Written by Daniel Barker
Oct 23, 2010 at 12:00 PM
Sixteen top artists on The Texas Country Music Charts came together for a two day music festival at The Sam Houston Raceway Park on a wild and windy weekend. I had not seen many of the bands performing. I was eager for some departure from my music knowledge comfort zone. I love a good music festival and the Anheuser Busch sponsored event did not let me down. Whoever pushed for the side-by-side stage concept should get a lifetime supply of cold ones.

While most of the bands here were cut from the same cloth of the most successful Texas country acts there were some refreshingly original ones. With every stage change the attendees were treated with talent – don’t get me wrong. No one was a true stinker but the standouts to me were The Band Perry, Whiskey Meyers and Randy Houser.  If you saw the other bands here this weekend over months or even weeks apart it might not dawn on you how redundant they are in presence, look, sound, race, gender, and just overall concept. It reminds me of the late great George Carlin’s rant on the consolidating of The Ten Commandants for the same reason.  How many Robert Earl Keens and Pat Greens do we need?

DAY ONE 10-23-10

The wind was strong and the dust was thick. These were the first things I noticed but I found a nice place under the shade of some pine trees to at least catch relief from the heat. I saw the identical stages side by side and thought the symmetry was nice and the efficiency was brilliant. I have never been to a Ziegenbock Festival before so I do not know if this was standard. I can say that after 7 years the organizers for this event-Live Nation & SHRP – had it down for this 8th annual edition.  An estimated 50,000 people were expected over the October weekend.

The Scooter Brown Band got things kicked off to the early arrivals. A band from just up a ways in Montgomery County and lead by an ex-Marine, the guys laid out the welcome mat with tunes like “Apology” and “When the Whiskey Starts Talking”. I loved that the guitarist did not even have a mic stand. I respect the honesty it takes just to not even kid yourself about being able to sing.

Keeping with local artist theme that ran thru the day, Magnolia’s Charlie Lucas Band was up next. These guys were fired up about playing this event they attended as fans. They had fun and had a cool thing going with blending in old heavy metal hits with their tunes. Excerpts from “Hells Bells” and “Iron Man” actually worked for a festival and got people moving. They did play a Terry Allen tune “I Can Still Taste The Whiskey”. The guys got a little too pumped and demanded that everyone get up and come close to the stage. Was not happening this early…don’t push it man.

An old HMR friend, Hayes Carll was up next – who is from The Woodlands by the way. This was a nice setting for Hayes but way to small of time slot to really stretch out any.  Still sticking with the same set up he has had for the last several months with a standard 4 piece band that he premiered with on Austin City Limits 10-30-10….I make no secret about my love of bassist Bonnie Whitmore and she was great on a new ballad with Hayes based on two lovers who have opposing political view, “Never Known a Lover Like You”. A first for me was seeing Hayes on banjo for “I Got A Gig” – that was cool. The only other mentionable was a new song Hayes sung about space travel….don’t know if that one will make the new album coming out early 2011. If you liked Hayes at this event please go check out my full review with pics of the show at The Mucky Duck a few short months ago.

The Cody Johnson Band drove all the way from Huntsville and kept the ball rolling with their upbeat country stuff…The political nerves were abundant with an election right around the corner that expected a move to the right by voters. Needless to say this crowd very much liked the sound of that. The guys played to the audience and gave them “What’s Left Of Texas”. Basic plot = John Wayne is out and Brokeback Mountain is in so let’s go kick some ass….The autobiographical “Six Strings and A Dream” was a good song. The classic thing about this band was I really started to wonder if they knew where they were. Cody Johnson must have asked “Where are my Texans at?” like 15 times. Hey!!! – We are right here in Houston fucking Texas laughing at your ass – “Where’s my Texans at?”

When The Band Perry took the stage it was like being released from prison and seeing a woman for the first time….Kimberly Perry is beautiful and was a nice change of view thru my camera lens…I will take the time just to say that there was a very good looking crowd at this event… an abundance of sundresses and boots to observe but in the way of performers this was the ONLY female lead singer of the whole weekend…..ImageWas Earl Campbell trying to turn this into a sausage festival?? All kidding aside, She can play guitar and sing her heart out with feeling. I really enjoyed this family band that played their Nashville hits “If I Die Young” and “Hips To My Heart” but were loose and funny enough to cover Queen’s “Fat Bottom Girls” and throw in a medley of “American Pie” and “Bobby McGee”.  One of the best performances period!!!!

