So July 6th through July 12th I was at the Hodag Country Music Festival in Rhinelander, WI. I've been going since I was 12. Last year, I decided I should write a post about the bands I saw, even if Oliver ends up being the only one who cares about it. I wrote a bunch of stuff in a notebook (I don't have an internet-ready phone and we camp in the no-electricity camping), then I got home and decided it was too much work.
This year I posted my thoughts to twitter. Hopefully they will remind me of the things I wanted to say about each band. If you are interested, you can click on their name to go to whatever place where they have free music for you to legally listen to. In most places it's their myspace page.
1. Bucky Covington. He was on "American Idol" for its 5th season (2006). He finished 8th. That season also featured Taylor Hicks, Katherine McPhee, Kelly Pickler, Elliott Yamin, and Chris Daughtry. He was pretty good, actually. He has a twin brother named Rocky who played miscellaneous percussion in his band. I mean, he wasn't the drummer. There was a whole different guy who played the drums. Rocky played bongos and wood blocks and whatnot. Didn't see him play any cowbell though. Bucky complimented the attractive Wisconsin women in the crowd, which immediately made me think of Bill Simmons' column when he went to Miller Park and Lambeau Field.
Originally posted by http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=simmons/060825As it turned out, we made it back to Milwaukee in 150 minutes, although Chip shocked everyone by refusing to stop at Beansnappers, a strip joint located near Appleton. What do strippers look like in the heart of Wisconsin? Are they allowed to give lap dances, or is it considered a safety hazard? Sadly, we'll never know.
I always thought that assessment was a little much. Yes, there are plenty of fat people in the midwest, but we have our share of attractive people as well (note: I am not among them). And it's good to see Bucky agreed with me. I'm always interested to see what non-country songs people play. Bucky was loaded with them. He sang "Another Brick In the Wall (Part 2)" by Pink Floyd, "Keep Your Hands To Yourself" by the Georgia Satellites (which yes, has become a defacto country song just like "Sweet Home Alabama"). Then he did parts of "Jump" by Van Halen, "Message In A Bottle" by The Police, "Walk This Way" by Aerosmith, "Crazy Train" by Black Sabbath, and "Gonna Fly Now", more popularly known as the theme from "Rocky". The last played when he introduced his brother. I need to add that he sang his new song A Father's Love. My brother was there with me, and he told me it reminded me of our father. I told him I felt entirely the same way.
2. Loretta Lynn (no dice with a link. I'm sure you know what Loretta Lynn sounds like, and if not there's youtube). The Hodag Festival doesn't have the money for the top stars like some other country festivals do. The majority of their people are either young performers who aren't too popular yet, and old stars who are past their prime. Loretta Lynn is of course in the second group. Even so, I give these stars the respect they've earned. Loretta Lynn has 16 #1 country hits (and many more in the top 10) in her 50 year career. That's why she was there, promoting her 50th Anniversary Collection (The W at Amazon). And her show was pretty good for a 75 year old. Like many of the older stars, she doesn't perform for the whole period of time. It was like it was the Loretta Lynn Family Hour. Her twin daughters Peggy and Patsy, who released a CD of their own in 1998, sang a couple songs, and her son Michael plays in her band and did a couple songs as well.
3. Joey + Rory. Joey + Rory are a husband and wife team who reached prominence as the 3rd place finishers on season 1 of CMT's "Can You Duet" They had a great show. One of the things I enjoy about country music is the playful humor it shows, for instance in Hank Williams' "Boy Named Sue". Joey + Rory were great at that. Rory told us he wanted to tell us how he and his wife meant. And as he remembered it, it was because she loved his Willie Nelson impression. Then he played "I think She Only Loves Me For My Willie". Then he had another song that he said was about his first girlfriend. That one was called "She Was A Good Truck". And finally they song one last song called "It's Hard to Be Cool (In A Minivan)". Rory has been writing songs in Nashville since 1995. The last of those was written by him, but first performed by The Oak Ridge Boys (you can find them singing it on youtube as well). Other songs he wrote for other artists is "How Do You Get That Lonely" performed by Blaine Larsen, "Some Beach" performed by Black Shelton, and "I Will" performed by Jimmy Wayne. I'm told that one of their top performances on "Can You Duet" was a cover of "Lynyrd Skynyrd's Free Bird". They performed that live as well and it was great. "Free Bird" gets a bad wrap in certain circles because of the people who think it's funny to request that at any live show (I'm talking about the people who do it ironically). I don't care much for the Skynyrd version. In my opinion a 9 minute guitar solo is a little excessive.
