Recap – 2012 Muddy Roots Festival

So here I sit down once again to the impossible task of articulating with words just what an experience attending the Muddy Roots Festival is. Please understand this is just my perspective, and even more so than previous years and events I was pressed into duty as a volunteer for the fest even more where unfortunately I missed a lot of performances and only caught small segments of others. Because of this, instead of going in chronological order, I paired up the music in certain segments. Look under the subheadings for the bold names you may want to read about.

Weather was a factor again this year, but not nearly as big of one as last year. Friday was hot, but not the extreme heat of 2011. It rained like hell Sunday night, but unlike 2011, it eventually stopped and the outdoor stage was able to re-open. In between, on Saturday and Sunday during the day, it was downright pleasant for late summer in Tennessee.

If you want to see more pictures from Muddy Roots, check out the festival LIVE blog.

Special Announcement: The Muddy Roots Festival 2013 Dates and Location have been announced. It will be held once again on Labor Day weekend, August 3oth-September 1st. Early Bird Tickets are now available at a special price!

Some of the Best Live Performers In All of Music

You can make the case that Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers, Hillbilly Casino, and The Goddamn Gallows are some of the best performers to see live…in any genre or format, and just like last year, they all performed at Muddy Roots 2012 and all offered remarkable sets of music. Added this year was the last band of the live music super-fecta: Slim Cessna’s Auto Club. These four bands alone are worth hopping on a plane, driving thousands of miles, and paying a pretty penny for. Trying to describe their sets would mean descending into redundancies and platitudes, so let’s just say these bands all did what they always do: deliver you into the here-and-now of a moment in life that you will never forget, and remind you of what a gift it is to be alive and engrossed from head to toe with enjoyment.

The Country Music Legends

Friday night at the 2012 Muddy Roots Festival there was amassed such a bevy of country music talent and royalty, Marty Stuart had to be sequestered out of state just in case if tragedy befell there would still be a survivor still making the real stuff. A couple of authentic underground country talents in Owen Mays and JB Beverley got the evening started, and then it was Don Maddox of the Maddox Brothers and Rose, “Little” Jimmy Dickens, Dale Watson, Wayne “The Train” Hancock, and James Hand to finish the night.

Muddy Roots was ahead of the curve when it comes to Don Maddox. They booked him at last year’s festival, when The Maddox Brothers were barely on anybody’s radar. Now The Maddox Brothers & Rose are the very first thing you see when you enter the Country Music Hall of Fame’s brand new Bakersfield Sound exhibit. Merle Haggard said to the Hall of Fame about Don Maddox that if he wasn’t involved, they may as well not have it.


Dale Watson, Wayne Hancock, and James Hand delivered like they always do. Don Maddox and “Little” Jimmy Dickens could have just stood out there on stage doing nothing and the crowd would have gone ga ga, but they delivered solid sets as well.

Sunday night was the second round for country music legends, when Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and Dr. Ralph Stanley took the stage. Both men’s sets were during the worst of the rainy weather, so they were moved under the 2nd Stage tent. I’m not sure what I enjoyed more, watching Ralph Stanley, or watching the crowd and people like Joe Buck Yourself lose their minds at the mere sight of the man. These days Ralph doesn’t do much singing or picking. His son and grandson do most of the leading of an excellent bluegrass band, but his presence and warmth is what’s important. And when it is Ralph’s time to sing, his voice is so haunting and espouses so much history it will completely hush a rowdy crowd of hundreds, just like what happened when Ralph sang “O’Death” late Sunday night. It truly felt like a tent revival.

Ralph Stanley

It must have been a similar feeling for Ralph as Wanda Jackson had last year, braving through the rain to walk into a tent full of people whose heads were on fire to see someone they regard as god-like. These legends are used to playing theater shows with a seated crowd of polite clappers, not a rowdy festival with a crowd ready to roar at his every movement. It was a heartwarming moment to see how much he was appreciated by a new, younger generation, and how fervently they were willing to show that appreciation.

Ramblin’ Jack Elliot might be the only show over the weekend I have to say was slightly disappointing. When he played, it was excellent, but he played for less than 20 minutes, after making multiple demands from the crowd and festival. People were requested to not take his picture, and that there would be an opportunity afterwards, but that opportunity never came. In contrast, after Ralph Stanley’s set, he sat at the merchandise table and signed autographs until there were no more to sign.

