Medicine Stone 2017
You would be hard pressed to fully explain the magic and allure of medicine stone to anyone that hasn’t been there before. It’s much more than just a music festival, it’s more like a family reunion of epic proportions. The festival is unlike any other festival experience I have ever had, the overall feeling and vibe of the entire place is just so low-key and casual. Everyone is there to have fun and enjoy the music that they love and the camaraderie of those that love it as well, it’s not about much of anything else. There just isn’t a lot of drama or people acting crazy, which isn’t to say that people aren’t having a blast. Everyone is getting a little rowdy, but not in the same sense as most music festivals. I think the fact that Jason Boland and the Turnpike Troubadours are the ones who created the festival has a lot to do with it, they know just how to arrange it all in a way that creates that Okie vibe, of brotherhood and love of music rolled up into one, which is exactly what red dirt is all about.
Many people make it a full on family event, or “music family” event, meeting the same people there year after year and setting up commune type camp sites in the same spots each time. It’s a chance to catch up with friends and camp together side by side, share meals and an adventure, as well as meet new people. One of these camping communes is the wonderful couple Steve and Patty Baker, who have been there every single year and put together one of the most inviting and decorated camp sites around at the end of the “Fire up the bass” row. The effort that goes into the set up of their site is pretty awe-inspiring, and the fact that they invite anyone and everyone to come by and hang out is also impactful. They are such genuine and heartfelt music lovers and they extend that love to everyone else. I’ve had the pleasure of hanging out at their camp site the last two years and they are always the best hosts. They set up a trailer stage and the music continues there long into the night, sometimes until the sun starts to rise again. It’s a place for musicians who are just attending the festival as fans to get up and share their talents and songs, as well as for those on the line up to stop by and play some tunes as well. You can find Cody Canada, Mike McClure, Bryon White, Dylan Stewart, Kaitlin Butts and Jamie Lin Wilson there visiting and playing tunes if you are lucky to catch it at the right time. Steve and Patty Baker are amazing people. I love them and am grateful that they open their doors and do what they do.
Although the festival is about the music, there’s also of course the river and all the camping and water fun going on as well. Many people take advantage of the early day before the music starts to get in float trips and swimming in the river. It can get hot during the blazing sunlight of the day, so dipping into the cool river is the perfect way to make it more bearable. Of course not everyone camps out, there are plenty that stay at the hotels and shuttle in for the day as the music starts as well, which there is nothing wrong with wanting a soft bed and air conditioning.
The food trucks at the event always offer an array of delicious treats to choose from each day. I personally thought the alcoholic popsicles were one of the most brilliant ideas ever. People walking around selling them during the blazing hot afternoons even allowed you to not have to go find them yourself. The merch booths are also fully stocked with many great items from all of the artists as well as the festival. There’s something for everyone. It's an all ages event, and many people brought kids of all ages, and pets as well.
The line-up is always chock full of red dirt greatness with some extras added in as well. Personally my favorite this year was seeing Shiny Ribs perform. Kevin Russell has more soul and electric energy pouring out of him than anyone I’ve ever seen. His dance moves flow so fluidly it’s like he was simply made to boogie down, and he makes each song an experience. The entire band put on such a fantastic performance, making each song come alive and feeding off of the energy of the crowd. I even completely fan-girled getting to meet Russell afterwards after his set, and of course had to ask for a picture. He was so down to earth and interesting, it definitely didn’t disappoint.
The Washitas made their Medicine Stone debut this year too, and of course we all know I’m a huge fan of those guys. Bryon White, Buffalo Rogers and Dylan Stewart are all talented singers and songwriters in their own rights, each completely different than one another. But when you throw them all together and let them do their thing something magical happens and both their talent and pull on the crowd seems to increase exponentially. Of course then you add in the exceptionally talented Stephen Baker into the mix with his various instruments, and it just rounds it all out quite nicely. They rocked the Gravel Bar Thursday afternoon and got everyone pumped up and raring to go for the rest of the event.