4. Craig Morgan. Craig Morgan was one of the people I didn't really recognize in the lineup. I tweeted that to me he looked like SNL's Seth Myers. But "That's What I Love About Sunday" reached #1 in 2004/2005, and he has 5 or 6 top ten hits since then. A lot of his music is the country/rock style, and it was a little too loud for me. Also "International Harvester" is a song that I just can't stand. I wrote that you can't deny his charisma however. He performed "Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy" by Bad Company, "Easy (Like Sunday Morning)" by The Commodores, and parts of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man", Steve Miller Band's "The Joker", and AC/DC's "Back In Black" (the fiddle player performed the last of those). Also he let us know that he has collector's edition of his album which is exclusively available at Cracker Barrel. Yeah, thanks for that, Craig. At the time he told us that, the closest Cracker Barrel was 144 miles away.
5. George Jones. I've been trying to put off writing this section. Like Loretta Lynn, George Jones is celebrating 50 years in music. He was promoting The Great Lost Hits, 34 songs from 1965 to 1972 that had stopped being available on CD. The difference is while I graded Loretta Lynn's performance a C (and then bumped it up for her age), George Jones gets a straight F, and no amount of bumping is going to change that. I think my raw tweets say it best.
George Jones: major disappointment. if he still needs money, i'll donate some, rather than listen to an embarrassment like this. This is like watching a broken leg in slow motion. except it lasts 90 minutes. He literally looks like he is having a seizure during "the race is on"
Whatever vocal talents George Jones had have left him. That's not a knock on him, I mean the man is 78 years old. But that doesn't mean I want to see him perform. He can barely sing anymore, and I specifically mentioned "The Race Is On" because his other problem is that he can't sing very quickly. Several songs were noticeably slowed down. "The Race Is On" is a fairly fast song, and when he tried to sing that fast, it was like he lost control of his extremities. I like George Jones, I really do, so I'm going to forget that this ever happened and just focus on the man at his peak. He was there promoting "George Jones: A Collection Of My Best" which is also available exclusively at Cracker Barrel.
6. Steel Magnolia. Steel Magnolia is the band belonging to Megan Linsey and Joshua Jones, who were the duo that won the second season of the aforementioned "Can You Duet". Both are very talented singers, and I enjoyed them greatly. They performed "Stop Dragging My Heart Around" by Tom Petty.
7. Gloriana. Gloriana is a band with 4 singers. They do the 4-part harmony that bands like Little Big Town have done pretty well. One of the girls, Cheyenne Kimball, plays the mandolin left-handed. As a lefty myself, I notice that kind of thing.
8. Jack Ingram. Jack was a practioner of a suprisingly effective alt-country style. He sang "Lips of Angel", which was made popular several years back by the rock group Hinder. He also said since Blake Shelton had covered Michael Bublé's song "Home" and gotten a hit out of it, he was going to cover a Bublé song and hoped the same thing happened. So he san Michael Bublé's "Haven't Met You Yet". He mentioned that he had always been a Michael Jackson fan growing up, and he did parts of "Man In The Mirror", "Billy Jean", "It's Your Thing" (by the Isley Brothers), "Breakdown" (by Tom Petty), "Mustang Sally" (by Wilson Pickett), and "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" (by Manfred Mann). "Love You" is an enjoyable song. He also sang his song "Barbie Doll" (which featured Dierks Bentley) and Dierks came running out to sing along.
9. Neal McCoy. This section is going to need some explaining. At any other show, Neal McCoy will be one of those past-their prime country stars. "Billy's Got His Beer Goggles On" reached the top 10 in 2005, and before that his last top 10 hit was in 1997. But he's a Hodag staple. He's been coming to Hodag longer than I have (his first appearance was in 1991, and the only years he's missed since were 1993 and 1995). He puts on a very entertaining show. When he released a live DVD, he recorded it at the Hodag. When he released a live version of his Hillbilly Rap (which is an amalgamation of "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)", a rap version of "The Ballad of Jed Clampett", and "Rapper's Delight"), I think it was recorded at the Hodag. We love him, he loves us. So it's impossible for me to be impartial about him. He's gone to foreign lands to perform concerts for US troops through the USO 14 times, so I think he's a pretty good guy too. http://blog.uso.org/2010/02/21/neal-mccoy-supports-the-troops-a-video-of-appreciation/
10. Dierks Bentley. Dierks Bentley was one of the few top stars at Hodag, and he did not disappoint. I don't have a lot to say about him though. Very good show.
