The third weekend of September was the busiest weekend in independent country, Texas/Red Dirt, and Americana/roots all year. In Nashville, you had the massive AmericanaFest going down. In Louisville, Kentucky, you had Bourbon and Beyond. In California, you had the inaugural Beachlife Ranch festival. And these were just the nationally-impacting destination festivals, not to mention a dozen other events impacting on the local and regional level. But if you chose instead to go to Born & Raised Fest in Pryor, Oklahoma just east of Tulsa September 16-18, you chose wisely.
Held on the same grounds as the massive Rocklahoma gathering, Born & Raised boasted one of the best lineups all year on an incredibly crowded weekend. Just the Friday night lineup alone was worth the effort, with some of the best songwriters and performers in all of country music booked one after another: Tim Montana, Dalton Domino, Joshua Ray Walker, Kendall Marvell, Jamie Lin Wilson, American Aquarium, Zach Bryan, and Mike and the Moonpies. It was like a murders row of sad bastard songs.
Jamie Lin Wilson turned in a career-defining set, facilitated by the fact that she had assembled one of the greatest superbands in the history of Texas/Red Dirt with “Hammerin'” Hank Early from the Turnpike Troubadours on steel guitar, Drew Harakal of Cody Jinks’ Tone Deaf Hippies on keys, and former Reckless Kelly guitarist David Abeyta.
But of course, it was headliner Zach Bryan who was the primary focus of Friday. “My name is Zach Bryan. I grew up 10 minutes from here,” he said as he walked out onto the stage to the biggest crowd all weekend. Pretty much the entire State of Oklahoma was there to witness it. Stores and restaurants in the area had reportedly closed early so people could make the homecoming show.
Zach Bryan isn’t a superstar, he’s a phenomenon, and it all started in north east Oklahoma. He hasn’t forgotten them, and they haven’t forgotten him. Country music is music from the country—hometown boys and girls raising their voices and sharing their experiences in compelling ways the entire world can enjoy. But there’s nothing like hearing an artist in their hometown.
Mike and the Moonpies had the impossible task of playing after Zach Bryan on a side stage as everyone in Oklahoma was filing out into the parking lot. Only one band could pull this off, and that’s exactly what Mike and the Moonpies did, winning over a crowd that included a lot of folks that had never heard them before, but stumbled onto their next favorite band, and what very well may be the best band in all of country music at the moment.
There were no real opening acts at Born & Raised, just acts who happened to play early. William Beckmann is one of the fastest rising artists in Texas music, thanks to excellent neotraditional material like his song “Bourbon Whiskey,” which had the crowd crooning along early on Saturday. But perhaps the most impressive part of his set is when he finished with a song he sung in Spanish, which Beckmann is skilled at showcasing the beauty of, and might even compliment his voice even better than country. Believe the hype in this young man.
Charles Wesley Godwin (who won SCM’s 2021 Album of the Year) is now past the hype phase, and is well on the way to becoming his own superstar after spending so much time recently opening for Zach Bryan, and being a part of that massive wave. One of the few mistakes of the festival was booking him at a 1:00 pm spot, when Godwin drew a much bigger crowd than both Natalie Hemby, and Margo Price who both played on the main stage in later and more prominent spots. Similar to Under The Big Sky Fest earlier this summer, there is a strange disconnect between the popularity of artists such as Zach Bryan and Charles Wesley Godwin, and artists booked after them in lineups.
For her part, Natalie Hemby turned in a good performance after Godwin, but unfortunately, few if anyone was there to see it. Hemby was responsible for arguably one of the greatest moments all weekend as well. Ready to leave the stage, she was told she had time for one more song, and decided to perform “Rainbow,” which she co-wrote with Kacey Musgraves. The fact that Hemby almost didn’t perform this song is crazy, because nobody who was there to see it didn’t feel a mist in their eyes, or goosebumps down their spine. It was pure magic.
Margo Price played an inspired set as well, in front of virtually nobody. It was astounding how few people were there, and in an important late afternoon slot. Seeing the crowds (or lack thereof) at festivals really helps expose the holes in the hype machine that has captured media and some of the industry when it comes to certain artists. Up-and-coming songwriter Kat Hasty, who played at 1:00 pm on the main stage on Sunday had a significantly bigger crowd than Margo Price did. Midday side stage performers like Flatland Cavalry and Ray Wylie Hubbard had significantly larger crowds than some of the main stage acts.
It was damn good thing that the crowd finally showed up for Tanya Tucker who had to play into the blazing afternoon sun starting at 6:00 pm, but still put on a Hall of Fame worthy performance (read set review). Tucker could have very well headlined the whole festival, and done so admirably. She was that good.