The Country Music Underground

Jayke Orvis was lucky enough to play two sets over the weekend, but was also unlucky to have both sets addled by technical issues. Virtually all the sets on Stage 1 had excellent sound over the weekend, as did most of the sets on Stage 2. However Stage 2 had some hiccups, some that came from The Fry Pharmacy patching into the stage sound with their vintage reel to reel equipment to make recordings, and some from bad sound gear. At the end of the weekend, we counted up 15 bad cords, four bad mics, and two bad DI boxes from Stage 2, and a “snake” that was periodically shorting out.

However sometimes bad sound makes for the most memorable moments, and that’s what happened when Jayke Orvis and his Broken Band bounded from the stage into the crowd at 2:30 AM early Saturday morning and played a handful of songs unplugged.

Jayke Orvis & Rachel Brooke duet:

A similar scene transpired with The Pine Hill Haints on Sunday afternoon who also finished up their set surround by fans in the crowd. And while we’re on the subject Troy Murrah of Restavrant also took a crowd dive and ended up on his back blazing out a guitar solo late late Saturday night.

What can I say about Rachel Brooke that I haven’t said before. I think Viva Le Vox is her best backing band so far, and her set on Stage 1 Sunday afternoon also featured her brother on bass and fiddle player Liz Sloan.

Speaking of Viva Le Vox, what an excellent way to close out the whole festivities. They were moved to the main stage because of the big weather Sunday night, and had Joe Buck and others join them on stage for the very last performance of 2012. It is no easy endeavor to put a period at the end of such an amazing weekend, and they rose to the task and then some.

Tom VandenAvond is like a a walking, vibrant community all to himself. There is a warmth from his music you can’t get from anything else, and Muddy Roots was fortunate enough to have Tom bring that to the fest in 2012. His good friend Soda Gardocki also put on an amazing set despite slapping together a band 5 minutes before that included Ariana Celeste and The Slaughter Daughters. Soda is like a strong dance partner. It doesn’t matter how good or prepared you are, you get up there on stage, and he leads you towards the magic.

I said my peace about Bob Wayne & The Outlaw Carnies a few days before the fest, but as far as I am concerned, they proved me right with a strong, tight set, something I heard Col. JD Wilkes of The Shack Shakers compliment Bob on as they left the stage late Friday night. Only a band like The Shack Shakers could follow what Bob did.

Here’s Bob playing “Get There When I Get There” with Brook Blanche of The Calamity Cubes, a song they wrote together at the 2011 Muddy Roots.

Unfortunately JB Beverley‘s set was one of those that I missed most of, but I saw him all over the place over the weekend, including doing a live version of “Streets” with Jayke Orvis that was amazing. Buck Thrailkill should also get a mention for anchoring The Wayward Drifters on the weekend. Pearls Mahone is another I didn’t catch much of, but it was good to see the songstress who played the first Muddy Roots 3 years ago make it back.

A big 2012 Muddy Roots takeaway will be Sarah Gayle Meech who played early on Sunday. Such excellent, genuine country songs and an amazing, professional Nashville band backing her up, she put on one of the best country sets all weekend. Same could be said for Peewee Moore who made the trek from Texas and was the representative of the Outlaw side of country on the weekend, and could be found in and around the campground picking out tunes.

The Deep Blues

The Deep Blues side of things got hit especially hard by cancellations on a year when the original founder of the Deep Blues Festival Chris Johnson made his way out with the entire family and set up a satellite Bayport BBQ stand to give folks a taste of the food magic he makes happen up in Minnesota every day. Reverend Deadeye didn’t make it because of car trouble, and Left Lane Cruiser and Possessed By Paul James pulled out last minute because of family issues.

There was still plenty of blues music to go around though. Cashman who’d been on site for weeks constructing the new fleet of Muddy Roots cabins made a great appearance on the second stage at 6:30 on Sunday. He made it rain…literally, as it was during his set that the heavy weather showed up. James Leg wins the award for the loudest band all weekend with his roaring Rhodes piano accompanied on guitar by Muddy Roots 2011 performer Mark “Porkchop” Holder. The Hooten Hallers who played early Friday evening have made it on to many people’s lists as one of their favorite sets from the weekend.

