“This is no dress rehearsal, we are professionals, and this is the big time.” – Waylon Jennings
“Those words from Waylon have inspired musicians and people from all walks of life for many, many years and his Music has and will continue to inspire and touch people’s hearts and lives for Eternity as long as that Haunted Guitar keeps playing. The World KNOWS Waylon Jennings was here and is a better place for it. “– Rowdy Johnson
Rowdy Johnson (of The Rowdy Johnson Band out of Tombstone, AZ) gives us a recap of the Waylon Fest that took place this past summer. His story is a heartfelt one and surely an incentive for you to plan ahead to attend next year’s event.
June 7 & 8, 2013 in Whiteface, Texas, the second annual Waylon Jennings Festival was alive and kicking with that famous Telecaster sound and big kick drum thump that Big Hoss made so famous and what a glorious sound it was. There were In-laws, Outlaws, Family, Friends, Fans, Vendors and Bands coming from all over the World to once again pay homage to the late, great Waylon Arnold Jennings all in an effort to raise money for TGen/Waylon Fund to end Diabetes, the dreaded disease that claimed Waylon’s life in the end.
As the rest of the World was gearing up for numerous Waylon Jennings Birthday Bashes all benefiting the TGen/Waylon Fund, his hometown of Littlefield and the Whiteface, Texas area were gearing up to do a Texas sized Waylon Fest worthy of being dubbed THE premier Outlaw Country Music event of the year, period. And that’s exactly what it was.
After last year’s successful inaugural event, this year’s Waylon Fest dared to surpass it by expanding the event to a two day celebration that now included camping and upgraded accommodations along with an ambitious lineup of musical acts to give the Fans more than their money’s worth and more importantly put the Whiteface, Texas event on the map as THE Waylon Jennings related event of the year, as it should be.
Although it’s been said that it takes a Village to tackle such an undertaking, it’s become clear that young Justin Jennings, Waylon’s nephew and son of Bo Jennings has the ambition and vision to do what others say can’t be done. Don’t judge this book by its cover; Justin is definitely the man for the job and it’s one he takes seriously, as well as the entire Jennings family, many of whom have their own fingerprints, blood, sweat & tears all over this event, as it should be as well. A family event put on by the Jennings family and what an event it’s become.
Let’s start off with the amazing musical lineup. No pretentious Nashville, Pop-Country acts here, just real life modern day Outlaws in their own rights carrying on that Never Say Die attitude made famous by Waylon himself. Performers included Shooter Jennings, Jason Boland & the Stragglers, Rowdy Johnson Band, Jason Cassidy, Jackson Taylor & the Sinners, Tommy Jennings, Creed Fisher and the Redneck Nation, Black Dutch Sioux, Eric Strickland & the B-Sides, Jimmy Miles & the Southern Pride Band, Wayne Garner Band, Sergio and the Out of Luck Band, Chas Jr., Dave Slater, Whey Jennings, and Cinderblok.
To say the music was good would be a serious understatement. From the opening acts to the headliners, one thing was clear; they all brought their A-games. In each performance it was easy to see that each of the performers felt a real connection with Waylon and the fans felt it as well. Some shared that same Jennings last name and some never even met the Man, but all truly loved him and what he stood for and that my friends is what it’s all about. Pretenders need not apply.
So much has been written about the struggle and the strife Waylon endured to become the soaring Eagle beloved by the world, but the common thread in it all is that Waylon Arnold Jennings was one of us. It’s as simple as that. For someone who once sang “I ain’t no ordinary dude, I don’t have to work”, in many ways he was just simply that, an ordinary dude. In my humble opinion, I think that’s what separated Waylon from the rest; that and a hell of a lot of talent. But he would just assume drink a beer with a fan in a bar or on a tailgate than ride around in a limo drinking champagne with the pretentious Nashville fat cats; at least that’s what I hear… Again, he was one of us.
The same could be said for his whole family. When you’re with the Jennings family, you’re one of them. They make you feel right at home like you’ve known each other your whole life. For the many fans in attendance it was a chance to visit and talk with Waylon’s brothers and other family members and maybe, just maybe, get a closer glimpse of Waylon himself.
As always, quick with stories and always with a smile, the ageless Jennings brothers Tommy, James D and Bo were as gracious as can be allowing everyone to take a little bit of Waylon home with them, whether it was a picture, autograph, story or whatever. And that my friends, is worth the price of admission all by itself.
