radio. They’re just not picked up and marketed, that’s all. So we had this master plan of booking bands that we think deserve larger audiences, and then book bands that are a little more known, and put them together. We’re going to expose the bands we love to the audience of bigger bands. Granted, we’re just working-class folk, we’re not a corporate festival, so we can’t book too big of bands. But I’d say it’s working.

Triggerman: Everyone that went to the Muddy Roots Festival last year came out of Cookeville, TN singing the praises, and saying it was a life altering experience. That’s what you heard: a sense of community, a sense of brotherhood.

Anthony: I don’t think we realized it at the time, but for a lot of the bands, it seemed like a family reunion. They were camping together and the fans and bands were together. There was no barricade, no barrier, no VIP sections backstage. And that’s what gave the people who made the pilgrimage to Cookeville from whatever state or country such an experience, because all the bands they listen to, they could just go up and talk to them and hang out with them. There’s was nobody that was “too cool”. There were no pedestals.

Jason: I like that, there were no pedestals. It wasn’t “Hey, there’s rock stars, let’s look at them, but we can’t talk or touch them”. Another thing that lends to it is that a lot of the roots music we’re paying homage to comes from an era that wasn’t so corporate in their events. When they made those songs, it was probably out in the countryside somewhere, living a different life, and you were able to live by those same rules at Muddy Roots.

Triggerman: You’re able to put country bands and blues bands right next to each other, and it seems to work.

Jason: I think that because a lot of us have respect more for eras more than genres.