We were lucky Husky Burnette played on Friday afternoon. At one point the rumor about him had risen to the status of saying he had a seizure and was stabbed 7 times. Husky did have a seizure, a condition he suffers from and regularly has to take medication for, but was up and running within hours, sitting in with The Pine Box Boys Sunday afternoon. Husky as always put on an excellent show. He was one of the bands responsible for getting the blood pumping Friday afternoon, and supplied one of the coolest collaborations of the weekend when Col. JD Wilkes of the Shack Shakers, Kody Oh! Of The Calamity Cubes, and Avery from the Goddman Gallows all joined him at the end of his set.

Like Ghalliger, I’m mad as hell I missed Molly Gene One Whoman Band who was moved from Stage 2 to Stage 1 after the Sunday night rain, but all accounts were that she killed it.

One of the most important and tough slots at a festival is the folks who play after the night’s headliners. That’s the charge Restavrant had on Saturday night and they rose to the challenge and then some. I’ve seen Restavrant three times, and each time with a different drummer. With new drummer Tyler Whiteside, they delivered one of the “talked about” marquee performances of Muddy Roots 2012.

Another blues-based band that I’ve seen previously and seemed to step it up for the Muddy Roots crowd was Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. People were ready to rock after the storms passed on Sunday night, and Rev. Payton delivered a performance in a gear few performers are equipped with. This is a band that’s been getting bigger and bigger by the moment, being invited on the Warped Tour and touring with Reverend Horton Heat just like the “super-fecta” bands I mentioned above. And after their 2012 Muddy Roots performance, Rev. Peyton’s name deserves to be in that company of that upper echelon of bands. People were losing their minds when they played, busting up the hay bails that had served as seating over the weekend and whipping them up in the air (to the chagrin of the drummer who has a severe hay allergy {he was OK after running to the van for an inhaler}).

L.C. Ulmer

But the biggest story from the blues side came from the two older performers, L. C. Ulmer and Robert Belfour Saturday night. Word made it to the festival site that Belfour had been in a bad wreck and wouldn’t be able to perform. Meanwhile L.C. Ulmer put on one of the most memorable sets on the weekend. Playing behind his back, doing a chicken shuffle across the stage, and laying a ridiculously-infectious groove down, the 80-something L.C. Who explained to me that he’s never drank, smoked, used drugs, illicit or prescribed absolutely stole the show.

L.C. was responsible for no less than 3 encores, which was good because we were scrambling to find someone to plug into Robert Belfour’s time slot. And at just about the time we were about to put a replacement band on the stage, a tow truck driver came walking up the hill holding a guitar case and amp. “This is Robert Belfour’s stuff. He’s here.”

That’s right. With his truck sitting on the side of the road wrecked out and un-driveable, Belfour hitched a ride with the tow truck driver and made his set time. The tow truck driver even stuck around and chauffeured him away afterwords. As someone said to me after hearing the story, “Now if that ain’t the blues…”

The Bands That Bring It

It’s got to be tough being Cutthroat Shamrock. They always seem saddled with an early time slot at festivals, but the reason is that they’re just so great at getting the blood pumping and the crowd revved up for the rest of the day. Such was the case when they played at noon on Saturday on the Second Stage to a crowd who was more than happy to fight through their Friday hangovers to see them.

Another great band to elevate the pulse rate early in the day was Filthy Still that played at 3:30 on Friday. Forget that folks were still arriving and getting their camps set up, they threw down their rubber mallets and left their blue tarps flapping in the wind to see this high energy band bring the roots brutal style. They had a huge crowd, probably one of the biggest at Stage 2 all weekend.

The Pine Box Boys from San Francisco were a crowd favorite to see added to the 2012 lineup and left a huge impression when they played at 2:15 on Sunday. Don’t ask me to describe their music (Gothic bluegrass with drums maybe?), but they are top-notch, pro performers and musicians who put on one hell of a fun show.

Hellfire Revival has to be mentioned when you’re talking about bands that bring it. They did an excellent job representing the brutal side of the psychobilly/rockabilly world, and drummer Matt Arnn was a huge help over the weekend, with setup, and stepped up as Don Maddox’s drummer.

