Anyone who has grown up in Northeast Oklahoma should be familiar with Tahlequah and the Illinois River. It is the destination of choice for float trips and weekend campouts. For some reason, however, it's never been a destination for music. Perhaps it's because the river and the natural beauty of the area keep people in more of a relaxation and recreation mode. Or perhaps it's because when we think of music, we're more prone to think of Stillwater and the Red Dirt movement.
Nevertheless, Tahlequah, with Northeastern State University (NSU) still has a college town feel and has produced some good music over the past few years -- most notably Turnpike Troubadours -- and has started to establish its own identity. Now, as the summer winds down, the area is finally getting its own festival as Jason Boland and Turnpike Troubadours team up to bring the first Medicine Stone at Diamond Head Resort this weekend.
Dubbed Medicine Stone as a nod to the location and its heritage, Jason Boland explained that "The Osage word for Illinois means 'Medicine Stone', so it made for the perfect name for this festival and where it's at."
More than just a music festival, though, this event is designed to let participants enjoy the area in full, complete with music, food, camping, canoeing, rafting and floating for a weekend that combines the best of both worlds -- and manages to bring some of Oklahoma's best musicians together all in one location.
The festival grounds actually open this Thursday evening, September 12 for a "welcome party" that includes music by Randy Crouch & his Flying Horse Band and Thomas Trapp. Although a little more relaxed and laid back than the rest of the weekend, Thursday should set the tone for the event and kick things off with some excellent tunes that lay the groundwork for everything else to come.
Friday, September 13 brings a lineup with a heavy Stillwater influence as Red Dirt Rangers, Cody Canada & The Departed, Stoney Larue and Jason Boland & the Stragglers all join forces for a lineup of music that should extend well into the night. This is a night that Departed fans won't want to miss as it was just announced that Seth James will be stepping down from the band this winter to pursue other opportunities, so this will be one of the last Oklahoma shows currently of the books for this lineup before Seth plays his last show with the band on November 23 at Gruene Hall.
Saturday, September 14 has a roster that's just as impressive, but it draws from different parts of Oklahoma (and even beyond). Turnpike Troubadours represent Tahlequah, while John Moreland steps up for Tulsa, John Fullbright represents Okemah, and Jason Eady gives Texas songwriters a beacon over the weekend. The night's lineup has an added bonus as Todd Snider will be a part of the festivities and undoubtedly add another color to the palette of songwriting over the weekend.
With the inaugural event approaching, I was able to catch up with both Jason Boland and RC Edwards of Turnpike Troubadours to get more information from the artists that have spawned this new festival.
When discussing the festival and how it came together, Boland shared that it's an idea that he has kicked around for years, but when he got word that the guys from Turnpike Troubadours wanted to do something as well, the pieces all fell into place when they got together to discuss it.
"This is one of the first of its kind in this area," Boland said. "Yeah, there have been some in Texas, but we really haven't had our own in Oklahoma. We wanted to do something to put a flag in the ground for Oklahoma music and this generation of artists.
"It took us forever and a day to get this together," he continued. "We went through so many ideas, from a bass fishing tournament, to whatever... When this one came along, it just worked out right. We've got the folks to do it and a foundation to work with.
And where it's at is perfect for guys like us.
"Anyone who was in high school or college and went on a float trip went to the Illinois River. That's where I went too, so it's just about perfect. Plus, it's beautiful out there, especially at this time of year. Not enough people know how beautiful it is, and although the season is winding down, there's still a lot of special stuff you can do."
When discussing the event with RC Edwards, he shared that "We've all lived in Tahlequah so long, it's just home to us. We've always played these festivals in Texas, but we always wanted to do one with Oklahoma bands. We started kicking the idea around and we share management with Jason, so when we mentioned it, they let us know Boland wants to do something too, so we called him and it all started coming together."
And Edwards likes the location.
"Diamond Head has a really good setup, and it's the perfect time of year for this," he said. "It should be really good weather, and float season is dying down. We looked at a few different places, but it's beautiful out there, and the timing just worked out."
When asked about the lineup and how it came together, Boland said that "I've always said that there are too many festivals with too many stages, so we tried to keep it as concise as we could with as many friends as we could. Next year, hopefully we can have a few more.
"The big thing about the lineup was just not over-thinking it," he continued. "I knew I wanted Cody and the Rangers, and the guys from the Troubadours had theirs, so we just went down the list to see who could play. I could have named several more, but we wanted it to be relaxed and fun for all of us this year."
As Edwards explained, "The majority of it was about calling our friends. Most of the bands involved are people we wanted to play with again.
"Cody Canada told me a year ago that he'd love to play Tahlequah again, so we knew when it came together that he'd be in. It's really just a bunch of bands that are all in the same music circle and we're all friends, so it made it easy to put together."
Edwards is as excited as anyone, going so far as to say that he didn't want to miss a single act.
"Thursday night is Thomas Trapp and Randy Crouch -- there's no better representation of Tahlequah than that. I'm just looking forward to seeing everybody," he said. "On Saturday, we've got John Moreland and Jason Eady and John Fullbright, who is a friend of ours and used to play with Turnpike, back in the Bossier City days."
Of course, Oklahoma musicians (and particularly those within the Red Dirt scene) are already known for sharing the stage and coming together for some great jam sessions, but this promises to be a weekend full of them. Just take one look at Friday night's roster: Jason Boland, Stoney Larue, Cody Canada & the Departed, and Red Dirt Rangers, then tell me they won't all end up on stage together at some point. That's the magic of the Oklahoma a Red Dirt music scenes and exactly what Boland and the Troubadours are trying to embody and capture with Medicine Stone. And with a location as beautiful as Diamond Head Resort in Tahlequah, they've found a location that will help make everyone want to return again in the future.
Medicine Stone kicks off this Thursday night with Thomas Trapp and Randy Crouch and continues throughout the weekend. Single day and weekend tickets, as well as parking passes and primitive camping packages are still available online, although motel and party house packages sold out in advance. You can find all details, including directions, and purchase your tickets in advance at medicinestoneok.com. Make sure not to miss the inaugural festival, because once you've been there, you'll be ready to return next year for the sophomore outing.
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