People rolled in from as far away as Canada, England and Australia. Some of who spent their entire life’s savings to live out a dream of just being there and being close to Waylon again. Who would’ve thunk that a wide open West Texas field outside of an old abandoned cotton gin full of dust, mud and hell-raising Waylon fans would be people’s Holy Grail of events, a redneck Woodstock if you will, but in many ways it was and it was beautiful thing.
Day 1 – Friday – June 7, 2013 began with clear skies and the sounds of outlaw music courtesy of local act Cinderblok. Next up was Jennings family favorite and Alabama natives Jimmy Miles & the Southern Pride Band with Jimmy sporting one of Waylon’s iconic black & white custom Fender Telecasters and his talented teenage son on the drums showing that good old Country Music is definitely a family tradition. Next up was Honky Tonk bad ass Eric Strickland and the B Sides who were definitely crowd favorites for sure. Then it was a young original Southern Rock band known as Black Dutch Sioux who put the hammer down with their original songs and sound. Next up was Creed Fisher and the Redneck Nation with their foot stomping, good time music. But as Creed and the boys were finishing up their set, it seemed as if Mother Nature was determined to flex her muscles with a serious West Texas rain storm blowing in fast. And that’s where it got real interesting…
With me and the Rowdy Johnson Band set to headline that Friday’s lineup, we raced on stage, loaded in and set up at a record pace all in an effort to put on our show before the rain came in. Tension was building. For those that remember last year’s Bash, you’ll remember that headliner Shooter Jennings was rained out after only a few songs as he continued to stand tall singing through the rain in a performance I’ll never forget.
This year it seemed like deja vu, because right as I kicked of the first song “Rowdy Attitude”, the rain began to fall and fall it did. With each chord change and verse, the rain increased until it began to blow our equipment off the stage during only our second song. Right as we ended our second song, the power went out and fans began running for shelter. Meanwhile the sound crew and my band and I raced to save our instruments with some of the fans jumping on stage to help. Inside my head I was screaming with anger at Mother Nature for taking away a performance I had looked forward to for a lifetime, but the rain demanded we pack it in and live to play another day. Adding to my frustration level, I had a special guest Renata Sheets standing by to perform our new duet Ramblin’ Bone as well as other surprises up my sleeve and I never even got the chance. Bottom line was, thanks to the rain, the show was over. For now…
Day 2 – Saturday – June 7, 2013 began with the crew working feverishly to get everything up and running after Friday night’s West Texas rain storm. The rain might have cut the night short Friday, but it didn’t dampen the crowd’s spirits in the slightest. They were back in full force ready to once again get rowdy. And with 13 acts scheduled to take the stage including Jason Boland & the Stragglers along with Shooter Jennings, rowdy is what it got.
With most of Friday’s acts returning for follow-up performances, Saturday’s lineup also included Canadian singer/songwriter Chas Jr., local favorites Sergio & the Out of Luck Band and British rocker Dave Slater performing Buddy Holly hits while the Rowdy Johnson Band backed him up on stage. I have to say; hearing the boys of RJB laying the groove to Peggy Sue was definitely a highlight for me.
Then after being rained out the night before it was time for me and the Rowdy Johnson Band to take the stage once again for a 45 minute set that was like a dream for me. I was still reeling from the night before and determined to put on the show of my life as my wife and kids looked on and as the crowd cheered with anticipation. From the first song to the last, I felt like King Kong up on that stage and as my Haunted Guitar continued to play with a little bit of Waylon’s soul and every ounce of min, oozing out through the speakers, it was clear Ol’ Hoss was up on that stage with me playing his heart out, as was I because Outlaws my friends, never die.
As RJB finished up our set and as the band was getting ready to back Tommy Jennings, I felt the urge to call my 12 year old daughter Jessica up on stage so we could do an acoustic version of a song called “Daddy You’re A Star” that she and I recorded on our latest album together. A personal song that she and I wrote when she was just 4, I couldn’t think of a more special way to share it with the World than to do it in person in front of thousands of adoring fans. And given the heartfelt message of the song and my daughter’s amazing performance, to say there were a few grown men out there in the crowd crying their eyes out, would be an understatement. It was a proud moment for me and truly one of the defining moments in my career and my life for that matter.