The Everymen‘s set was one that could have ended up being a casualty of the rain, but ended up being anything but. They were moved to the main stage, and were the first band to play outside after the massive rains stopped. The trick was getting folks out from under the comfort of the Stage 2 tent and have them trek down there in the sludge. But the Everymen had minions and loyal fans prodding the herd in their direction, and any concerns about a sad, poorly-attended set were out the window after the first song. Their energy permeated the cool, clean air, and gave the crowd a second wind.

Just like Friday night with the country legends on the main stage, Saturday night was a super-concentrated super-fecta of brutal talent that brings it so hard they bleed. The Goddamn Gallows, ANTISEEN, Hillbilly Casino, and the the legendary Revered Horton Heat made Saturday night one to remember in the world of brutal roots rock.


Speaking of bands with substance, there were a few that made Muddy Roots appearances this year that were a little left or right of center from what you might expect. This is a good, healthy thing to help illustrate and remind us that not all underground roots sprouts from the Hank3, Bloodshot, Hillgrass Bluebilly, Farmageddon, and Rusty Knuckles trees.

The Defibulators from New York were one of my biggest takeaways from the weekend. They were a band that brought substance, composition, and songwriting without sacrificing the fun music needs to be engaging. They’re a super-fun band that are hip without being hipster, and relevant while still being rootsy.

Joshua Black Wilkins is a name that was good to see in the lineup. He played a vital role in warming up the crowd for Ramblin’ Jack and Ralph Stanley Sunday night when the rain was dampening spirits, and was willing to be ready at a moment’s notice and move his scheduled time slot to do so. Wilkins was also there on the weekend putting together a picture book that will commemorate the 2012 Muddy Roots.

O’Death played Muddy Roots last year, but this year was the first time I really got to dig into their set. They really seemed to bring it this year with a higher energy set. That’s the great thing about Muddy Roots: everyone has to ratchet it up a notch to keep up with each other, and the collaboration invites a higher level of creativity. Yes, some of these artist you can see in your home town, but it doesn’t mean you’ll get the same set as you do in the Muddy Roots environment.

The Calamity Cubes showed up to Muddy Roots with their new album One World’s Ocean in tow, and showed a huge crowd a great time early evening Saturday on Stage 1. You get the sense these guys are the big current risers in the “scene” from their excellent songwriting and showmanship.

One Man Bands

Though two huge names in the one man band world were no shows (Possessed by Paul James and Reverend Deadeye) there was no shortage of great one man band talent. The first I must mention is Dad Horse Experience that made the trek all the was from Germany for the event. He was literally the first one to show, and one of the very last to leave. And over the weekend he was a huge help to the fest, from doing manual labor to ferrying Don Maddox to and fro. By far one of the most unusual performers all weekend, but also one of the most-anticipated with a big, loyal, and attentive crowd that showed up for his Saturday 3 PM spot. Dad Horse positively killed it, with huge rounds of applause from a crowd who sang along to many of his songs no different than the crowds for the fest’s big headliners.

Gator Nate from The Gladezmen showed up just hoping to get an opportunity to play, and could be found in numerous jam sessions throughout the campground, on stage for Husky Burnette‘s set, and got rewarded by playing his own show early Sunday. Lone Wolf who played right before Husky Burnette Friday afternoon opened up the “Cracker Swamp” set, and despite being admittedly nervous, threw down an excellent set. It is impossible to play the banjo any faster, or to have as much fun as you can when Lone Wolf plays.

Joseph Huber, formerly of the .357 String Band can now officially be slotted as a one man band better than he can be anything else. Though he was known for years as the superpicking, songwriting 2nd frontman of .357, the transformation of music in his life to a more sustainable and balanced approach continues to render some excellent songs filled with substance and insight. We may not see Joseph as much, but hopefully we continue to hear his music for years to come. Joe was the performer on Stage 1 when the rain hit hard and heavy Sunday night.

This year Muddy Roots made some big checkoffs on the the list of folks that had to play the fest for it to feel right, including Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, and the legendary Joe Buck Yourself. My biggest concern of the whole schedule when it was released was putting him on stage 1. Muddy Root’s concern was that his crowd would get so rowdy they may bring a tent down if they were under one.  The problem is on Stage 1 performers sit so far away from the crowd, and Joe Buck’s show relies so much on crowd interaction. Luckily the sound crew was finally convinced to put Joe out on the island that extends into the crowd on Stage 1, and the result was a Joe Buck performance for the ages. The more-engrossed Joe’s crowd is, the better the show is, and it would be impossible to find a more concentrated group of Joe Buck fans than at Muddy Roots.