But instead, headlining duties on Saturday night fell to Cody Jinks, who of course was killer. And along with being the Saturday night headliner, Cody Jinks was also a guy who was everywhere all weekend, similar to Jamie Lin Wilson. Friday night Jinks was stage side for Jamie Lin’s set. On Sunday he showed up to sing with Whitey Morgan, and later with Jamie Lin Wilson on the VIP acoustic stage. He also brought Tennessee Jet out to sing with him on Saturday night. Cody Jinks wasn’t just the Saturday night headliner, he was the Born & Raised fest host along with Jamie Lin.
There was also a cool moment during Cody’s Saturday night set where he got the crowd to sing “Happy Birthday” to his 10-year-old daughter, who later showed her appreciation by throwing glow sticks to the crowd. Cody’s whole family was there over the weekend, adding to the family-like atmosphere of the fest conferred from the artists to the attendees.
Two kickass women of Texas country in Courtney Patton and Summer Dean helped start Sunday off. Jamie Lin Wilson showed up early to sing with Patton, and the two turned in a chill-inducing rendition of the song “Casualty,” which will appear on Patton’s new album Electrostatic out October 7th.
Then it was the turn of Them Dirty Roses to leave everyone agog. As if the Gods of Southern rock themselves came down from the Heavens to smite a new band out of the hard Alabama iron, Them Dirty Roses is one of those bands that can grow hair on your chest just from listening to them. This is a band you listen to while overdosing in a tour bus lavatory at the age of 27. They can deflower virgins simply by them being in the audience.
Whitey Morgan never receives enough love from these independent mega festivals, but he did from Born & Raised, even though once again with generally poor attendance earlier in the days and especially with the oppressive heat on Sunday, there just weren’t that many there to experience it. They missed out when Cody Jinks came out for the final song to sing with Whitey.
Leading up to the headliners of Lynyrd Skynyrd, you had the three of the biggest names in Texas country all taking turns on the stages with Wade Bowen, The Randy Rogers Band, and the Josh Abbott Band. Once again, Jamie Lin Wilson showed up to sing with Josh Abbott, who just like Whitey Morgan, sometimes gets a little unfairly overlooked by some of these festivals. But not Born & Raised.
Lynyrd Skynyrd was quite the experience. With a performance preceded by an extensive retrospective video montage, they took the stage Sunday night to a roar, and proceeded to run through the Greatest Hits catalog with precision.
Though nostalgia for Lynyrd Skynyrd is hard to deny, so is the fact that no original members are currently touring with the band. Guitar player Gary Rossington is still around, but not currently performing as he is regularly battling heart problems. Johnny Van Zandt is a fair replacement for his brother that died in the notorious Lynyrd Skynyrd plane crash, and since Rickey Medlocke originally played with the band in the early 70’s, he also has some legitimate ties to the Lynyrd Skynyrd legacy.
But Lynyrd Skynyrd is also one of these legacy rock bands that only play the hits, and precisely how they appear on the record. Unfortunately, no photos are available, because Lynyrd Skynyrd would not allow them. They’re also that kind of band.
Born & Raised 2022 was not without it’s hiccups. The reason Tim Montana, Joshua Ray Walker, and Dalton Domino were not featured here is because yours truly was stuck in Friday arrival check-in hell during their respective sets. This was partly due to arriving right before the fest (was in Nashville covering AmericanaFest earlier in the week), but logistical snafus were more common this year than last, when it should have been vice versa since 2021 was the inaugural year.
I personally was removed and detained by security for being in areas I had every right to be in, twice, which also resulted in missing most of American Aquarium’s Friday night set. Though security is most certainly a paramount concern for live events these days, some of the rules and the aggressiveness in implementing them was a bit nonsensical, with even the security seeming to not understand them properly at times.
For example, Born & Raised was selling high-end water bottles branded with the festival logo as souvenirs, which came in handy on a weekend that got progressively hotter. But because these bottles were not clear, they immediately became contraband, and people weren’t allowed to bring them on the grounds. There were also some complaints about ticket upgrades, accessibility, and other issues as it seems the promoter AEG was trying to tighten the screws on access to up sell as many patrons as possible.
But all of those issues aside, Born & Raised Fest has established itself as the premier music festival in the Texas, Red Dirt, and independent country space. Larry Joe Taylor Fest may still have more attendees, but Born & Raised has the better curated lineups that appeal to a national audience, and is quickly making its own legacy and traditions right in the heart of Red Dirt country.
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All photos by Kyle “Trigger” Coroneos