Next up was Waylon’s brother and legend in his own right, Tommy Jennings. With my band once again backing him up and him up there on that stage playing my prized Fender Telecaster, I felt like a proud Papa. Hearing Tommy’s stories of Waylon and Tommy singing those songs, it was truly magical and the crowd knew they were seeing something special. Capping off his performance, Tommy brought on stage brothers James D and Bo for a moving version of “Me And Them Three Brothers Of Mine”. A song about Waylon and them Jennings boys and their West Texas home. As cameras were going off everywhere trying to capture the moment, somewhere up there in Heaven, I know Waylon was smiling down wishing he could be there with them.
Meanwhile with Tommy Jennings wrapping up his set, I was backstage with stunt crew extraordinaire, Team Danger, suiting up for my Rowdy Fire Walk. Yep, that’s right. I said my Rowdy Fire Walk. That would be me, yours truly in a full fire suit and cape ready to set myself on fire for your amusement. Waylon might have sang “I’ve Always Been Crazy”, but you know “I’ve Always Been Rowdy”.
With the local Fire Department on hand for safety, with Team Danger standing by, with my wife and kids looking on and with the thousands in attendance screaming my name, I gave the order to light me up and light me up they did. I literally walked through the crowd approximately 100 feet completely engulfed in fire from head to toe. And I’ll tell you what, it was HOT!!! After the fire extinguishers put me out, I removed my helmet and raised my hands in celebration of another successful Fire Walk as the crowd cheered. What an adrenaline rush. And to see all the fans, especially the kids’ faces made it worth it. I felt like Evel Knievel. And you know what? There was still more to come.
Up next was my friend Jackson Taylor & the Sinners and they hit the stage as always, like a freight train. Blasting out a barrage of crowd pleasing hits while getting to the bottom of Jim Beam bottle, ol’ Jackson showed ‘em why he and his boys are the real deal proving that Outlaw spirit Waylon encompassed, is still alive.
Rising star Jason Cassidy was up next and his song “Blame It On Waylon” was definitely a crowd favorite. Being one of the more radio friendly acts there and as my wife put it “easy on the eyes”, Jason definitely brought that Red Dirt sound and even my daughter was impressed.
It was right about then the big black tour buses rolled in and that’s when you knew it was about to get serious. Still to come was Jason Boland & the Stragglers followed up by Shooter Jennings. That’s where things get a little fuzzy for me as I began to enjoy many adult beverages with the fans and the other acts there to have a good time. And I’ll tell you this, the words “good time” don’t even begin to cover it.
As Jason Boland did his thing, the party was in full force. My senses were on fire, no pun intended. Maybe it was the mason jars filled with delicious goodness being passed around or just the next cold beer provided to me by one of my many Rowdy Friends, but regardless of the source, a good time was being had by all and that’s an understatement.
Capping off the two day event was the prodigal son himself, Shooter Jennings, which only seemed fitting being that this was THE premier Waylon Jennings Festival going down and the crowd agreed. Shooter mesmerized the audience with his performance and I soon found myself sitting, watching from the side of the stage with most of the Jennings family as we all looked on together. I thanked them once again for having me and the band out and let them know that Ol’ Waylon should be proud of such a gathering in his name. It was truly a spectacle and a weekend I’ll never forget.
So as I began to head for my car, I found myself humming a Waylon favorite of mine called “I Ain’t Living Long Like This” and it made me smile thinking that maybe that’s true. I probably ain’t living long like this. But you know what? If the Good Lord called me home tomorrow, I’d leave this World knowing that I had a hell of a time while I was here and experiences like this event, standing on that stage in front of all those REAL Country Fans celebrating my hero Waylon Jennings and having my family there to enjoy it with me, are really what life’s all about for me anyway. So here’s to that Never Say Die spirit and that Waymore attitude of yours, Hoss. The Eagle will always fly and that Haunted Guitar will always play because true Outlaws will never die. Whoop whoop…!
– Rowdy Johnson
All photos (except RJB Band Photo) are courtesy of Scott Salyer Photography, visit facebook.com/salyer.
Rowdy Johnson is a singer/songwriter from Tombstone, AZ and the leader of the Rowdy Johnson Band. His debut album, Outlaws Today, is available on all Digital retailers. Visit www.rowdyjohnsonband.com for his full tour schedule and additional information.
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