Born & Raised Fest Pulls Off Rousing Inaugural Year

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Picture gallery at bottom.

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“This is the best festival I’ve ever been a part of,” Cody Jinks said as he took the stage Sunday night (9-19) in Pryor, Oklahoma. Jinks later doubled down in this sentiment on social media. Not faint praise from Cody, who’s played some big fests over the years, including his own personally curated one. And the praise was deserved.

The inaugural Born and Raised Fest just north of the heart of Red Dirt country in Oklahoma was a rousing success according to a consensus of attendees and performers alike. Held on the spacious and improved grounds of the long-running Rocklahoma Festival, and backed by the big promotional company AEG, this mitigated most rookie mistakes, and a good time was had by all, despite the lingering summer heat.

Born and Raised Fest symbolizes a couple of important things. It now means that Red Dirt and Texas music have grown so exponentially, it can now justify one of these major festivals by an international promotional company. But that was also part of the concern. With a calendar of so many excellent local and regional events already, would Born and Raised put mom and pop events out of business? After all, the rescheduled Larry Joe Taylor Festival in Stephenville, TX was the same weekend.

Whether that concern bears fruit in the future remains to be seen. But Born and Raised put out a concerted effort to buy local, hire local, work with local vendors and businesses, and brought in promoter Kyle Carter of the successful Mile 0 Fest in Key West who knows the Red Dirt community well.

The fest started out Friday night in what was supposed to be a quaint pre-party on the festival’s third tier Horizon stage. But when word got out that surging viral star Zach Bryan was performing and only 45 minutes from where he grew up, thousands of tickets got scarfed up last minute. They probably should have moved the show to the second stage, and brought in a few extra folks to sling beers, but the music and moments were excellent.

The Damn Quails where added to Friday night last minute, and did what they do best, which is take well-written country songs, and give them the rock and roll treatment. Jamie Lin Wilson played next, and had a super cool moment when she sang “Oklahoma Stars” co-written with Evan Felker, and a huge silver boot fashioned like a mirrored ball showered the stage and crowd alike with shooting stars on the warm Oklahoma night.

What happened with Zach Bryan deserved its own discussion (read here), but needless to say, it was a phenomenon all unto itself. You almost felt bad for William Clark Green who had to follow, but he’s amassed so many excellent songs at this point in his career such as “Sympathy” and “She Likes the Beatles,” he rose to the occasion.

Born and Raised also made sure to use its platform to promote up-and-coming artists like songwriter Chloe Beth and the Jason Scott Band. The only thing that sucked about the midday sets from folks like Flatland Cavalry, Kaitlin Butts, and Bri Bagwell is that at 30 minutes, they were just too short.

Shane Smith and the Saints put on a spectacular show and received one of the most enthusiastic responses all weekend, but it got throttled at the half-hour mark. A Jack Ingram show isn’t just a performance, it’s a work of art, but he only got to perform four songs. What this facilitated though is no overlap in performances on a super stacked lineup, and the stages weren’t so far apart that you couldn’t hoof it back and forth if you wanted to see most everyone, and pull it off for the most part.

Though not every attendee could participate, you’d be remiss to not mention what an excellent job Jamie Lin Wilson did hosting and curating an acoustic stage in the air-conditioned VIP Lounge tent, which was certainly worth the ticket upgrade. What was supposed to be a simple stage tucked in a corner turned out supporting some of the most memorable moments of the weekend. Kylie Frey performed there early on Saturday, and stunned folks with the way she holds out notes at the end of songs to really make you feel the emotion behind them. She had folks hooting and hollering for her.

Along with offering additional opportunities for the up-and-coming songwriters on the lineup, Jamie Lin Wilson used her deep rolodex to rope in some of the weekend’s biggest talent to perform on the VIP stage. BJ Barham of American Aquarium, Cody Canada, Stoney LaRue, and others showed up for acoustic performances, often with Jamie Lin Wilson singing harmonies and playing harmonica.

One of the greatest moments all weekend was when a special guest was slotted on the stage, and you just knew it had a sense it would be headliner Cody Jinks, which it ultimately was. Cody performing “Hippies and Cowboys” acoustically with Jamie Lynn blowing harp did not suck at all. Then Wade Bowen showed up to make it a triple header, with Jinks calling Bowen, “The nicest person in country music.”