East Texas native Brandon Rhyder had to follow but this crowd favorite scrapper had no trouble taking the baton rouge that KP had passed over to the next stage….In a unofficial poll I had taken in drink /bathroom lines and when getting to and from the stage so far this guy was who everyone was looking forward to seeing most this day….Don’t get me started about Gary Allan…we’ll save that for later. So as the sun went down, BR had the crowd in the palm of his hand and even helped break up an early fight from the stage. “Freeze Frame Time” was the point when you knew the rest of the night it was on and the crowds seemed to swell and jockey in position for the big acts coming up…

Casey Donahew came on stage looking so young he might have had legal issues getting a beer over in the VIP area….What a great looking band this guy has put together though…A black drummer – what?? – yep….rebel flags flying in the crowds and we got Questlove up in this bitch…Then you got the bald head guitar assassin wearing wrap around shades just tearing it up. The best though was the Trace Atkins look-a-like on bad ass bass but standing on a custom mini-stage made of diamond plate…These guys were fun and even took it in stride when the announcer got their name wrong TWICE as they left the stage.

The time had come for the ladies as Nashville Star winner Chris Young took the stage….A total Tim McGraw but this guy is making some noise. He is signed with RCA and has toured with both Alan Jackson and Rascal Flatts…The women wanted to hear The Black Dress Song – “Gettin’ U Home” and “The Man I Want To Be” and he did not disappoint….and then ended with a Nitty Gritty Dirt Band cover “Fishin’ In The Dark”….This is when you start to see the difference in production value from say an earlier performer that was just glad to be there like Charlie Lucas….Now we were in the big leagues and up next was The Eli Young Band.

The Eli Young Band from Denton, Texas were the headliners on this night where attendance had suffered from conflict with BuzzFest going on in The Woodlands…I had many disregard my opinion but many of the music goers that I know told me that they were going to BuzzFest on Sat and were coming to ZeigFest on Sun – so there!! These guys seemed to be liked caged lions just let out of the studio for an ego fix…The just finished their new album that will be out in January and played the new single “Crazy Girl”…These guys were very energetic and really capped off a great day of music…I have been to several festivals and I have to say that this day ran apparently flawless….As the Eli Young Band closed with a song of which they were asked to contribute to a tribute album and accepted with honor – Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Gimme Three Steps”, I wondered if lightning could strike twice.

DAY TWO – 10-24-10

The second day of this event would prove a tad bit more tangled and uptight than the day before. That was obvious from my arrival and seeing 18-wheeler’s lined up with Gary Allan on their side. I walked past them up to the stages and saw a photographer’s nightmare….Mr. Allan had brought all of his own equipment. The speakers from the day before seem to work pretty well to me but here they were lined up in the photo/security aisle in front of the stages that had been my paradise the day before. I would have to work around them. At least, they were nice enough to leave space in between. I headed back to claim my spot under the pine trees that had been so nice the day before.

An East Texas based band was up first today, Whiskey Meyers. Boy, did I like this big band….two lead guitars – what else can you say and they both jammed….This band was a standout in so many ways….The were southern rock with long jams….The front man, Cody Cannon, has the outlaw look down but they put down some good rock n roll…..pretty far from what we had heard all day yesterday..Hmmmmmm….I recommend checking these guys out if they get close to your town.

Jerrod Neimann came out to play some of his well prized songs. I was interested to find out that he has written songs for or with the likes of Garth Brooks, Jamey Johnson, Neal McCoy and Zonah Jones. But was this guys a talker…blah blah blah…birthday for Kristi….blah blah…Kinda of the opposite of the band that was trying to get everyone on there feet at 4PM the day before. He did do a great George Jones impression;.

