The 50,000-Head Music Festival You’ve Probably Never Heard Of
Tis the season to announce the year’s big mainstream country tours and festival lineups. Every year about this time as the industry revs up after holiday dry dock, we get announcements for all the big summer tours that will send semi’s full of stage works criss crossing the country, and who will be playing the Bonnaroo’s, Coachella’s, and Hangout Festivals of the mega festival world.
The festival calendar has become so crowded over the last couple of years, vying for those consumers willing to spend three figures on tickets and fly many miles to attend, it’s starting to appear like an economic bubble is beginning to form around this particular subset of the music industry. Everybody wants to throw a festival, just like everyone wants to own a record label, whether its needed, or cannibalizes the same crop of fans for a given sector of music. Undaunted, organizers sally forth, and go big.
Yeah you’ll hear how Jack White is the headliner of Coachella once again, Billy Joel and Mumford & Sons are playing Bonnaroo, and how Paramore and Beck will be making it down to Hangout Fest. Even though it’s not feasible for most folks to attend, it seems like a matter of national and international intrigue each year who these festivals have booked to play.
But few will be gawking around the office water cooler about what’s going to be happening at this year’s Larry Joe Taylor Texas Music Festival & Chili Cook-off outside of the in-the-know crowd in the area where the dirt is red. Hell you may be hard pressed to find anyone who even knows who Larry Joe Taylor is aside from guesses it must be a musician since you use his middle name. But Larry Joe Taylor, and his festival represent one of the oldest, biggest, and most impactful music festivals in the United States annually, drawing 50,000 fans to the Melody Mountain Ranch in Stephenville, TX to three stages, 50 bands, and a festival that has been around for over a quarter of a century.
It’s the ACL Fest, Lollapalooza Bonnaroo, and Coachella, of Texas music all wrapped into one, but without the complex maze of performance areas and wristband access, legions of hipsters, and hackneyed joining of disparate music acts that scream of the monogenre forming in American music. Instead most, if not all of the performers at Larry Joe Taylor Fest know each other. It’s a gathering of the tribes so to speak, and while the show is centered around the main stage, the atmosphere of camaraderie in the campground, with guitar pickings around campfires and artists mingling with fans, is what draws many to the fest annually, with the main stage of music simply as the backdrop.
Larry Joe Taylor’s first passion was rodeo until an injury forced him to stop riding, and so he began to take up singing and songwriting, and wrote some songs with Texas singer-songwriter Gary P. Nunn. When he decided to start a music festival, it wasn’t a particularly popular or hip thing to do, and it didn’t go so well at the beginning. The first Larry Joe Taylor festival held in Meridian, TX only drew 100 people. But the experience of that festival and the word of mouth that grew out of it is what kept folks coming back year after year, and inviting their friends. Now the head count stretches to 50,000, and the lineup of 50 bands representing an essential cross cut of Texas music spans out over six total days.
Larry Joe Taylor Fest becomes like its own little city, but sometimes doesn’t even get a sniff of attention even from people in nearby Ft. Worth. Either you know about Larry Joe Taylor Festival, or you don’t, and it seems that many of the people that attend annually are just fine to keep it that way. CNN won’t be breaking into coverage to announce the headliners, and Jimmy Kimmel won’t be doing any shows live from the grounds. Hell, you really can’t find any information about the festival online. But most, if not all of the big names of Texas music will be there.
More importantly, the Larry Joe Taylor festival and the size it has grown to symbolizes the strength of the Texas music scene. It has become its own massive economic engine with a national impact, while still being divested from the mainstream country industry in Nashville. It represents not just the promise of what Texas music can do autonomously, but what any regional music scene can grow into if the right effort, the right music, and the right amount of collaboration can be found.
The 2015 Larry Joe Taylor Texas Music Festival and Chili Cook-off happens April 20th-25th. Headliners include The Turnpike Troubadours, Jason Boland & The Stragglers, Hayes Carll, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Randy Rogers Band, Wade Bowen, Radney Foster, Stoney LaRue, and the Josh Abbott Band.
