The third and final day in Nashville was the final day before Muddy Roots and the official kickoff. I rose late from bed, gathered my travelling items from the hotel and departed. I made my way to some key landmarks and such for some target shooting to sharpen my skills in preparation for the onslaught of pending mud, sweat and or blood in the coming days.
After an adventuresome walk through the Nashville Railroad Museum and inadvertently exploring some active train tracks and cars albeit very close. I loaded into the Camaro and after some modest profanity laced conversations with the onboard GPS; zeroed in on the Cookeville, TN location of Junebug Ranch. It was time and the only way.
What would ignite and burnout simultaneously would be the long anticipated and final show of Jayke Orvis and the Broken Band. Through their road endurance, albums, songwriting, comraderie and journey’s crisscrossing the continent the Broken Band would make their last stand as Custer did his – high atop a hill in a grassy field and oddly below the protection of a yellow and white circus tent.
Arriving to the Junebug Ranch is a feeling of coming home. It’s a feeling felt in comparison of each, one being that of friends and the joy they bring; the second feeling is the love of meeting strangers for the first time and learning about them, their path taken to this field and why it means what it does.
As I parked and unloaded the familiar faces began to surface. I believe much the same as we will see in what we come to realize as the life beyond death. Emerging into a field feeling alone; one familiar face a smile, then two faces, three and then four; the smiles and hugs all around – this is the feeling of coming home and why I believe we make this journey.
As I registered at the gate, the peaceful easy feeling of the staff of the Junebug Ranch where Muddy Roots calls its surrogate home is a large portion of the success of the festival. In a loving disjointed way, the family, friends and neighbors in those backwoods roads and grasses pitch in to look after the logistics and paperwork. Without their assistance the festival would be drifting from the first step. Of course the woman who pulls it all together is Amber, her sweet southern bubbly charm and personality easily puts to rest any customer concerns. She lined me up with my media golfcart, we went through the familiar paperwork and once over and we were officially onsite.
Passing the security gate and Alex Covert, I crested the hill with my media bags in tow and negotiated the long steep descent to the foot of the ol’ wooden mainstage. As I descend further and further into the site the number of greetings, smiles and hugs growing exponentially with each step.
As would be expected on the first unofficial day of the festival – you would think crowds may be a little sparse at best; choosing instead to take their time and wander in as they see fit and appropriate. This is not the case with Muddy Roots alumnus, from the unofficial first day camps were set up, trailers being jockeyed for position, high ground being sought – and little did they know of the looming storm clouds and how valuable that high ground would prove to be.
As day faded into dusk, and dusk into early then late evening; Jayke Orvis and the Broken Band circled the Cracker Swamp stage like a pack of hungry wolves, you could feel an uneasy tension in the air similar to a man pacing nervously against the bars of his institutional setting. Finally we were at the moment which would kick it all off in grand style and departure.
Orvis and his weary band of vagabonds took the stage, a second skin of dirty denim, patches affixed with impromptu homemade sutures and their instruments poised for an execution style performance the first familiar chords of Jayke’s mandolin cut the night air with what would read their epitaph. Flanked by the fiery fiddle maiden Ms. Liz Sloan, the guitar picking of the PMA poobah himself Mr. James Hunnicutt, the thunderous bass ramblings of Mr. Jared McGovern and the incendiary demon spawn of the banjo Mr. Joe Perreze.
The crowd erupted in cheers and mixed emotion as the temperature climbed, Orvis hammered through the setlist like a southern Baptist preacher on a mission, his Mandolin bible in his hands cast high to the heavens and presiding over his followers to move forth in faith and knowing it had to be this way.
And with that – as it began so many years ago . . .it ended, not bitterly, nor resentfully, but respectfully and with mutual agreement. It had to be this way. The final merchandise shirt said it best as so few words could. A homemade silkscreen of a pistol grip with the barrel reversed to the gunman. Again, it had to be this way.
As the first night officially concluded, the vendors scurrying about and putting final touches on their event wares – the food vendors began heating their grills and fryers, the unmistakable scent of midway food filling the air.
The enormity of this event and its complimentary roots style to cater to all walks of life begins to sink in at this moment. The diversity of the individuals who organize it, take time from personal lives, who journey ten miles or thousands of miles is as select and random as the tattooed ink and backstories which sprawl across their vacant flesh. Tomorrow it would begin for some, for others it would reiterate the reason behind this seasonal pilgrimage. Which path would you take?