As the crest of the first official day of Muddy Roots broke over the horizon it was clear to all in attendance that this festival would live up to previous Muddy Roots memories and surpass expectations on all accounts.
With stages divided into three the focus was on the music and the people; as people meandered from one act to the next they were greeted by familiar local vendors and their wares. The midway as it was affectionately known could outfit you with everything from the finest in handmade leather wares courtesy of the Rusty Knuckles craftsmen, Louisiana’s finest gumbo – as well as banjos and stringed accoutrements from the boys at Gold Tone.
With the sun beating a relentless heat onto the iron rich underlay of the midway, the residents clomped and stomped to and fro their boots kicking up a flurry of rich red dust into the air that seemed to almost beckon a quenching thirst – little did we know of the coming storms.
Thanks to the shrewd planning of Jason Galaz, the Muddy Roots “Mudfather”, festival goers were not rushed from one stage act to the next and in doing so cutting their time short with each act. Galaz and his band of steadfast Muddy planners ensured each act had ample load in time, setup time and most importantly; transitional time between alternating acts. As one act bid fans their annual farewell, the adjacent stages were in alternating states of completion ready to host the next act. This was perhaps the best and most memorable part for previous Muddy Roots alumni; at last all acts were on that even playing field – it was a fantastic feeling.
With such extensive stage lists of talent before me, please excuse me if I’ve missed shooting any band; trying to negotiate it is still somewhat of a fiendishly pleasant nightmare of logistics. After greeting local friends and family I was approached by Call Me Bronco with a modest request for shots. I have said it once I’ve said it again – this remains the best approach. As the boys took centerstage on the ol’ wood stage at 530pm I too took my sniper position and pounded out the media they sought.
Following this onslaught was my next chance encounter with incomparable Gator Nate and the Gladezmen on the Cracker Swamp stage. True to a gator’s natural domicile, Nate settled in to his familiar setting behind a mix of cymbals, tambourines, drums, guitars and the most seemingly appropriately disembodied severed head residing in his kick drum. The humidity pushing the fans of Nate into a feeding frenzy of his southpaw stylings – he thundered through his set with a familiar awkward precision with which a man hunts a gator. His stylish four dollar PBR promotional specs resting atop the bridge of his sweat adorned scarlet brow all the while.
Next on the menu for the Moloich was the local grouping of Hellfire Revival. With local favorite musicians dusted throughout their ranks all members rattled through their setlist in an homage to the bassists final show with the band for reasons of health and wellness. With Matt Arnn at the wheel of the drumkit, the band delivered an overhand right cross to the audience in an opening salvo fashion as if to serve as a delicate reminder of the fast and loose times ahead in this Muddy adventure together.
As the evening wore on past the dinner hour and into the witching hour how befitting was it to bare witness of the hijinx of Hillbilly Casino and their independent Nashvillian honest to God Ameripolitan Rock n’ Roll. Complete with all you would expect from the four piece they hit all the traditionally high notes they have come to be famous for – even with some unexpected additions including the guitar stylings of Ronnie Crutcher in a “Lucha Libre Chicken” mask and the always beloved PMA Reverend James Hunnicutt in a duo with his surrogate brother Geoff Firebaugh performing “Hybrid Moments” by the Misfits. As if this weren’t enough, the gravity defying stage jumps of Nic Roulette and accompanying scissor kicks were enough to leave the most seasoned HBC fans agog with their jaws slackened in mystery. Matt Arnn delivered the final knockout punch with his rhythmic assault on his skins, his eyes wide like a predator drawn in toward striking distance of it’s prey. The HBC put all worries and doubters to bed early the first night, if you weren’t here to party go home!
The next band to be served up by the Muddy Roots Music Festival was the Sonics. Now if I told you they were good; I’d be lying, if I told you they were great – well, I’d still be lying. The Sonic were something that is unlike anything many of the young concert and festival goers at MR have seen or will ever see in the foreseeable future. The Sonics, from their opening chords opened a door to the past and blew open the archive between what we term the “Independent” genre of today and the “Punk” genre of yesterday. Like a molten hybrid – the Sonics merged each and put on a literal clinic of epic proportions to show that though there maybe snow on the roof – the fire still burns hot in the furnace. The Sonics truly embodied the spirit of Muddy Roots, as I graced the backstage area shooting forward into the crowd I met all their spouses – ladies who although somewhat advanced in years, still knew the roots of a good party. Screaming at the top of their lungs at the conclusion of each set, dancing about like a time warped transit back to the 60’s these ladies rocked and rolled just like the gents. This is what bridging the musical gap is people. Learn from the past and use those lessons to build the bridges of tomorrow. Thank you Sonics for all you’ve given to us.
The last band I chose to document of the first day of festivities was that of the Monsters. This was my second year documenting the Monsters, as in true fashion they didn’t disappoint. Watching Beatman, lead this four piece on a Swiss rocket driven by power chords, sweat and LSD hallucinogenic fusion was as always a treat. The evening Tennessee humidity hung low and deep, the temperature dropping much the same as the sweat droplets from Beatman’s brow. His long peculiarly singular strands of blond locks clinging eerily to his head; his raspy foreign voice permeating the night air, his unique appearance only further accentuated by his fluid dance steps and shuffling oxfords. The Monsters are one of those bands that bring a double or even triple threat to the audience, it isn’t just music and playing for them – it’s giving the crowd a true showcase experience. With two drummers in reflective compliment to each other, a seductively smooth vintage bassist and the polar opposite to the meek yet ragged toothed edges of the Beatman these men have built an empire of loyal followers.
With the moon hitting a final evening crescendo over the Tennessee hills, the secedahs screaming their silent bedtime song, the Muddy Roots followers retreated to the shelter of the evening trees. Campfires dotting the evening hillside air with flames leaping high against the cool still night air illuminating the starry spattered night oblivion from the Achilles of our mortal soil. Small clusters of campfire musicians carried the long dead power signal of the stages amplifiers until morning; giving the tender acoustic signal it’s care and safe passage through the night.
Walking through this darkened abyss to your vehicle and hearing the distant faint tones of an acoustic guitar, the twang of Gold Tone Banjo, the sustain of a harmonica instills deep in your soul a knowledge of doing the right thing to preserve the Muddy Roots of our now defunct over publicized and heavily produced local music scene. With the help of organizations like the Muddy Roots Music Festival and it’s organizers, most notably Jason Galaz we are making a difference and building an alternative for those who feel rural is the better form of urban, that organic is the better form than capitalistic – that growth need not be the sacrifice in the name of quality. These are the ethics and morals that our musical forefathers of Cash, Perkins, Kilgour, Williams and Price held close and chose to abide by – as we go forward, protect us, watch over us and let us abide with thee.