Along with Wade Bowen and the Randy Rogers Band representing the top tier of Texas country at the festival, you had the legacy Red Dirt acts like Stoney LaRue, Cody Canada, and Jason Boland and the Stragglers. Boland dropped some big news that he has a new album coming out December 3rd called The Lights On Me. Also these days, he’s featuring a badass lead and steel guitar player named AJ Slaughter that we’ll probably be hearing lots from in the coming years, at least we can hope we will with the way this young man slays.

And of course, it was the headliners that most came to see, and they didn’t disappoint. With their now expanded lineup, Blackberry Smoke is really hitting another stride on top of their already legendary status. Charlie Starr standing at center stage just feels like a transformational dude in American music.

Blackberry Smoke is the antidote to all bad music. They’re not just saving Southern music and country by proxy, they’re saving all American Music one song and performance at a time. Worried about who will carry America’s rich musical heritage into the future? Throw on a Blackberry Smoke record. Need revival? Go see them live. In Blackberry Smoke We Trust.

Parker McCollum was like Texas Music’s prodigal son returning after his recent success in Nashville. When he strutted out on stage in a Turnpike Troubadours T-shirt, and mentioned how Randy Rogers once managed him for two years, it really drove home how much Parker owes to the Texas and Red Dirt scene of music. And sure, the newer songs just didn’t punch like his older greats such as “Meet You in the Middle” and “I Can’t Breathe.” But the guy’s got an ear for songwriting that those who cast him off simply for being too pretty are seriously overlooking.

You almost don’t even know what to say about ZZ Top, except to say it’s ZZ Top, and they’re everything you want them to be live. Legends among legends, the recent passing of bass player Dusty Hill just made everything that much more memorable and reflective. And of course, Billy Gibbons is nothing short of a living guitar God. Out of respect for it being a country music festival, they played a bluesy version of “Sixteen Tons.” The fuzzy guitars also came out for a rendition of “Legs,” and Dusty Hill’s spirit even showed up to sing “Tush” from the grave. Everything, from the performances to the stage presentation, was flawless.

When the inaugural Born and Raised Fest was first announced in early 2020, the headliners were Hank Williams Jr. and Willie Nelson. Obviously with Covid, everything got shaken up. But few if anyone felt it was in any way a downgrade when Cody Jinks capped off the festival Sunday night. He is the headliner of our time, and for truly independent music emanating from the Texoma region. It was only appropriate he closed out a festival that symbolizes just how far Texas and Red Dirt music have come, even in just the last few years.

When this festival was first announced, there were concerns Born & Raised could put smaller fests in a precarious position. But at this point, the numbers, the borders, and the talent of Texas and Red Dirt music has swelled so much, there’s probably enough to go around for everyone. The success of Born & Raised seemed to symbolize this.

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Additional observations:

–American Aquarium are killer live.

–Zach Bryan also played a second set on Sunday afternoon with just an acoustic and harmony accompaniment as opposed to a full band. This seems to represent his music much better. His voice was totally shot after his Friday night performance, and apparently partying pretty hard in the campground all weekend. But of course, his fans were there to sing along with him.

–A guy named “Vegas Joe X” a.k.a Bradley Weldon had everyone rolling all weekend as a spitting image of The Tiger King, Joe Exotic. It really added extra dimension to the fest.

–Born & Raised also had a good setup for the Covid era, not that this was a big selling point for its particular clientele. But with spacious grounds, big screens, and good sound systems, folks could spread out if they wished and take in the music at a distance, and many did. Being all outside or under tents like health experts say is ideal for large events, it meant any super spreader concerns were minimal. They also offered Covid testing on site.

Apologies to all acts not either mentioned or pictured. Trying to cover four stages over three days is difficult.

Billy Gibbons, ZZ Top
Frank Beard behind the kit
Jamie Lin Wilson
Zach Bryan
William Clark Green
Corey Kent
Kaitlin Butts
Cleto Cordero of Flatland Cavalry
Wade Bowen
Hayes Carll
Jack Ingram
Charlie Starr of Blackberry Smoke
Jason Scott
Chloe Beth
Holly Beth
Kolby Cooper
Bri Bagwell
Jason Boland
AJ Slaughter of The Stragglers
BJ Barham and Shane Boeker of American Aquarium
Randy Rogers
Paul Cauthen
Cody Jinks joins Paul Cauthen to sing “Saddle.”
Parker McCollum
Vegas Joe X
Cody Jinks
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