Live Review – Red Fest 2014
Redneck comedian Jeff Foxworthy wanted to start his own festival, and that was the germination of the idea that bloomed into the inaugural Red Fest held Memorial Day weekend just south and east of Austin, TX at the Circuit of the Americas speedway—the only F1 racetrack in the United States. The sprawling complex built in 2012 includes a 3.4-mile, 20-turn racetrack with multiple grandstands and buildings, including a 14,000-capacity music amphitheater and 251-foot observation tower. This became the scene for the multi-faceted festival catering to country music-minded people of mostly the mainstream perspective, but with quite a few independent and up-and-coming bands and artists thrown into the lineup for good measure.
As new huge corporate festivals come online all across the country, Jeff Foxworthy’s idea was to make Red Fest more of a culturally-immersive experience to separate himself from the competition. Along with himself, he brought on Larry The Cable Guy, and the Duck Dynasty folks to give Red Fest a comedic wrinkle. Then strewn out across nine different areas surrounding the speedway, you could find a varied array of different activities, including an archery range, go-karts and racing simulators, dodgeball and volleyball courts, horseshoes and cornhole pits, a fully-complimented carnival midway, mechanical bulls, a military village housing charity booths and boot campaigns, and that’s just getting started. Even the most dedicated patron would have needed all three days of Red Fest to see and experience it all.
As for the music, the Red Fest lineup was built on good intentions. Big names like Florida Georgia Line, Tim McGraw, Kellie Pickler, and Lynyrd Skynyrd were billed alongside lesser-known bands from the local and national landscape like Hellbound Glory, The Whiskey Sisters, and Bri Bagwell. Think of it like the model the Stagecoach Festival in California has been using for the last few years: instead of segregating independent and mainstream music, integrating it. Yet at its heart, Red Fest was still very much a mainstream, corporate festival, built to cull every last dollar from super-consumer fans who pride themselves in working hard and spending hard.
Though asking $10 for a CD these days is apparently considered too much by many, the market can bear $4.00 for a bottle of water, $7.00 for a domestic beer, and $20.00 for parking, despite the Red Fest grounds being amongst vast tracks of Texas land with absolutely no premium on space. Ticket prices and booking fees, not album sales, are now what keeps the music industry’s coffers flush, so the entire festival experience is an exercise in wringing the consumer out of as much money as possible. Luckily, Red Fest patrons were blessed with pretty good weather over the weekend, so copious amounts egregiously-priced libations were not absolutely necessary (though many elected to over-hydrate anyway), and despite a few minor intermittent showers causing some to scurry for cover, clouds and cooling breezes kept temperatures very reasonable compared to how hot or stormy central Texas can be at the end of May.
When Red Fest let 6,000 free tickets go to military service members, it wasn’t just a sincere token of good will, it was a sign that the fest was going undersold, and they needed to get butts through the gates. Aside from the upper lawn of the amphitheater bowl, and the entire amphitheater area when the headliners like Tim McGraw and Florida Georgia Line took the stage, the crowd all weekend felt a little thin. The grounds either needed to be more compact, or have more people to fill them. The 1/4 mile trek from the heart of the fest to the other two stages was a little bit too much for your average patron to endure. So generally speaking, they didn’t explore the extremities of the fest unless it was for one of its extra-curricular features, or a band that they really wanted to see and already knew about, like Parmalee, Colt Ford, or Texas country star Granger Smith. Meanwhile worthy acts like The Derailers and The Whiskey Sisters from Austin, or out-of-towners like Hellbound Glory and Sundy Best played to thin crowds made up mostly of people who already knew about them, rendering the idea of turning new fans on to a different sound somewhat unfulfilled.
Nonetheless, some great music transpired at Red Fest, and not just for those that made an attempt to seek it out on the smaller stages. Kellie Pickler put on a great set, reprising many of her most popular songs, and playing some classics, including Loretta’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” and “White Lightning” for the large audience. The two-piece Sundy Best on the Natty Light side stage performed an extended medley of 80’s and 90’s pop tunes that included Fresh Price, the song “O.P.P.”, and The Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way”. The rest of the set showcased their own songwriting, vacillating between fun-loving and sincere. Sundy Best needs to make up their mind if they want to be a party band, or a singer-songwriter showcase, but they’re hard not to like. Granger Smith proved that even the Texas country scene is capable of producing laundry list schock, despite how much of a guilty pleasure Earl Dibbles Jr. might be.
The Whiskey Sisters on the smallest Redfest Showcase stage converted from an Airstream trailer showed why they’re one of the best bands in Austin to see live, and Hellbound Glory put on a rowdy set, almost as if they were looking to define the extreme of the proceedings. Compare this with Florida Georgia Line, who when they took the main stage to close the fest out Sunday Night, felt like a force of homogenizing nature. Right before their set, rap music blared over the mains, with legions of self-proclaimed rednecks swinging their hands in urban gesticulations and singing along. Then the duo walked out to Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive”, illustrating the blurred genre lines of the whole experience. Love them or hate them, Florida Georgia Line has without question captured (or capitulated) the current mainstream sound, and it’s infectiousness is so undeniable, it is a downright scary notion to stomach for the critical minority.