Open Mic

This was an idea I had lobbied hard for and I was happy to see it come about. Since so many attendees are musicians themselves, and there’s so many more musicians than slots to play, this is a way to give everyone at least a chance to be a part of the experience. Friday it seemed the idea was a little difficult to get off the ground, but on Saturday at any given point you could see just as much talent there as on the other two stages. This was no amateur hour, many of the folks that played were top notch. I was blown away by the attendance, the reception, and the talent, and hope that this is an idea that grows and evolves over time. Really enjoyed seeing Six Gun Britt make an appearance on Stage 3. Thanks to Harley Mercier who really helped breathe life into the Muddy Roots Open Mic idea.

The Fill Ins

Ray Lawrence Jr.

There was an unfortunate amount of last-minute cancellations at 2012 Muddy Roots. Luckily it did not touch any of the main headliner names, and fortunately there were many many musicians and bands willing and able to be plucked out of the crowd to fill spots. A few of the notables were Ray Lawrence Jr. from Arizona, who appeared on Hank Williams III’s last album, and filled in for Left Lane Cruiser in the late afternoon on Saturday.

One guy I was super glad to see get a spot was the golden-voiced Adam Lee who made the trip down with his drummer, and recruited Beth Chrisman from The Carper Family who was there playing with James Hand, and Kody Oh! of the Calamity Cubes and be his de facto Dead Horse Sound Company for a vacated Sunday spot at noon. An excellent set of good old-fashioned country music, he filled the need in the festival of a younger guy playing the older style of country.

My Graveyard Jaw was another big surprise of 2012 Muddy Roots. Making the trek up from New Orleans, we can now say there’s a band in the greater Muddy Roots world that features the cello. They have a brand new album out that is stocked by Farmageddon Records and boast excellent, deep songwriting with great attention to composition. Their set really made you look forward to exploring this band more.

The Muddy Roots House Band

Special mention must be given to James Hunnicutt, Liz Sloan, Jared McGoveren, Kody Oh! from the Calamity Cubes, Beth Chrisman from The Carper Family, Avery from The Goddamn Gallows, Geoff Firebaugh from Hillbilly Casino who played with Don Maddox along with James Hunnicutt, and a few others I am probably unfortunately missing that helped flesh out multiple bands over the weekend and jumped in with a few more just for fun. These side players’ names are just as important to making the music happen as the ones whose names appear on the poster, and James Hunnicuut’s name is even more important even though it did. They all deserve a round of applause for learning multiple sets of music, being ready on the fly, and rushing back and forth to stages to fill out bands.

My apologies to Valerie June, Sean Wheeler and Zander Schloss, The Scissormen, Last False Hope, The Dirt Daubers, The Hardin Draw, Johnny Foodstamp, Kara Clark, and whoever else I missed, but I sincerely was too busy to catch enough of their sets to fair with any remarks I might make. That also goes for the burlesque shows that performed over the weekend. But I can say that except for a few grumbles about Ramblin’ Jack, and maybe a few who thought some of the bands swore too much (which will inevitably happen), I heard few complaints about the performances.

How to Improve

One place I think we can all improve on next year is keeping the Muddy Roots site a little cleaner. The June Bug Ranch is such a beautiful place, it seems a shame that we trash it so hard after each day and after each set. The site is used to it, and has a great crew to pick up trash and they actually sift through it and recycle and recyclables, but by the end of each day, the stages, the roads, etc. were so trashed it felt embarrassing. Muddy Roots represents this music to the rest of the world in many ways, and piles of trash is not the legacy we should want to leave. To solve this problem, it will take a combined effort of both the site, the festival, and the attendees to make it a cleaner place.

There were a few “incidents” ove rthe weekend but they were all bred from misunderstanding instead of hatred or turf wars or something. Still, people need to take better care of each other, and look out for each other to keep Muddy Roots a safe, fun, and inviting environment.

Thank you to Jason Galaz, the whole Galaz family, The June Bug Ranch, all the bands, the volunteers, and everyone that attended for another excellent Muddy Roots experience.

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