A Texas Music Festival in Oregon? Welcome to Wild Hare.
The Texas music and Red Dirt movement is growing. There is no doubt about that. The appeal and participation in the music is no longer regional, despite what the names might imply. It’s just as much of a genre at this point as a collaboration of local scenes, offering a much more healthy alternative to the mainstream of country both in quality of music for fans, and artistic freedom for performers. For years Texas and Red Dirt has been inviting to artists from outside of the region. Chris Knight and American Aquarium are just some of the names that have been embraced by the movement, though are not from the area. But now the artists and fans are spilling over state boarders like never before, and the music is becoming so commercially viable, at times it’s rivaling the mainstream in popularity, putting Nashville’s Music Row on alert.
Texas music festivals outside of the Texoma area are nothing new. The Music Fest in Steamboat Springs has been going on for decades. Mile 0 Fest in Key West, FL is quickly becoming the premier festival of the yearly cycle. The Braun Brothers Reunion in Idaho has also been a hit, and helped spread a love for the music throughout the area. But these are mostly what are considered “destination” festivals, meaning people from Texas and beyond travel to them as opposed to the festivals serving a local population of fans.
Wild Hare Country Fest, now in its second year, is something different. It symbolizes the growth of sustainable footprints for Texas country and Red Dirt artists and listeners across the United States. Fans from the Texoma region and beyond are more than welcome to travel to Canby, OR to partake in a festival whose talent and production rival most any other festival in Texas and Oklahoma proper, and you can’t beat getting out of the heat of the southern United States in late July. The mountains, rivers, and forests of Oregon are worth the trip themselves, but Wild Hare is also about serving fans of Texoma music in the region where they live. From Washington State to northern California, fans of this music turned out to take in a dream come true: the artists they’ve enjoyed from afar for years performing right in front of their eyes.
Stepping onto the grounds of Wild Hare is like taking a trip to Texas, with the same familial atmosphere among fans and artists, the “music first” attitude that welcomes you whether you’re young or old, hip or not, and the camaraderie among everyone is something you look forward to just as much as the music. When Cody Johnson took the stage Saturday night, thousands of fans roared to life, and were singing every word to his songs. Some fans drove six hours just to finally get to see Austin’s Mike and the Moonpies play live. Jason Boland and the Stragglers are original Red Dirt legends everyone considering themselves a Red Dirt fan must see, regardless of where you live.
But Wild Hare Country Fest wouldn’t have been nearly as cool if it was just a bunch of Texas artists invading the small town of Canby, Oregon just south of Portland for the weekend. Regional bands also were an important component to the presentation. The Brass Tacks from nearby Molalla, Oregon brought their loyal fans out, while their guitar player Eli Howard was all over the place on the weekend, playing with multiple bands, and embracing the role of the Mayor of Wild Hare as host and helping hand. One of the bands he sat in with was The Lowdown Drifters from Stanwood, Washington, whose recent album Last Call For Dreamers has people singing their praises in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Along with Tylor and the Train Robbers from Boise, these acts put a regional stamp on a festival with national interest and implications. Even Wild Hare’s Friday night headliner, Whitey Morgan and the 78’s, can now claim regional ties. Even though Whitey’s mostly known for being from Flint, MI, Whitey now calls northern California home.
Getting a chance to see those regional bands with performers like Micky and the Motorcars and The Dirty River Boys is what made Wild Hare special. Kaitlin Butts flew in to play Friday, and was the artist most everyone was talking about for the rest of the weekend as one of the festival’s greatest discoveries. Though there were only a couple of women on the lineup, placing Bri Bagwell in the big spot right before Cody Johnson’s set Saturday night most assuredly secured here a slew of new fans after the energetic performance she put on. The Piedmont Boys from South Carolina, Tyler Hatley from North Carolina, Jacob Bryant originally from north Georgia who has a great song called “25 in Jail” all spoke to the widening borders of Texas music. Wild Hare also offered a side stage for up-and-comers Tyler Hatley, Miller Campbell, and Joshua Allen to play on.
But it was Cody Johnson’s headliner set that solidified for many the idea that a Texas music festival in Oregon is not only something that could work, but something that was needed. Johnson himself said he was surprised to walk out on stage in front of so many adorning fans so far away from his home in Huntsville, TX. Sure, he’s now signed to a major label and has enjoyed some radio success, but he proved like so many Texas artists that the appeal for this music is grassroots, organic, and real.
“We’re six guys on stage who care about the state of country music,” Cody Johnson assured after playing his first couple of songs. “You’re making a statement to the country music industry.”
Johnson later made reference to the massive viral hit “Old Town Road,” humming a few verses before saying, “If that’s a country song I’ll kiss every one of y’all’s asses. They can put out all the Old Town Road’s they want, but there will be only one King of Country.”
Johnson then launched into George Strait’s “Fool Hearted Memory,” and during his encore played a medley of classic country songs from Willie Nelson, George Jones, Johnny Cash, and Chris LeDoux. It was Cody Johnson’s originals though that had the crowd going wild. Perhaps to some, the sound of Cody Johnson may be a little to mainstream for them, but there’s also no doubt it’s country, and creating wide appeal well beyond Texas and Nashville.
