I’ve seen my share of music festivals and am an avid fan of the smorgasbord of music that is available with a wristband and a printed schedule. This year was my first experience with The Wildflower Festival in Richardson. I’m going to venture so far as to say this might very well be the best organized festival that I’ve ever attended. The parking was easy and convenient. The staff was helpful and friendly. The stages were set up in such a way as to minimize sound bleed-over and the grounds were clean and accessible.
This year’s fare included acts like the Charlie Daniels Band, the Toadies, Blue Oyster Cult, Grand Funk Railroad, the Spin Doctors, Robert Earl Keen and Ray Wylie Hubbard.
I entered the fairgrounds and encountered the booths manned by sponsors giving away promotional gear, excellent choices of reasonably priced food, vendors offering the creations of local artisans, and all of the loud carnival atmosphere of a local fair.
I passed through all of these sensory engaging exhibits to arrive at the Bank of America Theatre where the Singer/ Songwriter Stage was located. I stepped through a double door vault into a quiet, almost convention setting and proceeded to the theatre to settle into a seat at one of the tables near the stage. The contrast from the loud party atmosphere outdoors to the listening room quiet of this portion of the festival was striking and a testament to the effort of the folk music aficionados that have been running the singer/ songwriter stage for close to twenty years.
Friday evening started off with the music of DFW local artist, Tom Prasada-Rao, an Indian-American, whose compositions combine folk, blues, jazz and South Asian influences for some intriguing results. The performance was tastefully supported by the jazz piano improvisations of Julie Bonk.
Prasada-Rao’s segment was followed by the performance of Bill Ward and Two-Bit Palomino, named after the mechanical horse rides that were placed outside of supermarkets in the 60’s and 70’s that cost a quarter to ride out a child’s cowboy fantasies.
Two-Bit Palomino not only treated the audience to some original tunes presented with great vocal prowess, but took the responsibility for the sound system for the entire weekend. I’ll stop the narrative right now to sing the praises of the sound system and its management by Ren Renfree, Andi Renfree and Bill Ward. Throughout the weekend, the set changes between acts were relatively quick and problem free, thanks to the preparation and implementation of those three individuals.
The Friday show continued with the harmonies of The Waymores, a touring band of convenience for three of the more productive songwriters in Nashville, Tom Kimmel, Don Henry and Sally Barris. If there are any Subdudes fans reading this article, they need to invest in the Waymores self-titled CD.
The creativity of these three songwriters shouldn’t be overshadowed by the their collective wit, but “All Kinds of Kinds” and “We Ain’t Afraid of Work” are more musical and considerably more entertaining than a comedy bit by Larry the Cable Guy.
Eliza Gilkyson followed The Waymores on Friday evening. Her announcement that her next recording, “The Nocturnal Diaries”, would be out next year instead of this year was a bit disappointing to faithful fans, but her intention is not to rush creativity.
Eliza’s band included Mike Hardwick on guitars and her son, Cysco Ryder, on percussion. The evening’s work included requested songs, “Greenfields”, “Out on the Borderline”, and “Separated”. The band was right in line with everything that Eliza did, planned or requested, and Hardwick dealt out some tasty licks, both electric and acoustic.
Saturday morning began with the Wildflower singer/ songwriter contest in which ten finalists competed with points awarded for songwriting and performance. The contestants came from all over the country and most had already recorded at least one CD. They are serious artists and not pumped up karaoke singers.
Each of the contestants performed two original songs for a group of selected judges who would choose three winners with a poll of the audience choosing the fourth winner. The contest was as enjoyable as the sets performed by the featured artists.
While the judges deliberated and audience votes were tallied, Parker Milsap took the stage. I’ve been waiting a while to see this 20-year-old Oklahoman, who could pass for a clean cut high school student at first glance. The voice that comes out of him and the songs that he spawns seem to come from a person of a much older age.
The acoustic trio of Milsap, Michael Rose on stand-up bass and Daniel Foulks on fiddle performed most of the songs from the CD, “Palisade”, and a few new tunes and covers as well. A song about nursery rhyme caricatures in various stages of meth addiction was particularly entertaining.
Joe Crookston was next up on the roster. He exudes so much energy on the stage with his strong voice, lively finger picking and a stomp box that he literally jumped up and down on. His songs approached social issues like war, juvenile delinquency, and the Holocaust with such delicacy and feeling that they brought tears to my eyes. He even resurrected the old Supertramp number, “The Logical Song” for a folksier spin giving it a new luster.
Sally Barris and Don Henry from the Waymores took a turn as a duet with more humor and sentiment to share. Don Henry can go from singing a silly song about Harley, the long lost child of a biker couple, to a heartfelt tribute to Martin Luther King. Sally Barris has the stage persona of a more traditional C&W female vocalist, but her song subjects are by no means limited to the traditional, exhibiting her own sense of humor.