The commitment by Jeff Foxworthy to make Red Fest an annual event seems unwavering, despite it being somewhat foreign to the indigenous music culture in and around Austin, TX. Many patrons likely drove in from the San Antonio and Houston areas to the fest, and you saw more Aggie maroon than UT orange per capita throughout the weekend. The branding of the event called it “A New Memorial Day Tradition,” and they already are getting ready to do pre-sales for next year. Despite the first year hiccups of having the site too spread out, and prices for things more tailored to the upper-crust F1 racing crowd as opposed to a redneck festival, it went off without a hitch. Hopefully next year Red Fest continues to book bands worthy of a wider audience, and also does a better job of getting that audience in front of them.
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Red Fest Amphitheater:
The Whiskey Sisters:
May 27, 2014 @ 8:36 am
Geeze that crowd for Hellbound Glory was dismal.
I’ve seen more folks at a cock rock show in a dive bar in Gulfport, MS. I recently went to Edgefest in Dallas to see Beck and The Avett Brothers play. They held the festival in a mid size Soccer Stadium..
Maybe they can go that route next year for this thing. I was in Austin during the iHeart Country fest in March (I was there for a wedding not the fest) but the University seemed decent enough for that as well.
May 27, 2014 @ 8:48 am
That crowd pic was for Sundy Best, who has been a popular regional act in my area and just went national a few months back, they are a talented duo still making their way up the ranks.
May 27, 2014 @ 8:52 am
Thanks for correcting me on that!
May 27, 2014 @ 10:23 am
Sundy Best’s last album debuted at #11 on the Billboard charts, so I thought there would at least be a little more curiosity for them. But like I said above, I’m not sure if the band’s are really to blame as much as the layout of the fest which really didn’t encourage a lot of foot traffic or random mingling around the 2nd stage, and it was so far from everything else, you had to make a conscious effort to get there. Hopefully next year they move the second stage up the hill so more people will be exposed to some of the smaller artists.
May 27, 2014 @ 8:57 am
The Whiskey Sisters and their debut last year was one of the most underappreciated albums released last year in my opinion.
May 27, 2014 @ 9:08 am
More people, including myself, need to be talking about The Whiskey Sisters, and if Red Fest accomplished nothing else, it gave me an excuse to finally talk about them.
May 27, 2014 @ 10:14 am
I hope we wouldn’t judge the Texas country scene based on Granger Smith. I can’t think of a worse laundry lister than him, but luckily that’s far more the exception than the rule.
May 27, 2014 @ 10:20 am
I certainly don’t judge Texas country on Granger Smith. I had seen him live before briefly, and remember him delivering a much more diverse set. Here we got a heavy does of the “Silverado Bench Seat” and “Miles & Mud Tires” stuff.
May 27, 2014 @ 8:13 pm
Sort of off on a tangent here, Trig, but have you ever thought about covering more of the smaller names in Texas music? I know one of your goals on this site is to expose artists who don’t get as much attention as they should to a bigger audience, so many of the bigger names in the Texas scene probably wouldn’t fit that criteria (as in, they get plenty of publicity already. Although from reader comments I have doubts how well even the most well known of them are known outside of the region).
But I’m meaning more about the little guys in Texas who will probably never have the superstar aura to capture even the Texas Music Scene, but who many readers might enjoy. I would love to see guys like Cody Jinks, Zane Williams, Rodney Hayden, Max Stalling, Rob Baird and Aaron Einhouse (to name a few) get a blurb here or there on SCM. Obviously it’s your website and not mine, so these are just one reader’s suggestions. The cynic in me says that because these guys are so entrenched in the Texas touring music scene they don’t get quite the same consideration from this site as someone who isn’t, but I do think they fall well within the purview of this site’s aims.
To make this post somewhat related to the topic at hand, all these local guys should have been playing at this RedFest. Ha! As always, thanks for your work on this site, it’s always a pleasure to read!
October 7, 2014 @ 6:10 pm
I think that Granger Smith is better than most COUNTRY singers out there, in interviews he has said writes about trucks because he loves them, and he said he writes about his life. He also does not use auto tune or stuff and has a home studio.
May 27, 2014 @ 10:30 am
The stages looked safe and stabilized. I think some folks are spooked to move up too close to the front.
TX Music Jim
May 27, 2014 @ 12:02 pm
Being Austin a tip of the hat to famillar favorites like Reckless Kelly or Dale Watson or Joe Ely would have been in order and maybe getting Willie for the main stage would have been a good thing and if you placed a Derailers or a Whiskey sisters or a Hellbound Glory before or after one of them you might expose more people to their music.
The Hillbilly Muslim
May 27, 2014 @ 7:21 pm
Ya I was embargoing this event when I saw Tim Mcgraw and Colt Ford on the line up with some comedians who make up a dumb down campy redneck culture. I still was hoping that Hellbound or Whiskey Sisters got some exposure over it but looks like they were an after thought. Total disappointment! And yes Whiskey Sisters do need to be talked about more. Love them! I gotta convince Dale to someday have our dream music festival in Texas! Until then we got settle for over commercialized BS