11. BuxtonHughes (these go to each of their individual myspace pages. For Sarah Buxton, I'd recommend you use the music player farther down, not the one at the very top. The one at the very top only plays parts of songs) Buxton Hughes is a new band featuring Sarah Buxton, who was previously a solo artist, and Jedd Hughes, an Australian country singer who is featured on 3 tracks on her solo album. They said this was the first time they were all performing live together. Which explains why Buxton forget the drummer's name. Buxton is best known for writing the song "Stupid Boy", which Keith Urban recorded and released in 2006. Here's her and Hughes performing the song live. She said she was amazed how nice we are. She was also amazed that we left our lawn chairs out all weekend and no one stole them. It's the simple things in life, I guess. Finally, she met this kid who played the harmonica before the show, and had him come on stage to play for one of their songs. She said she hoped someone recorded it for youtube, and even though the promoters repeatedly say that all audio and video recording is prohibited, it is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xv3y3BdTq0 . Audio is not very good because it was recorded right next to the stage, and the speakers are farther back. There are other videos of them performing "Big Blue Sky" and "Stupid Boy" from the same show.
12. "Whispering" Bill Anderson. Boy, if anyone was going to be a disappointment, I thought it would be Bill Anderson. I did not know much about him. I found out he is celebrating 49 years of membership in the Grand Ole Opry. But he was great. Like many people, Bill Anderson went to Nashville to write songs, not sing them. But he's done plenty of both. The list of singers and bands who have performed his songs include Chet Atkins, Moe Bandy, Alabama, The Bellamy Brothers, Tracy Byrd, Glen Campbell, Kenny Chesney, Johnny Cash, Roy Clark, The Commodores, Elvis Costello, Bing Crosby, Jimmy Dean, Diamond Rio, Sara Evans, Lefty Frizzell, Vince Gill, Mickey Gilley, Merle Haggard, Engelbert Humperdinck, Burl Ives, George Jones, Waylon Jennings. And that's just through the letter J! Recently, he wrote "Whiskey Lullaby" which was performed by Brad Paisley and Allison Krauss, co-wrote "Give It Away" which was sung by George Jones. Both won major awards.
He was there to promote his new album Songwriter. His focus was songs from that album. I remeber performed a bunch of songs from it, including It Ain't My Job To Tote Your Monkey, "If You Can't Make Money (Make Love)", and "Wherever She Is (I Hope She Stays There)". All are great little country songs. After the last one, he said he had gotten in some trouble for the last song. He thought that was strange because it's not as bad as some of his other songs, such as "I Hope You're Living As High On The Hog (As The Pig You Turned Out To Be)" (which is also the name of a book he wrote in 1994). All in all, very entertaining, and I'm seriously considering buying that album and perhaps his greatest hits album.
Bill hoped to have Little Jimmy Dickens, another member of the Grand Ole Opry come down with him. However Little Jimmy Dickens is 89, and he wasn't feeling well the week before and his doctor told him he shouldn't travel.
13. Eric Church. Eric Church has been at the Hodag a couple times. His enthusiasm for performing is obvious. His songs have been modest hits, but they're very good songs. I hope he gets the attention he deserves. "Sinners Like Me" and "Two Pink Lines" are songs of his that I enjoy.
Sidebar: There's a jumbotron for people who are too far from the stage to watch. People can pay to put message on it. A message I saw on it follows: "Todd I love, you don't tell Rob. Call me." I hope Rob didn't see that.
14. Billy Currington. He had 100 minutes of uninterrupted music. Not that that was necessarily a good thing. I think he (and Gary Allen after him) were told to hurry along because there were rainstorms headed our way. More on that in Gary Allen's section. So it was hard for me to enjoy each song when there was hardly any time to digest the last song. He has a good number of hits, and the crowd enjoyed hearing them, but I personally wasn't very impressed. He played "Superstition" by Stevie Wonder. "People Are Crazy" is another song I can't stand, by the way.
15. Gary Allan: Another guy I really didn't know. He's been releasing albums since 1996, so I have no one to blame really. It was pouring rain for most of his show, so that hurt my enjoyment. And like I say, the way he seemed to plow through songs was off-putting. He sang "Best I Ever Had (Grey Sky Morning)", which was released by Vertical Horizon in 1999, and covered by him in 2005. I did enjoy I'm An Alright Guy though.
I'll never go to a country music festival (I've only heard of a few of the musicians you listed), but I really enjoyed reading your post. It was a lot of work and even though I didn't click on any of the links, I found it an interesting read.
Thanks to Josh Redman for taking the reigns of NonDescript last week while I was in Yosemite. If you've never seen Yosemite National Park, you should really try to make a trip out. It's pretty incredible - and I'm not exactly the outdoorsy type.