The musicians who play at the Muddy Roots Spring Weekender in Nashville, Indiana, seem to be on a first-name basis with half the crowd. When they’re not playing, they mingle with other musicians and with the audience, sharing meals, laughs and booze. They also crowd the stage to listen to the other acts. And when there’s no one on stage, they jam next to their tents and campers until the wee hours … it seems that every third person brings a guitar, a banjo or a fiddle.
I don’t know of another music festival like it.
Jason Galaz, who founded Muddy Roots – a small empire that features roots music concerts, festivals and a record label – calls the spring weekender a company picnic. And though Muddy Roots has only a few employees, it really is a company picnic. Anyone who shares a passion for bluegrass, old-time country and blues is welcomed.
No one embodies the spirit of the spring weekender more than The Calamity Cubes. I’ll bet Joey Henry, who plays banjo and sings with the group, gave high-fives to about three quarters of the folks at the festival. He probably hugged the rest. (Joey had an excellent solo set, too.)
The band’s other members – Brook Blanche, Kody Oh and Billy Cook – love to interact with the crowd as well. At the end of their set, they jumped off the stage and joined their fans, performing “Skateboard Hips,” a rollicking ode to skateboards and, for that matter, to everyone who loves bluegrass played at 90 mph.
The Calamity Cubes have a lot speeds, and not many people sing heart-breaking ballads better than Brook Blanche. (I’ve probably played “Empty Bottle” more than any other song since I bought the band’s CDs at last year’s festival.) A big bonus this year was when Kody Oh borrowed Joey’s banjo and sang lead vocals on a song while Brook slid over to bass.
About an hour after I arrived at the campground on Friday morning, I hiked back to my car to get some water. One of the people checking in looked really familiar, but I figured I’d seen him at last year’s festival and I walked back toward the main stage.
My first instinct was right. A few minutes later when he was setting up camp near where I was standing, it struck me that he looked a lot like Randy Hill, a bass player who happens to be the cousin of my best friend. I’d never met him, but I’d seen his photos on Facebook a number of times. I even knew his grandfather.
After quick introductions, Randy treated me like a long-lost pal. We shared a lot of laughs, especially when my best friend and her sister texted me funny memories to share with him. He offered to share his food with just about everyone who walked by, and he delighted in the fact that there was a fishing hole at the campground. In short, Randy loves life.
He’s also an exceptional musician. He was slated to sit in with the Glade City Rounds, an old-timey string band from Tennessee he’d never played with before. Randy killed it. As his grandfather would have said, “He’s a good-un.”
The Glade City Rounders play the kind of old-school bluegrass that is timeless, a melodic snapshot of generations of rural folks from the South. My grandmother would have loved The Glade City Rounders’ songs, especially when Josh Smith started blowing on his jug. She’d have loved the band members, too. They’re all folksy and charming. Banjo player Richard “Squirrel” McLain’s young son is also delightful. (He soaked up every note over the weekend and broke out his small banjo to jam with others every chance he got.)
Though Austin Lucas, a young country musician with a classic voice, is based in Bloomington, Indiana, just a couple of hours south of me, I’d never seen him live before. I hope to see him again soon. Great set.
RL Cole’s energetic and gritty set was the surprise of the weekend for me. I hope the Muddy Roots folks bring him back to Nashville every year.
Joe Bent plays slide on a skateboard with a bottle and two strings. Pete Dio plays percussion on a cardboard box, a keg, a trash can and some other junk. Their bluesy racket will carve a chunk out of your soul.
The Dead Soldiers played an abbreviated set because they arrived late; they didn’t realize Nashville, Indiana, is in the eastern time zone and they got stuck in traffic. It was worth the wait. I’m thrilled I get to hear a full show from them next week at People’s Brewing in Lafayette.
Henry Berger and Cris Bissell play a mash-up of Americana, bluegrass and punk. Call it beautiful chaos, if you wish. Just see these guys if they come to your town.
The Tillers are one of my favorite bands of any genre. Great bluegrass-oriented instrumentals and gorgeous harmonies.
I missed Buffalo Wabs & The Price Hill Hustle when they came to town a few weeks ago because I was at jazz fest in New Orleans. The group’s bassist, Ian Mathieu, told me that was a good call. Probably. (I heard some incredible music in NOLA.) Still, I’m mighty glad I got a chance to see the band at the spring weekender. One of my favorite sets of the weekend.
Matt Heckler is an engaging young musician with a fine voice. It’s hard to keep an audience’s attention when you’re on stage by yourself. He did a great job.
I was stoked when I heard that Joe’s Truck Stop would be playing at the Muddy Roots Spring Weekender. I’ve heard Joe Macheret play with The Tillers, of course, and with a number of other bands, but I’d never heard him play with his own group. The set was great. Now pass the bottle.
Blues. Wicked blues. Loud, wicked blues.
Friday was damp and chilly at times. Saturday’s weather was almost perfect. I missed three of the headliners: Split Lip Rayfield, Joseph Huber and Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band. I’ve seen them all before and I love them all, but I was exhausted and wet on Friday night and I had a long drive Saturday night. Still, Muddy Roots Spring Weekender was one of the highlights of my year.
Join me next year. Joey Henry will be waiting with a high-five and a smile.
For more information about the spring weekender and other Muddy Roots events, check