It’s that nexus between country and rock, with a strong emphasis on songwriting that makes Texas music so appealing beyond the region, and is even a worthy term to use to describe a band like Washington State’s Lowdown Drifters, or South Carolina’s Piedmont Boys. For years these bands have been playing The Wild Hare Saloon in the area, building up fan bases, cross pollinating fans for important independent music artists from across the country. Now events like the Wild Hare Country Festival are codifying the movement in ways that will allow regional artists to expand their footprint, local fans to get their fill of music that’s much better than whatever is being played on the radio, and performers from Texas, Oklahoma, and beyond to get a foothold in the Pacific Northwest.
“There is a revolution happening in country music that is centered around real deal, honest, heartfelt songwriting and performances that resonate with true country fans,” says festival co-founder Joan Monen. And that was well on display at the 2019 Wild Hare Country Festival.
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The good photos below courtesy of Robert Millage Photography. Robert can be found on Instagram. The bad photos by “Trigger” of Saving Country Music.
July 22, 2019 @ 12:59 pm
I was there. Can’t put into words how awesome the whole weekend was. If we’re lucky we only get these bands in the area every couple years. Having so many in one spot is something special.
July 22, 2019 @ 1:09 pm
Well that sure looks like it was a hell of a good party. Makes me wish I lived a whole lot closer to that scene. And your photos aren’t lacking any in quality. If you hadn’t mentioned it I would never have known they were from 2 different photographers. Keep up the good reporting…and shooting, Trigger. It’s appreciated by this Canadian boy who can’t come see for himself
July 22, 2019 @ 1:22 pm
It doesn’t surprise me that there are fans of this brand of music in Oregon. Get a just little outside of the hard left progressive borders of Portland the rest of the state are just normal working class middle Americans who love good well crafted music. My sister lives in Corvallis. Every time I go go visit, I’m amazed how much that part of the state reminds me of N. Georgia
July 22, 2019 @ 2:01 pm
Maybe you should get a little outside the borders of your mind. You’d be surprised to find plenty of abnormal hard left progressive freaks like me, born and bred in the working middle class of the urban Pacific Northwest (which is in America, by the way) who actually love good well crafted music. Maybe I’ll do a shot with you at my annual trip to the Braun Brothers fest.
July 22, 2019 @ 3:47 pm
You called yourself a freak bruh man, not me. Portland is well known for it’s hard left progressive politics, culture and lifestyle. This isn’t an opinion, it’s a fact. I’ve been there many times to witness it myself. Not sure why you take such exception to my comment. It’s not a stretch to suggest that country music by and large is mostly listened to, but not exclusively, by working class people in rural America who often times gravitate to more traditional values. It’s been my experience that once you get far enough outside of Portland, especially in the willamette valley, there is a large portion of the population that reminds of the kind of people I encounter on a daily basis in the Great state of Georgia.
July 23, 2019 @ 5:17 am
Anytime someone invokes “normal”, “real”, etc. as a qualifying adjective before the word Americans, in order to favorably contrast a certain subset of people compared to another group another, you’re just opening yourself up to justified criticism.
Unfortunately, both urban and rural dwellers deploy this cheap tactic. The urban folks who spend all their time within a one-mile radius of their home and then speak from an uninformed perspective on rural or ‘flyover state’ life. And those away from the big cities who knock “coastal elites” for living in a bubble and not representing America, when in fact there are more people in geographic proximity to the coasts than not.
Neither of those groups (or any other group, for that matter) of Americans is more real or normal than the other.
July 23, 2019 @ 3:10 pm
What I find normal, may not be normal to someone else, but that doesn’t make it less normal to me. I can only speak from my own firsthand knowledge. I’m not responsible, nor am I obligated to change my perspective of what I deem normal, because it differs from someone else’s definition.
July 23, 2019 @ 8:15 am
I agree, many of the great music traditions of America, from country to cajun, from the blues to bluegrass, have their roots, find their stories, and gain inspiration in the lives and land of rural America. And therefore, they are understandably popular with rural people. But these genres appeal to all, from the working class of cities (i.e., the people who grind it out daily to keep us safe, the buildings and roads functioning, our children taught and cared for, our cell phones operating, the garbage picked up, our hotel rooms cleaned, etc., who come home from work to have dinner with their families and maybe go to church on Sunday, just like normal traditional rural people) to the smallest agricultural enclaves on the high plains, because the best artists craft songs celebrating themes common to and cherished by America’s humanity–love, loss, depression, family, faith, land and open space, work, play, jealousy, joy, and more, set to beautiful music. The Pacific NW, where I reside, is actually highly urbanized, and I would argue that the bulk of country music fans are from urban and suburban areas. Lovely Canby, Oregon, home to this awesome festival, is literally minutes from the urban growth boundary of Portland (and without such a boundary, may well be sprawling cookie cutter homes and strip malls instead of horse ranchettes, nurseries, and wineries), so I would assume many attendees were from the Portland metro area.
