The final day of Tumbleweed 2018 once again kicked off with high temperatures and equally high excitement.
Although some campers were slow to come down off of the hill, no doubt exhausted from a long hard night of enjoying themselves at various campsite song swaps, once the music started they were drawn like moths to a flame.
Porter Union opened up the main stage to a tired, but anxious crowd. The energy and chemistry on display between the duo quickly sparked excitement within the crowd. Their set consisted of the pair tackling songs together, playing music from their debut album, as well as some new stuff. Taking turns singing songs and sprinkling duets in along the way kept the crowd begging for more from start to finish. The crowd cheered for more for several minutes after their set ended.
Mountain Deer Revival were up first on the second stage, and they helped bring the folks down off the hill as well. Like Thursday night the crowd grew as soon as the music started and never ceased growing. People heading to the main stage stopped to take a listen, and many were impressed enough with what they heard to find a permanent spot under the tent to stick around for the duration. It was a wonderful example of the kind of exposure Tumbleweed can bring.
2017 fan vote winner Dustin James Clark took to the second stage with a rowdy set under the big tent. Dustin and his band brought the top shelf stuff with them as they played to a crowd that had congregated to see them well before their set began. Performers from all throughout the weekend gathered, watching in awe as Dustin knocked out song after song. Eventually Chad Vaughn, Austin Lee, and Bryan James joined him on the stage for “Highwayman” in one of the biggest treats of the weekend.
On the main stage Tony Martinez kicked off as part of a trio including longtime Whitey Morgan and the 78’s bandmate Tony DiCello. Tony is a master of the guitar and that was on full display as he awed the crowd with his picking skills. Watching beside me, Blake Berglund marveled between at Tony’s technical expertise. Tony played his songs and entertained the crowd in his trademark Tony Martinez way. Watching Tony play is always a treat, he always seems to be the happiest guy in the area code when he’s on that stage in the middle of a song, shucking and jiving, letting the music flow through his body like an electrical current. Tony made a great impression to many with his Tumbleweed performance, with many having never really seen him play his own show. Tony came ready, and delivered the goods on the main stage.
Lilly Hiatt was up next at the second stage as the middle of the afternoon set in. She turned the big tent into a musical oasis in the afternoon sun with her set. She commanded the crowd in a masterful way, tapping into their emotions and feelings with her songs. Her enthusiasm was infectious and it gave her set a special feel to it that really shined on the second stage where the audience paid closer attention. Lilly made sure to give them something to pay attention to, and it was a beautiful thing for all involved.
Mickey Lamantia, in contention for the busiest man of the weekend not only performing twice on two stages, but also hosting the event, took the main stage, and he had a special guest in tow as the legendary Billy Don Burns surprised him by joining him on stage. Mickey made sure to acknowledge that the whole reason music like ours exist is because of guys like Billy, and the ovation was incredible. Mickey and his band brought the fire with their set, playing Mickey’s songs to perfection. In the middle of the set Mickey and the boys stepped off the stage and let Billy have it all to himself. The veteran road warrior did what he knows how to do so well, and played his songs bearing his soul. Mickey returned to the stage, and the band finished strong in one of the hottest sets of the day.
2017 Armadillo Award Winner for Album of the Year Zephaniah OHora brought his sound to the second stage in an acoustic set with just he and another guitar player joining him. He played several of the numbers from last year’s “This Highway” album (have I mentioned lately how fan-freaking-tastic that record is? Because it is.) and some new stuff that I’ll be the first to tell you is just as good as the work he’s already released. Twice now I’ve heard him play a new song called “We Didn’t Plan For This At All” and you heard it here first folks: It’s damn good. At least I hope you heard it here first. The biggest disappointment of the weekend also happened to take place during Zeph’s set, but through no fault of his own. The Steel Woods took over the main stage towards the end of his set, and in a real contrast of styles the main stage basically forced Zeph off with a few songs to go in his set.
Speaking of The Steel Woods on the main stage boy did they tear it up. Their set was so damn good the grass in the field greened up with excitement. It was loud, rowdy, and rousing just the way you expect a Steel Woods show to be. The crowd bathed in their awesomeness and the afternoon sun all the same, taking everything the guys could throw at them and standing there welcoming even more. Their set was largely unopposed by the second stage and the majority of the fans in attendance made their way towards the main stage to admire the artistry and badassery on display. With the evening sun glaring in their faces, The Steel Woods took all the fire and heat being directed at then from the ball of fire in the sky, harnessed it, and used it to melt the faces off of everyone who took a moment to sit and listen to their set.
Joseph Huber took to the second stage towards the end of The Steel Woods set and cranked up the volume his set. Huber put his unique style and deep songwriting on full display for the crowd under the tent. Huber has a very unique and special charisma about him. It’s hard to sit here and describe, it’s just something you have to experience live. He definitely conveyed it under the tent. A large wave of fans receded to the second stage as The Steel Woods finished up, and what they found waiting for them there was a treat that was hard not to appreciate.
Ward Davis returned to Tumbleweed for the second year in a row down on the main stage. An enthusiastic crowd greeted him as he and his band launched into their patented “Get To Work Whiskey”. The genius that is Ward Davis was on full display for the Tumbleweed audience, as he rolled right through his set with laser precision, electrifying the crowd along the way. His band, as usual, was on point the whole way. Cody “Cooder” Bennett, known for his animated guitar playing, looked at times like he was melting in the early evening sun. Ward jumped on the keyboard for the last of his set, and believe me when I say that his cover of “Stranger In My House” has become one of the best live performances in all of music. Ward left the stage to a loud chant, and returned to the keys for a special encore of Alabama’s “Lady Down On Love”.
