I have always loved music, even the Beatles when I was a young man. With aging, I have mostly gravitated toward country music but still appreciate great voices whenever I hear them, like Elton John in Lion King, or the Pointer Sisters performing their Grammy Award winning “Fairytale.” In full disclosure, however, I haven’t gotten into Rap. It seems at my age, if my head bobs back and forth that rhythmically, I am more likely to go to sleep than to finish the song.
Once, I saw Johnny Rivers in Lubbock. He sounds just like his records, and it is amazing to have that voice and so much cool come from one person. We’ve heard incredible voices like Garry Morris and Harry Connick, Jr. in the perfect acoustics of Bass Hall. Then, there was George Strait in a stadium in Frisco.
But Linda and I had never attended a Larry Joe Taylor Festival. We have lived in Erath County for over 15 years, and we knew of the festival but not much about it. We live near Morgan Mill and were aware of lots of traffic including what seemed like thousands of campers on FM 3025 for a time in April. We knew restaurants and grocery stores were crowded, and traffic, such as it is in Stephenville, was heavier than usual. This is different from heavy traffic in Morgan Mill which usually means a larger flock of turkeys in the road.
Then, two years ago, we didn’t just attend our first festival, we slammed into it. That is what happens when our kid married Larry Joe and Sherry Taylor’s kid. We were sort of instant VIPs and even Extreme VIPs, which, when applied to me, has a nice ring to it. We’ve met the artists and eaten with them backstage. It must have been the same for Dr. Chris Crawford whose daughter married Tony Romo. You just don’t sit in the bleachers anymore, you know?
A whole new world opened to us, something we never imagined or dreamed. But what we see each year is far beyond the four days of the festival. We’ve witnessed several cycles of year-round festival planning. Our son-in-law, Zack, is in charge of the entire production. He has half a dozen full time employees and, during the festival, hires an additional 150-200 people. Otherwise, he’s the drummer for the LJT band.
What is jaw-slacking about the process is the enormity of the undertaking. The main stage consists of 1,200 cubic yards of compacted soil covered with almost 50 cubic yards of concrete. Two smaller stages are used as well. Melody Mountain has 3,500 campsites, and their reservations are full by February each year.
For the actual festival, consider the following: there are 35 vendors, with 25 of those offering food to more than 45,000 attendees. Food sales to people attending the festival exceed $250,000. For the artists, staff and sponsors, there is a backstage kitchen and cafeteria that provides over 700 meals a day. Further, there is around-the-clock ambulance availability, full staffing of EMTs, firefighting equipment and a security force of more than 75, both uniformed and otherwise. The Taylor family invests more than $1 million in order to present the LJT festival annually. Every effort is made to provide accommodations and provisions for festival-goers to stay on the premises for the entire event.
The festival has a singular focus: It is always about the music. There are no carnival rides. The only product is the songs, delivered by those who write and perform them for those who enjoy them.
Next there are the artists themselves. We have been privileged to meet so many of these people in the Taylor home and at the festival. They are like the rest of us in many ways. For example, Richard Leigh and I visit and compare notes like a couple of grandpas do. He is easy to talk with and a nice person who’s even been a den leader in Cub Scouts. He makes me think he’s sort of like me.
But he isn’t. He’s a Grammy Award winning songwriter with 9 Number 1s as well as multiple Songs of the Year. He wrote “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” for Chrystal Gayle, “The Greatest Man I Never Knew” for Reba McIntyre, and “Somewhere In My Broken Heart” with Billy Dean. Over his career, his songs have been recorded by countless country stars as well as Ray Charles and Perry Como, and most recently, by LJT.
Another favorite is the Tejas Brothers. I’ve watched Cowboy games with drummer Danny Cochran and bass player John Garza. Danny remains as optimistic for a Cowboy victory as did his late mother. John is more cynical about the outcomes, as am I. They seem normal watching football, but they shift gears when they take the stage. Along with Dave Perez and Lex Cochran, they make music like magic. Dave Perez’s accordion playing and entertaining style is unmatched. And who else plays an accordion anyway?
What dawns on me is the creativity that is common to each of these artists. As a physician, I’m aware of the differences in the sides of the brain that represent different capabilities. Supposedly, left brained people are scientists and mathematicians who are analytical and practical. On the other hand, right brained people are creative, with boundless movement and imagination. Speaking of movement, I’m reminded of the incredible talent that is Davin James. His guitar skills are as amazing as his unique voice. But if you tied his feet, I don’t think he could hum a tune.
Nowhere is creativity more on display than at the LJT festival. These artists invent things – in their cases, lyrics and melodies – from nothing. I have contended that they hear things that all the rest of us don’t hear. In several visits with LJT, his contention is that we all have music in our heads, but some of us just don’t listen. So, I have taken to sitting alone in a dark room and listening for extended periods of time. So far, I’ve only heard a lot of buzzing. Once, however, I thought I heard someone say the word “skunk.” Perhaps I should make one of those cone hats out of aluminum foil for better reception.
We look forward to other favorites such as fellow Red Raider Pat Green. Gary P. Nunn’s string of hits includes many written by LJT. Radney Foster will sing “Texas In 1880” once again, and we’re excited to see Josh Weathers hit the Whitney Houston note when he sings “I Will Always Love You.”
One of the most exciting things about the festival is watching the younger performers grow up. Pat Green, Jason Boland, Stoney LaRue, and the band members from the Tejas Brothers, Six Market Boulevard, and Cross Canadian Ragweed attended their first LJT Festival in the audience. They bought tickets, watched the performers and prayed they had the gift. The first time Randy Rogers performed at the festival, he slept in the bed of LJT’s dump truck for lack of money. Today, his band closes the show, and he travels nationwide in a bus that is undoubtedly worth far more than that his first festival bunk.
Another thing about the youngsters: they know the festival’s lineup. They know that their performance is one more audition, and they compete. They work hard to get out, and stay out, of that dump truck. We never know if we’re watching the next King George.
Then there is LJT?singer, songwriter, entrepreneur, cattleman and rookie granddad. Profoundly left-handed, he taught himself to play guitar right handed (big brothers make us do weird things), and the rest of his career has unfolded with the same determination. He worked hard to get his music out of his head and in front of his audience. With more than two decades of the festival, every effort is used to get the music of so many in front of an even larger audience. For the youngsters, he reaches a hand down to give them a leg up. For the established stars, it’s like getting to be an old man; it’s still great to be seen. The only downside to LJT is he makes it tough to be the “other” granddad to our grandson.
A sportswriter once said of HOF football player Bob Lilly, "Just once, you owe it to yourself to go to a Cowboy game and watch him alone. He’s that good, and he’s worth your effort, just once."
It’s exactly that way with the LJT festival, except the festival is like potato chips – nobody goes just once.
For the third year, this newcomer – did I mention this Extreme VIP? – is really excited about No. 24.