The contest winners were announced after Don and Sally’s set. The judges chose Ashlee Rose of San Antonio, Terry Holder of Olympia, Washington and Daniel Makins of San Angelo. The Michael Terry Award winner selected by the audience was Chris Alvarado of Boca Raton, Florida. The four winners were scheduled for a Sunday afternoon song swap.
Amy Speace took the stage after the announcements accompanied by cellist, Deidre Smith and acclaimed percussionist, Mike Meadows. Meadows was formerly a member of Porterdavis and approaches percussion with an anything that rattles or clanks is an instrument attitude. Amy Speace has a lovely voice and the ability to tell stories through songs and between them. She claims to have been an actor doing Shakespeare in the Park(ing lot), giving her acting career up to be a singer/ songwriter and finally being signed by Judy Collins to her label.
Many of her songs that she performed this afternoon were from her new CD, “How to Sleep in a Stormy Boat”. The relationship of acting to musical performance as performing arts becomes apparent on songs like “Ghost” and “The Sea and the Shore” that unfold like dialogue in a play.
Tom Kimmel, the third Waymore, had a solo spot after Ms. Speace. He used his high pitched singing voice and down home stories to take the audience on a trip through the deep South of days past. There was a bit of history recounted as he remembered his first media exposition of one of his songs on the Captain Kangaroo Show and going to the opening of the film “Serendipity” that featured his song “When You Know”. He ended his set with an exceptionally tender version of “Love Me Tender”.
The progressive gospel trio, Brother Sun, was next on the bill. They had a great harmony working for them, either a cappella or with guitars, keyboards or bouzoukis. The subjects of their songs were socially relevant and drew heavily on the Christian concepts of faith and love. They were very entertaining and each member of the group maintained a smile throughout the show as if he shared a little secret with the world.
The evening closer was Slaid Cleaves accompanied by premier Austin guitar mercenary, Scrappy Jud Newcomb. He wasted no time getting to his old hits by opening with “Broke Down” and “Horseshoe Lounge”. Cleaves is famous for singing great songs about downer situations, which would be really depressing if the songs weren’t so great.
Slaid featured a number of his new songs from the disc due out in mid-June called “Still Fighting the War”. What’s really new about this recording is that about half of the songs are upbeat and humorous, like “Whim of Iron” and “Texas Love Song”. Cleaves rested his voice after his tribute to Don Walser, “God’s Own Yodeler” and let Scrappy Jud cut loose on one of his own tunes. The last set of the evening ended with Slaid Cleaves singing “One Good Year”, just to make certain that no errant optimism took hold.
Sunday afternoon’s activities started out with the budding talent vocal contest. It consisted of about an hour and a half of performances by local youngsters from preschool to high school competing for trophies awarded within various age groups. It was entertaining to watch these talented kids sing. Having the opportunity to get up and perform develops a child’s confidence and might actually inspire them to follow through with a career in the performing arts. The contest was followed by the song swap between the winners of Saturday’s singer/ songwriter competition. The winners shared some of their other compositions in a traditional song swap format.
Tom Faulkner set up his solo act on stage after the song swap. Faulkner is probably best known for writing jingles like the Chile’s “I Want My Baby Back Ribs” and the theme music to Motel 6‘s Tom Bodett commercials (the longest running commercial campaign in the history of advertising). Tom can keep you grinning with songs like “Too Much TV”, “Do Bea’s Dance” and the particularly entertaining blues farce “Fried Chicken Skin”.
The weekend’s closing act was one of my most favoritest of favorites, Terri Hendrix with Lloyd Maines. After kicking off with “Acre of Land”, they broke into “Wallet”, “Love Like This” and “1,000 Times”. Hendrix then steered the show to a trio of Woody Guthrie songs in honor of the folk tradition that was being celebrated at the Wildflower Festival. Before the end of the show, Terri and Lloyd visited favorites like “Spiritual Kind”, “The Ring”, “If I had a Daughter”, and “Hole in my Pocket”. Always the perfect professionals, Hendrix and Maines invited Two Bit Palomino, Tom Faulkner, and other festival folk to join them for the weekend’s finale.
I’m certain that the rest of the Wildflower Festival was a success, but the attention and professionalism with which the singer/ songwriter venue was administered was unparalleled in the festival world. Not only were the listeners shielded from the bleed over of louder forms of music, the folkies were actually pampered with air conditioning and comfortable seating. I am already blocking out the month of May on my 2014 calendar for next year’s show. I hope to see some of the faithful there next year as well.
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