Now I have seen Kevin Fowler at Rodeo Cook-Offs and even my hometown Texas Rice Festival in Winnie, Texas. This guy was born to play to a festival crowd….All the greats like “Beer, Bait and Ammo”, “Triple Crown”, “I Ain’t Drinkin’ Any More” and “Church of Hank Williams”. KF is a pro and had the crowd whipped up as complimentary straw hats were passed out to attendees…To close out he told the foaming mouth crowd that we were going to party until the cops came and then busted into Guns and Roses “Paradise City. Always quality from KF and crew!!!!

Randy Houser was next and I did not know what to expect…..These guys came out and tore it apart…I mean tore it up….Randy Houser has written a few hits with “Anything Goes” and “Boots On” and they crowd loved those. I thought it interesting that he co-wrote “Honky Tonk BaDonkaDonk” with Trace Atkins – I think he might have made a little jack on that one….Another big and  just great looking band that played rock n roll…Piano, lap steels, two lead guitarist…..RH has kinda got has an Hank Williams Jr thing going on but in a really good way…..Follow these guys. Good stuff.

Roger Creager has been doing this thing for a little while and he knows how to squeeze the best time out of it for everyone….Playing to the crowd with a great stage set up…Another big band but way more versatile than any of the others…At one point on stage there was an electric guitar, RC harmonic, accordion, washboard, electric bass, drums AND a fiddle…..Love the RC cola trademark sign on mic stand…He played a song that Houston’s own John Evans wrote, “From The Beer Joint” that reached number 1 on the charts.  He played a good cover of Flatlander Joe Ely’s “Just To Get To You”….To close out he had his dad come out and play trumpet on an Hispanic number with all the other before-mentioned instruments still on the stage. Quite a scene….

Born in Cleburne, Texas, Randy Rogers is a little bit more music driven I think than some the other cookie cutter country acts here over the entire event….His songs are good and he kinda chooses to hide in the shadows if he can…Then the tech problems began…Randy Rogers come out fired up to get going and the huge packed crowd much bigger than the day before was treated to no vocal- mic was out….So they gave him a do-over….Everyone was a good sport and before you know it he has back in stride playing tunes like “In My Arms Again” – my favorite…but the mic problems consisted throughout his set.When he was done he said goodnight to everyone except the “cocksucker” who threw a beer bottle at him….Some people….

I will say that is had been so mellow the night before but I think most people were pushing it too hard and it was starting to take its toll. Numerous people were sleeping aka PTFO…One guy was offering random dry humps to any one within pelvic thrusting distance. That guy has Ball. There were fights breaking out near the stage as Gary Allan’s much anticipated show was to start….NOW…..Mr. Allan had rolled into town like Bruce Springsteen already in a convoy. His people were all over the security, techs and crews the whole freaking time. That when EVERY and I mean EVERY act had followed one another with a delay of max 2 minutes note to note. This guy leaves the crowd waiting for 20 minutes before he graces us with his presence. It was blamed on fights…Security would not let the show begin until they got it under control….I call bullshit. I think he was racing his ass in from Dallas and barely made it…still not over it am I…..

Now that I have bitched enough about the prep before the show, I am going to say that Gary Allan put on one hell of set….From “Nothin’ On But The Radio”, “Man To Man”, “Best I Ever Had”…What I really liked was when he broke it down to a solo acoustic 3 song set it felt and sounded great…He can play and he can freaking sing….He held the crowd on every finger pick and note on ”Life Ain’t Always Beautiful”. With the new album titled “Get Off The Pain”, it seems that time is healing some very deep wounds.  The venue had been kind enought to have a large screen set up on the vacant stage for viewing by the ones of us who did not want to get in the crowd. Wind blew it down half-way thru set.

So if you have made it this long and are reading this part of the review, I want to say thank you. This was quite a task to undertake and I have done my best to give you a feel for the entire event without writing my first novel. Overall, the event was a success in my opinion…I would like to see more variety in the years to come but I walked away with the comfort of knowing the old timers are doing fine and there are some young bucks working their way up. I have to give the overall prize to Randy Houser for just being an overall bad ass but there was a reason Gary Allan was the man at the top of the list…..Until next time, I will see you out supporting live music.