Over on the second stage Sara Morgan was picking them up and putting them down. The heat was still high, and even in a denim jacket it didn’t seem to bother her. In fact, she seemed to revel in it, letting it fuel her. The crowd showered her with appreciation, and once again as the main stage finished a large crowd filed over to take in her songs. She didn’t disappoint.
Up next on the main stage was Billy Don Burns, with his good friend Shooter Jennings watching from the wing. Billy played yet a couple more of his songs to the swelling evening crowd, and then walked away with a smile and a wave. Shooter was waiting at the edge of the stage with a hug for the legend.
Brother Joshua Wallace of Gary Hayes Country was introduced to the crowd by Mickey Lamantia, and he proceeded to pump up the crowd, telling them to get ready for Shooter to come on. Billy Don Burns sauntered back out and introduced Shooter to a massive ovation. Shooter came out and launched right into his set, and what a set it was! Shooter puts on one of the best live shows out there. Always intense and exciting. He played the new singles from his August record, as well as several from his back catalogue. A jamming version of “Gunslinger” electrified the crowd, which grew all throughout his set. Shooter also played keys during his set, and kept the excitement up as the sun went down. It was one of the best sets of the weekend, and left the crowd chanting his name for more.
The second stage played host to Chris “Moondawg” Hall next. The crowd filled in as Shooter ended his own set over on the main stage, and Moondawg made sure to give them something they could sink their teeth into. He really shined in the lights of the second stage with a confidence that was hard to ignore. Moondawg has a real, raw edge to him, and that was on full display as the nighttime set in. Many of the fans who washed over to the second stage that weren’t familiar with Moondawg got a real treat, and walked away as new fans.
Kansas’ own Savanna Chestnut took over the second stage, bringing many of her original songs with her. She took full advantage of a lull at the main stage and used an upbeat energy to draw a crowd over to the big tent. Those who came over stayed and gave their attention, and deservedly so. Savanna picked her guitar and laid it all out on the line, and used that to reel more than a few people in during her time up on the stage.
The crowd in the field for the main stage swelled to it’s biggest point of the weekend, anticipating the arrival of the legendary Robert Earl Keen. The wide open field gave plenty of opportunity for lawn chairs and relaxed viewing, and I mean to tell you there were a lot of people in that field. They didn’t crowd the rail and the VIP section, but they were there. After a short delay, to a thunderous ovation, Keen took the stage. I sit here wondering what to say about the legendary Robert Earl Keen and the show he puts on, but I’m just drawing blanks, honestly. He and his band have it down to a fine science. They were as tight and “in the pocket” as you could ask for. Keen played and told stories for the better part of two hours, entertaining the crowd and giving them a show that they won’t soon forget.
The big tent and the second stage it housed were about to turn heavy and western as The Comancheros were up and ready to blow the crowd away with their high energy and righteous riffs. A huge crowd made their way over from the main stage to experience the show. The group had done a wonderful job promoting and representing themselves throughout the weekend, and I think that helped drive a lot of interest their way. People were genuinely interested to see what the young group had to offer, and as they milled around the second stage they were not disappointed with what they found. They were able to keep the crowd with them from start to finish, and even more importantly keep them excited and engaged.
The legendary Texan Mr. Ray Wylie Hubbard came to close down the main stage around 12:30 Sunday morning. Ray Wylie Hubbard is such a charismatic enigma. The way he tells his stories and introduces his songs is truly unique. His stage antics, particularly the singalong portion of “Up Against The Wall Redneck Mother” never get old no matter how many times you see it. You still laugh each time. His energy on stage is infectious. His raw blend of blues, country, and rock seeps into your bones and gets you moving along with him. His eclectic songwriting pulls you in and excites your spirit. It’s as close to real magic as you’ll ever see. It was a wonderfully rowdy way to wind down the incredible main stage of Tumbleweed 2018 because just like Ray says in “Choctaw Bingo” we had us a time.
The final set of Tumbleweed 2018 belonged to to Lloyd McCarter and The Honky Tonk Revival over on the second stage. They kicked off their set at half past 1 AM, and the thumping traditional honky tonk had the people excited as if it were still 1:30 in the afternoon. Most of the crowd that had gathered for the set stayed throughout and were treated to some of the best traditional honky tonk music played during the weekend. It had the feel of an exciting afterparty for the most dedicated, and the band fed off of that energy from song to song.
Eventually, however, all good things must end. In the early hours of Sunday morning the stages finally went quiet, and Tumbleweed 2018 came to a close. Some of the best music in the country had filled that field throughout the weekend, and those who were lucky enough to experience it walked away with memories that will last forever.
Click here to view the full photo gallery from Saturday!
In my final Tumbleweed 2018 article we’ll take a closer look at some of the cooler things that took place over the weekend that didn’t quite fit into these daily reviews, why Tumbleweed is such an important event for this community, some of my own personal thoughts on the weekend, and who knows what else as we officially bring Tumbleweed 2018 to a close right here at the Country Music Armadillo!