July 23, 2019 @ 8:37 pm
Also think a lot of folks with mindsets such as OP would be shocked at the political leanings of most of the artists giving us our good old country sound back in this day and age.
July 23, 2019 @ 5:07 am
Don’t you just love guys like this that have to inject their political ranting into everything they talk about?
July 23, 2019 @ 5:23 am
Yep, you’ve got his number, alright.
July 25, 2019 @ 10:08 am
I’ll be making my annual trek to BBR from Florida next month! Hope to see you there!
Anna Leigh Band
July 23, 2019 @ 5:27 pm
SC band here…close to GA. You hit it spot on!
July 27, 2019 @ 5:14 am
I am surprised that the Portland crazies didn’t fine the bands for cultural appropriation like they did to those poor burrito makers.
July 22, 2019 @ 1:22 pm
Really proud of those boys in Brass Tacks. The drummer is my son and the guitarist my son-in-law. And of my friend from high school Joan Monen for putting on the show and all her support of the local music scene.
July 22, 2019 @ 2:23 pm
I wish I would have been there!
Next step for Red Dirt an Texoma country music: a festival outside USA, in Europe? As a European guy, in love with this music, I’m dreaming about that! For the moment, I’m glad about the growth of red dirt music and country music from Texas and Oklahoma outside its geographical area, in all USA. Artists like Charlie Marie, American Aquarium or The Lowdown Drifters are the evidence of this spread. The existence and success of this festival confirms this fact. It’s really amazing and promising for the future oif country music!
July 23, 2019 @ 12:47 am
yeah Nicolas, a european red dirt festival would be great!! Maybe one day we could work it out….where are you from?
July 23, 2019 @ 1:17 am
I’m from Toulouse, Southwestern France. Yeah, Daniele, I hope it could work out one day! Where are you from?
July 23, 2019 @ 3:05 am
July 23, 2019 @ 3:40 am
Great! Europeans love red dirt and Texas music!
July 22, 2019 @ 2:52 pm
It was a great weekend. Glad to see the pics and the love for Lowdown Drifters, who quietly have put out the best record of the year so far.
And Kaitlin Butts straight up slayed the place. Wow. Folks were talking about that set like they did the first time Turnpike Troubadours played at BBR.
And it isn’t just Wild Hare (which, incidentally is the best run festival I have ever attended — these folks have been putting on big fan-first festivals for a long time and have it dialed in).
In two weeks we have the Backcountry Bash out here — Randy Rogers, Mike and the Moonpies, Shane Smith, Micky and the Motorcars, and Parker McCollum. Not a bad lineup. And we already had Jackalope Jamboree this year — American Aquarium and Shane Smith, to name a couple.
July 22, 2019 @ 3:51 pm
I always thought Butts was pretty well known in the Texas scene due to her association with Flatland Cavalry, but I guess not
July 22, 2019 @ 4:20 pm
Sounds like a great time with lots of good bands and artists. I sure wish we had something like that in Utah. Great pics btw.
The Pacific Northwest is such a beautiful area. Im heading that way this Saturday to visit family in Washougal, Wa. Then heading to the Oregon Coast for a couple days.
July 22, 2019 @ 5:58 pm
Thank you for your kind words my friend. What a great weekend. Thank you to everybody that took the time to watch Brass Tacks and a huge thanks is in order to Joan Moanen, Jason Fellman, and True West for making this event so special.
-Eli “the mayor” Howard
Jumpin’ Jack Flash
July 22, 2019 @ 6:55 pm
Great to see the Lowdown Drifters getting some love. Last Call For the Dreams has been one of my favorite records of the year.
July 23, 2019 @ 6:19 am
Mine too. Someone randomly mentioned them in a comment somewhere here when “We 3 Kings” had been pre-released. I hope Trigger can review the album. “Last Call for Dreamers” and “Best of the Worst Kind” by Tylor and the Train Robbers are both way up there for me. Never would have known of either without this sight!
July 22, 2019 @ 9:47 pm
I can’t wait for Pickathon now! Oregon is becoming sort of a west coast mecca for quality musical performances
July 23, 2019 @ 9:46 am
I admit I haven’t delved deep into exploring the Red Dirt scene but I am getting intrigued. Like Bakersfield once was, it presents an alternative to the dreck that Abusin’Music Row puts out. Wish more of these bands toured the midwest, but realistically they don’t need to. Their fan bases are already well supporting them.Nice photos, made me wish I was there.
July 23, 2019 @ 1:32 pm
Don’t forget Hardly Strictly in San Francisco, which has been going strong for several decades now, always attracts a ton of great artists and people starving to see those artists. And it’s free. Just watch out for the urban campers of SF and their excrement.
July 24, 2019 @ 4:05 pm
Bring that shit to the midwest!
And, the CMA fest sure is bragging about having Old Town Road on the show, ain’t it? Have you seen the TV ads? Cheese us!