Bryon White played double duty during the weekend as well, playing lead guitar with the lovely and talented Jamie Lin Wilson as well. Wilson always puts on an entertaining set, telling amusing stories between songs and adding in her witty and relatable humor that gets people laughing all along the way. She can switch gears from sappy love songs, to cheating songs, to murder songs in just a beat and pulls it off effortlessly. Wilson of course also jumped up on stage with many of Saturday night's main acts as well to add her voice for the duets with the guys that she calls dear friends. The music family is a close knit circle, and having your friends play with you has to be one of the more enjoyable facets of playing music festivals. Many of these musicians are always on the road doing their own shows and rarely get the chance to hang out with one another unless they are on the same bill. So Medicine Stone offers that opportunity for the musicians as well as the fans.
Last year there was a bit of grumbling at the lack of female artists on the bill each year, and the festival made sure to remedy that this year with Bri Bagwell, Suzanne Santo, Sunny Sweeny, Monica Taylor and Kaitlin Butts joining in on the fun. I think this quick solution shows that the festival listens to constructive criticism and wants to make this event everything that it can be and more.
Getting to see Kaitlin Butts pull off her sassy and stunning set on the main stage only to be followed by her darling boyfriend Cleto Cordero with Flatland Calvary was also a treat. I especially love when they sing together, which of course happened when Butts joined Flatland Calvary onstage during their set (Mike McClure also hopped on stage and played with Butts as well, which again shows how much fun these guys have getting the opportunity to join in on something other than their own set). Those two love birds are ridiculously adorable and every time I see some endearingly sweet post on social media of the two I can’t help but hashtag #relationshipgoals. They are too cute, and although they have been plugging away for a few years now they both have really just started their musical journey and have a big wide open road ahead of them that only seems to be going up. I see great things in both of these band's futures.
Charlie Stout, who hails from West Texas, made his Medicine Stone debut this year and I was excited to get to see him. His music has the kind of substance and sincerity that seems to be lost in a lot of music these days. Stout has a way of weaving his songs with an insight of the human condition that pulls at your core, while also entertaining you with a story along the way, mostly about the American frontier days although there's some space stuff mixed in there too. Which just goes to show you the vast reach of his abilities to interweave seemingly unrelated things into one cohesive tale. Charlie’s music is a good balance of real country and Americana music and I believe he fit into the Medicine Stone vibe perfectly. If you haven't checked him out yet, go check out his website at www.charliestout.com.
Everyone agrees that Oklahoma has something special here with our music scene and the people that come out of it. Sometimes I think it's in the red dirt and air itself, a spirit that lives in those born and raised here that creates the rare magical combination of the love of songwriting and goodwill to one another. Pairing all three of the Oklahoma red dirt greats who have been doing it for so long, Jason Boland, Mike McClure and Cody Canada, swapping songs acoustically was a delightful treat for festival goers. Stripping the guys down to just the bare basics in the midst of a huge festival was utterly perfect. It switched it up a little and added variety, and of course magnified that red dirt family reunion feel as well.
Of course the main stage line up of American Aquarium, Lucero and Turnpike Troubadours Saturday night pumped the crowd back up to epic proportions. Thousands of people singing and dancing along to the music is an impressive sight to behold, and it was by far the craziest night of the event. Everyone wanted to end the festival with a bang and soak up the last moments of it all, and by the looks of it, every single person did.
LittleOkieLand got to be there as a media presence which was a very awesome thing. I was able to shoot hundreds of pictures and interview people and make connections for future stories. I brought along my 'employee of the month' Cole Burns who helped me pass out LittleOkieLand buttons and promote our site. If you got one of those buttons, post a picture of you with it and tag us on one of our social media platforms and we might send you some goodies in return.
