Red Dirt Never Dies

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After a decade and a half as one of the top attractions in the Stillwater-forged amalgam of folk, rock, country and singer-songwriter music known as Red Dirt, Jason Boland has done more than his share of music festivals. And now that he’s helping to front an event of his own, he’s putting a lot of what he’s learned on the festival circuit to good use.

And what’s the No. 1 lesson he’s gleaned from his experience?

“Make sure to have plenty of Porta Cans,” he says. “That’s what they always forget. ‘Two? Yeah, that’ll do it, right? Because, really, how many people are going at the same time?’ And then a few thousand people show up.

“It’s mostly production stuff like that,” he adds. “Boring production stuff. You just learn the pitfalls of what not to do, and not to be too overbearing about it. I don’t have to put on the nuts and bolts, but I know Corey [McDaniel], our manager, is really working with a lot of people on it.

“I’d say the main thing we’ve learned is just to dot the I’s and cross the T’s when it comes to all the funny little stickers, passes, barricades, Porta Cans – production, period. People want to hear it as good as it can be heard. They may not understand all the tedious details, but their hearts feel it, their souls feel it, when there’s something off. Because when there’s something off, the musicians are off. So it’s really just about keeping the spirit light and having a good time, and when everything’s running smoothly, that’s how it tends to be.”

It’s safe to say that no one’s coming to the Medicine Stone music festival for the availability of its Porta Cans. But it’s a good thing the organizers thought about having plenty, because there are indeed going to be thousands that come through the gates during Medicine Stone’s three days. Although the event, on the banks of the Illinois River at Tahlequah’s Diamondhead Resort, doesn’t happen until Sept. 12-14, the campsites, RV sites and hotel rooms were all sold out as of July 15, with more than 2,000 individual tickets already purchased. Clearly, it’s going to be a major blowout, one that Boland and his cohorts in his band, the Stragglers, working in tandem with vocalist-guitarist Evan Felker and the other members of the Tahlequah-based Turnpike Troubadours, have been interested in doing for quite some time.

“We’ve always been wanting to put together our own festival,” Boland says. “It’s just been finding the right time, the right place and the right way to do it. We’re glad to be sharing it with the Turnpike Troubadours; they’re the other half of what Medicine Stone is. It’s us, really, trying to put a flag in the ground for an Okie festival for our generation.

“And it’s natural,” he adds. “Several of our friends either have trips where they take people to music festivals, like Steamboat [Colorado], or they have cruises. Stoney [LaRue] even had one that went to Alaska. So it was just trying to figure out what would be us, you know? Between the two bands, what exemplifies the spirit of who we are?”

The answer, they decided, was a big musical celebration held around the Illinois River.

“[Stragglers] Roger [Ray] and Grant [Tracy] are originally from Vian, so they grew up over there in the eastern Oklahoma hills, running up and down the area through Tahlequah,” he explains. “And where I grew up, in Harrah, if you were going to make some big crazy high school trip, you’d go up and float the Illinois and camp at one of the campgrounds.”

After they got older and formed Jason Boland and the Stragglers, via that legendary rural Stillwater multiple-artist dwelling and unofficial birthplace of Red Dirt music known as the Farm, Tahlequah became one of the band’s favorite stops. A few years later, in Tahlequah, the Turnpike Troubadours were born. So the town is a natural in several different ways, as is Diamondhead Resort.     

“You naturally look for a place where people can stay multiple nights,” Boland explains, “and look for a place where they can camp. They had a great existing stage, too, so there were logistical things we thought about.”

In publicity material for Medicine Stone, Boland mentions the Larry Joe Taylor music festival in Texas, which he and the Stragglers have played for many years. That event, now known as the Texas Music Festival, began back in the ‘90s, when music fan and songwriter Taylor got it going as a combination chili cook-off and outdoor-concert fest. And, while the inaugural Medicine Stone is larger in scope than Taylor’s initial effort, Boland sees the Texas fest as a kind of template for the way he hopes the new Oklahoma event will expand.

“I guess it’s that thing about, if you want to be a bear, be a grizzly,” Boland says with a chuckle. “You watched the Larry Joe Taylor festival grow from modest to the juggernaut it is now – and they have that scene hemmed up. This is where we’re from, and so we’re trying to put something together that will be big, and then we can bring in more and more interesting acts as it progresses, because we plan on doing it year after year.”

For its maiden voyage, however, Medicine Stone has done all right in the interesting-acts department. The groups who don’t share Boland and the Stragglers’ and the Turnpike Troubadours’ Oklahoma origins – including Mississippi’s Jason Eady and Oregon native Todd Snider – are highly regarded alt-country and Americana acts coming from places left of center, and the Oklahomans on the bill are Red Dirt superstars. Those latter acts include, in addition to Boland and the Stragglers, Cody Canada and the Departed, Stoney LaRue and the Red Dirt Rangers, all of whom spent a significant amount of time honing their chops at the Farm in Stillwater. The notion of getting together and joyously creating the kind of music that echoed through the dilapidated rooms of that ramshackle two-story building for years is what Boland hopes to evoke with Medicine Stone.
“It’s just about wanting to keep that spirit,” he says. “It’s that Farm attitude of, ‘Well, you might as well get into a band. It’s as good as anything else you could do.’ So the plan is to just bring all the fans of everybody out, camp and have a good time, pick around campfires, eat, drink and be merry.

“The Rangers are still going [after 25 years], and we’re looking at about 15 years now,” he adds. “The Troubadours have been at it for a few years, too, and they’re enjoying so much success and it’s such a great deal for them to be a part of it. So we’ve got a good generation [represented on the stage].

“It’s just one of those things,” he concludes. “The Red Dirt never dies.”

Also on the bill are the young Grammy-nominated writer, singer, and multi-instrumentalist John Fullbright; Tahlequah-based music legend Randy Crouch; John Moreland; and Thomas Trapp. For ticket and other information on Medicine Stone, visit the website www.medicinestoneok.com or the Medicine Stone Facebook page.

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