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Festival fever

Multi-musician events make NB a destination for lovers of Americana

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The Zac Wilkerson Trio performs during the Gruene Wine and Music Festival on Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019.

The New Braunfels music scene is one of the strongest in Texas. Few cities can match the number of musicians living in our area or the famous venues we have for them to perform in. This month, in part 10 of a 12-part history about our local music scene, I will concentrate on the music festivals that play a big part in our history. The two local festivals that are centered around Americana music are the Americana Jam in May and the Gruene Music & Wine Fest that takes place in October, with Gruene Hall hosting both events.

The Gruene Music & Wine Fest is the oldest, getting its start as a one-day festival in 1986 as a celebration of Texas and Americana music. Comal County United Way was selected as the beneficiary of the money raised at the festival. The event was an instant success and soon expanded to a four-day festival with craft beer being added a few years ago. It has become one of the biggest annual fundraisers for our local United Way. The abundance of local talent was a huge factor in making this event so successful. In the early years, there were enough local musicians to fill the entire line-up. As the years went by, the festival grew to four days and included a celebrity guitar auction, an acoustic performance with a catered meal plus outdoor stages that featured live music and wine tasting. Due to the current pandemic, this year’s festival will be a virtual one. You can find all the information at their website, GrueneMusicandWineFest.org.

On June 8, 1997, local Americana radio station KNBT joined forces with Gruene Hall to host their first KNBT Birthday Bash. It was a huge success and was a way for the station to thank their many loyal fans. The following year, they moved the event to a Sunday in May, rebranded it the Americana Music Jam and started donating money to local charities. It features live music on two stages starting at noon and going strong for the next 12 hours. 

In its 24-year history, hundreds of artists have graced the stage, including Bret Graham, Pat Green, Randy Rogers, Wade Bowen, Cody Canada, Robert Earl Keen, Marty Stuart, Hal Ketchum, Cory Morrow, Reckless Kelly and Hayes Carll, just to name a few. Unfortunately, the pandemic forced the Jam to be canceled this year, but in 2021 they will be celebrating 25 years so you can bet it will be a major celebration.

There are two major music festivals that are not held in Texas, but our city has a big impact on their success. The first, and oldest, is Steamboat Music Fest, which of course, started in Steamboat, Colorado. John Dickson had the idea to combine ski trips with live music and started the event in 1985 with a few college buddies and one band. He attended college in San Marcos at Texas State and even bartended for awhile at Gruene Hall. He knew how much college kids loved to party and listen to Americana music. Combining the two proved highly successful, which prompted him to form Dickson Productions. Held in early January each year, the lineup is very similar to the two New Braunfels festivals. The pandemic forced the 2021 festival to cancel, but the January 2022 promises to be one of the best ever. At the opposite end of America there’s the Mile 0 Festival, held each year in Key West, Florida. It’s the newest festival, with 2018 being the year they officially started. The organizers deliberately keep the attendance small so that it isn’t too crowded, mainly because Key West is only about two miles wide and four miles long. The lineup consists of all your favorite Americana and Red Dirt musicians. Normally the Mile 0 Fest is held in late January but this year they are moving it to April in an effort to not cancel it.

All four of these music festivals play a huge part in the vibrant New Braunfels music scene. The Americana Jam, Gruene Music & Wine Fest and Steamboat Music Fest were started before our local music scene became so well known. Once the festivals got established, they attracted musicians from all over Texas and Oklahoma. The Steamboat Music Fest really hit its stride after John Dickson started booking local Americana and Red Dirt artists. The Mile 0 Fest simply gave these same acts somewhere tropical to go during the winter months. Over the past few years, other events have started up, like Frio Fest in Concan, Viva Big Bend Fest in Marfa and Alpine and Float Fest in San Marcos. The one thing they all have in common is the music. As the world knows, many musicians that play all these festivals live within a 45-mile radius of New Braunfels. Just one more reason our city is known as one of the best music cities in America.

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