I never take for granted the fact that I get the privilege of seeing the music from backstage and have the availability to wander around and hobnob with everyone. I am thankful for all of the opportunities that I have to be fully immersed in this scene. There were so many times during the festival that I was standing on the main stage behind the artists performing and watching the vast crowd out there enjoying it all, and I just got goosebumps to be a part of it all. At the heart of it, I’m just a giant music fan who geeks out about the fact that once upon a time I was among the vast crowd out in front, and now I get to be backstage and see the inner workings of it all. It’s a little like Dorothy being thrown into this whole new world and pulling back the curtain and seeing the wizard of Oz, only it’s definitely not a disappointment about what’s behind that curtain for me like it was for her. Behind this red dirt curtain it really is a magical fantasy world of sorts, and sometimes I feel like the plain and ordinary “girl from Kansas” who gets to play act as the Red Dirt Queen of Hearts (I know you are wondering why I didn't use an Alice in Wonderland reference instead here since this whole site is that theme, but I gotta throw some love to my other favorite fairy tales now and again too). I’m beyond grateful for the chance and opportunity to do so. Pretty sure I would sport a red dirt tiara at all times if I thought I could get away with it too.
There were really too many artists and performances at the festival to give them all the credit that they deserve without making this a full on novel. The festival even added a 4th stage this year to provide even more musicians with the chance to play, giving the fans plenty to choose from. This was the 5th year of the event, and with everything there is always a learning curve, but I feel like the people in charge of putting together the festival do everything that they can to make it better and to learn each year what works and what doesn't. Last year the influx of tent campers was a chaotic mess, people on top of people without a real sense of dividing lines, and this year it seemed to be in a much more organized and streamlined manner, which just goes to show that they are learning what works and changing things that need to be adjusted. The growth rate of attendance has exploded over the last 5 years, so making sure it all runs like a well oiled machine takes a ton of work and effort, and they do a fantastic job.
One thing I think that might need to be tweaked in the future would be the VIP meet and greets. If you purchase the premiere packages it includes the daily VIP backstage access to meet your favorite musicians. Those VIP ticket holders have an opportunity each day for 30 minutes, from 4-4:30 p.m. to linger backstage, take pictures and get autographs. This is one of many festival goers favorite things about the event, and they happily shell out the extra dough to get this opportunity. However this year I did talk to several people that were not entirely pleased with the arrangement when only a handful of artists showed up each day. The biggest complaint being that not all of the musicians that they were hoping for made it out at all during the 3 day event. But as someone who sees both sides of the coin, it is hard to wrangle musicians sometimes (trust me, with a musician boyfriend I’m fully aware of this particular problem) as they do have a lot going on, as well as the fact that it is simply easy to lose all track of time during the festival (especially for musicians) and not make it over during that 30 minute window. I don’t believe anyone purposefully skipped it because they didn’t feel like it was important, but I also fully agree with the fans who pay extra money for a benefit to feel slighted when they don't get what they feel like they paid for.. I think it somehow just fell through the cracks and could be one of those learning curve things that just needs to be adjusted as the festival continues to grow and change. Some of the people suggested having several meet and greet times during the days to make sure there were more opportunities for the artists to make it, and making sure the times are most convenient for the artists to come.
Many of the artists also go out and stand at the merch tables during the event to meet people and give everyone an opportunity to come by and say hi and take pictures, which I think goes to show that they all do take it seriously and want to mingle with fans.
After talking to countless concert goers about their experience with the festival this year, the lack of artists available at the meet and greets was pretty much the only real complaint that seemed to be voiced. With a festival of this size, that’s actually pretty impressive. This year there were 6397 people in attendance, which is just slightly less than last year. I believe that makes it the first year that attendance didn’t increase greatly, which is bound to happen at some point as it reaches a maximum point. The pendulum can only swing so far in one direction, and in 5 years it’s had an excellent growth curve. It will be interesting to see if it hangs steady at around that size next year, or if it will continue back up the curve.
If you have yet to check out this festival, I highly suggest you get on it next year. It’s one of those experiences that you really need to have for yourself and not just live vicariously through other people. There are so many different music festivals that you can go see, but this is definitely at the top of my list as being one of my favorite things to do each year.
Check out the gallery of some of our photos from the festival below!