January 16, 2015 @ 12:09 pm
I’ve heard of this. Josh Abbot and Pat Green mention it in that song My Texas.
January 16, 2015 @ 12:54 pm
I’d hate to think anyone who visits this site hasn’t heard of LJTF. Most amazing festival in the world (though maybe a bit big for my tastes). Line up is always absolutely amazing,
January 16, 2015 @ 1:10 pm
I’d say there’s more Larry Joe Taylor festival knowledge here than most place, but I wrote this article for the masses, not necessarily the daily readers here. I would say the amount of press this festival gets compared to the impact it has is astronomically low. That goes for pretty much all the doings in Texas music, but especially this fest.
January 16, 2015 @ 1:12 pm
Agree 100%. There are so many great red dirt festivals out there that get great crowds but don’t exist outside of the converted (e.g. Braun Brothers Reunion).
January 16, 2015 @ 2:26 pm
Having just attended MusicFest in Steamboat Springs, CO last week, I can attest to the passion and devotion red dirt fans have to their festivals! As crowded as that was (too crowded, in my opinion) I can’t imagine a festival with 50,000!
January 16, 2015 @ 3:12 pm
The Larry Joe Taylor Fest and Steamboat Music Fest are two of the festivals that are definately on my bucket list. If only I could make a living traveling to all the concerts and towns I want to see…
January 16, 2015 @ 4:03 pm
Oh my God, that lineup. WANT.
January 16, 2015 @ 4:11 pm
hey trigg have u ever thawt of havin a savin country music festaval? I betcha u could have a hole festaval with the foeks that coment on the site a lone. lil dale an the new rascals have broek up sorry we cant play.
January 17, 2015 @ 3:33 pm
Corrections in ()
(Hey) (Trigg)(,) have (you) ever (thought) of (having) a (Saving Country Music) (festival)? I (bet) (you) could have a (whole) (festival) with the (folks) that (comment) on the site (alone). (Lil Dale and the New Rascals) have (broke) up(,) sorry we (can’t) play.
Dang dude worse then me
TX Music Jim
January 17, 2015 @ 5:04 pm
LJT festival is amazing. As is LJT the man. To build from a 100 people the first year to what it is now is simply amazing. LJT doesn’t get enough credit as a songwriter, performer or musician and he really is talented. As a business man he has to be skilled because this huge 26 year old festival started with nothing.
January 18, 2015 @ 5:32 pm
Thanks for posting this. Living in the Washington DC area, one doesn’t really hear much about what is going on in the Texas scene. Looks like a great line-up so far.
January 20, 2015 @ 8:45 am
I would definitely attend SCMfest.
This looks AWESOME…road trip from DC/NoVA? Looking forward to Floydfest this summer, but it pales in comparison.
January 20, 2015 @ 11:01 am
Last yr would have been 7yrs in a row for me but I wasnt able to make it. Whats so awesome about this week long festival is that its all about the music. You have college kids that are there just to drink, to the older crowd that bring their $100k RV. But at the end of it, the college kids find out about some kick ass bands and the older crowd keep the torch going.
During the day, 11am-4pm, they have what they call the Acoustic Stage. Not all the performers play Acoustic but this is where you will find the singer-songwriters play in a more relax sit down environment. You never know who will be in the crowd or who will take the stage. Pull up your wagon with chairs and cooler and enjoy great songwriters.
After the Acoustic Stage is over, the party begins at the main stage. Refill the cooler and pull the wagon to main stage. Here you will see the bigger bands. Once the main stage is over and you can still stand, there are nightly campfire picking parties. Again, you never know who will show up. Most of the bands that play, also stay for a day or two or the entire week. Its not uncommon to walk up on a camp fire and see the headliner for that night picking and drinking with the fans.
I can say that its probably one of the few places where you can go and everyone is there for a good time. Yes, you have your assholes that can’t handle their liquor and want to start shit, but for the most part, its 50k people that are there to listen to the music. I have met so many nice people here and no one is a stranger. And the fact that you get to bring everything into the festival (beer, food, RV, Tent,ect), makes it a festival like no other.
Trig, thanks for posting this