Mucklewain marks the return of grass-roots festivals




Mucklewain Southern Music Festival 
Pinewood, Tennessee
September 28-29, 2007

There has been much talk about the demise of the concert industry in recent years.  Large shed venues have had major drops in ticket sales, and some have even closed their doors.  Many credit skyrocketing ticket prices and vendor gouging as a large part of the problem.  It is hard to get your money’s worth with $175-$200 festival tickets and eight dollar beers.  However, with hard-working festivals like Mucklewain doing poorly at the box office despite offering up stellar lineups, bargain basement admission and a BYOB policy, perhaps there are just a lack of intelligent listeners.

Is there not an audience for great music anymore?  The chosen few in attendance at Mucklewain would argue that fact tooth and nail.  Music fans smatter the Internet chat rooms with babble of festivals like Bonnaroo selling out, not having grass roots music anymore in general.  Yet if you look, it’s there, and in full force.  With Mucklewain, 60 bucks buys you a two day weekend of music with the likes of Jason Isbell, Drivin’ N Cryin‘, Outformation, and Lucero.  There was really affordable vending, a sprawling art gallery, and unique souvenirs like custom painted skateboard decks with Mucklewain graphics and artwork featuring a range of musicians from Widespread Panic to Jimi Hendrix.


The Bohannons

The Bohannons

There was no doubt the line up was about grass roots.  It may have been the definitive line-up for representing hard-working, under-appreciated musicians.  Friday afternoon started the fest off with the nose to the grind stone rock of The Bohannons.  There is so much overlooked talent around the Southeast, and it was great to have so many of them getting together for a great weekend of music. 


The songwriter stage showcased a vast array of talent throughout the weekend.  After catching a little bit of The Bohannons, it was time to see some of Jason Graumlich, Channing Wilson ( The Rounders) and Eric Brace ( Last Train Home) perform a writers in the round format.  Graumlich is a great musician and the trio put on a fabulous performance – just acoustic guitars, a nice sunset.  How could things get any better?

The Dusters brought a powerful presence with their blues trio.  They played a short set before giving way to the Main Stage and Porterhall, TN.  All of the stages were very obtainable and the flow of the festival led you from one to another perfectly.  Porterhall, Tn. brought their rock-a-billy A-game to the party.  They are cow punk, and a damn fine band.  Many of these acts have been hard at it for a great many years, and have just really begun to feel some recognition.  Festivals like Mucklewain can really be a large asset to these bands.


Bobby Bare Jr.

Bobby Bare Jr.

By far one of the most exciting parts of the weekend was Bobby Bare Jr. and the Young Criminal Starvation League.  Bare’s bittersweet perversions of pop with a twist of country are masterful.  His most recent album, The Cat’s Meow, was one of last year’s best releases and many of the tracks helped establish the tasty setlist.  While Garage Deluxe had taken the late night slot on the main stage, across the way, the sleeper of the weekend had started.  The family had started a jam session on the songwriters’ stage, led by the fearless Randy Russell.  Bouncing back and forth between the two stages, one could witness the heavy rockin Garage Deluxe set and the Bob Dylan slaughter taking place between Russell, other Ballhog members, Jason Graumlich, Old Union and other random performers that may have stumbled to the stage.   


After seeing Russell and the gang go way into the morning, it was only fitting to start the morning off with a Ballhog show.  What a great way to start the day.  As the unusually hot late September temperature reached the 90’s, the punk infused rock and roll of Dixie Dirt heated things up further. 

Across the field the heroes (and host) of Mucklewain, Les Honkies More Tonkies, were taking the stage.  These guys put on the festival, and as a band take the smallest set.  It is the only time you see them stop working at making everyone happy and do a little something for themselves.  They played a spectacular 30-minute set in the heat of the day, and then rode off to put out a fire somewhere. 

Creech Holler took the stage next, and may be the walk-off home run of the festival.  They meld Appalachian music with swampy blues and a punk ass attitude.  Somewhere along the lines of where the North Mississippi Allstars stopped growing musically, these guys began.  Then came the return of Blue Mountain, who were nothing short of expectations – they were superb. 

Then it was time for Old Union.  They played a short but action-packed set including material from their recently released Motels and Highways.   How uch better could it get to have Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit follow Old Union?  Isbell’s set peaked after providing possibly the most exciting moment of the festival with a vicious cover of “Psycho Killer.” 



Drivin’ N Cryin’

Drivin N Cryin has been through all of this before.  Under-appreciated, but now seemingly just happy, they lit up the night.  They still have a great fan base and completely bring the noise.  The set-closing “Straight to Hell” complete with enough cowboy hats to fill all of Texas (courtesy of Caddle) was not only good musically but was somewhat entertaining on a comical level. 


Then the late night belonged to Outformation.  The Georgia boys rose to the occasion, starting things out with a “Titles of Movies Will Not Appear on Bill” that would not be finished until the wee hours of the morning.  Sandwiched in the middle was great visits from Jason Graumlich and Clark Keown on Guitars.  Keown (who played in the band during earlier incarnations) stayed on board for a big chunk of the night. 

Hopefully there will be another Mucklewain.  There is certainly enough good music to go around.  Hopefully we can find some other good ears to join us.