Red River Music Festival – Annual Hot Chili Days & Cool Mountain Nights
As I get older, among other quirks and bad habits, I become a lot less tolerant of the hot 105 degree Texas days in August. This August was no exception and I decided we needed to escape the heat for at least a few weeks and I started looking for cool places to go. As I was doing some research I kept hearing “LJT, LJT, LJT” pounding around in my pea brain. LJT (Larry Joe Taylor) happens to be one of our favorite Texas singer songwriters and I thought that the brain was referring to his Rhymes & Vines Music Festival on September 17th to 21st in Stephenville which we planned on attending. Suddenly it dawned on me that Larry Joe has a festival in the New Mexico mountains, so I checked the Larry Joe Taylor website and found out that Hot Chili Days & Cool Summer Nights was August 15th to17th in Red River, New Mexico – which was in 5 days!
We immediately started packing and loading the motorhome with beer, food, and clothes – the next day we put the bikes on the Jeep, attached it to the motorhome, and hit the road. We planned to spend a night in Wichita Falls, two nights golfing and exploring Amarillo, 5 days in Red River, 3 days in Angel Fire, and a couple days to get back home where we were hoping the weather had cooled to the low 90s – wishful thinking!
Wow, we had a blast on this New Mexico Summer Vacation where some of the highlights included:
- three days listening to some outstanding musicians playing at four unique venues in Red River
- white water rafting down a stretch of the Rio Grande River
- driving a 4 wheel drive Kawasaki mule up and down some very scenic mountain roads
- zipping down a 1600′ zip line at 45 miles an hour 270′ above the forest floor
- 18 holes of golf and an ATV tour in Angel Fire
- 36 holes of golf in Amarillo
- eating and drinking way too much but it sure was enjoyable at the time!
When we finally escaped Texas (we took 4 days – Texas is just too darn big!), we fell in love with Red River – it’s small, cool (low 80’s during the day and 40’s at night!), beautiful, quaint, laid back, and has lots to do. The week we were there Red River was filled with Larry Joe Taylor music fans and just about everywhere we went in town, which is very small, we ran into someone we knew from previous Larry Joe Taylor or other Texas music festivals. To learn more about why we loved this old mining town, read our Red River Vacation Article. After a couple days exploring Red River, rafting, and riding a mule up the mountain trails, we were ready for some music.
Lost Love Saloon
The music started on Thursday at 5 with “Welcome to Red River Happy Hour” at The Lost Love Saloon with Mike Addington. The Lost Love Saloon, which is attached to Texas Reds Steakhouse, is a cool old western style bar with a very friendly and outgoing bartender who I decided to forgetfully leave my credit card with a couple times and was happily greeted with “here’s your card Mike” the next day. There is also a small outdoor balcony overlooking main street, which is of course where we first spotted Larry Joe with a beer in his hand.
Mike Addington is a veteran of California honky-tonks and hangouts and now a permanent resident of Red River and he’s best described as a soulful Americana, country folk with a honkey-tonk edge singer, a songwriter, and a good guitarist. He has a seemingly endless repertoire of classics and standards from American popular music, as well as his own songs, and he’s outstanding – we don’t often buy CDs but had to have one of his. Mike played every afternoon at the Lost Love Saloon (and we were there for every set) and he was joined by a very good local guitarist Paul Gatton, Jodi Maphais, Keith Sykes, Bob Livingston, and several others for a song or two.
The Lost Love Saloon was also the place to be on Friday morning when Bob Livingston (named Austin’s International Music Ambassador by the Austin City Council) hosted “Bloody Mary Morning” – what an excellent way to start the day with great music and spicy Bloody Marys, it just doesn’t get much better!
Bob is fantastic and played and sang everything from his own songs plus some by Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and Jerry Jeff Walker. For a few songs, Bob was joined by Susan Herndon – wow, what a beautiful voice. And Michael Hearne came up and sang a couple of his favorites.
Lost Love Saloon was the place to be before the music started at the Motherlode Saloon and Mike and friends were always playing to a full house. When the music ended at Lost Love Saloon, we’d walk down a few steps, turn left and walk a few yards to the Motherload Saloon.
Motherlode Saloon Music Venue
The Motherlode Saloon is next door to Texas Reds Steakhouse and the Lost Love Saloon and it’s an old time dance hall with a 500 square foot wooden dance floor complete with sand, a band stage, a long cool bar, and on the other side another bar area which during the festival was set up for Larry Joe Taylor’s VIPs. Between the Motherlode Saloon and Main Street Larry Joe had set up a huge tent at street level where the music started around 8:45 on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Each night featured some excellent music:
Thursday Night Music at The Motherload Saloon
Thursday the music started with a song swap with:
- Davin James – a deep, rich voice; virtuoso guitar chops; and a roving muse that runs the gamut from traditional country to rock to jazz inflections to distinct echoes of Cajun and Gulf Coast blues coupled with dynamic energy – it’s impossible for him to hold any part of his body still when he plays
- Richard Leigh – Richard has had 14 trips to the Top Ten and eight #1 singles plus he’s a 3 time Grammy Award Nominee and a Grammy Award Winner, a 2 time CMA Award Nominee and CMA Award Winner, and one of only ten to receive ASCAP’s “Song of the Century” Award – he’s that good!
- Keith Sykes – having written songs that have sold over 25 million copies, Keith has songs that are clever and varied that will make you laugh, shed a tear, or get up and dance
- Larry Joe Taylor – LJT never has just one genre and it’s hard to beat his style of rock and roll, country, reggae, blues, and do-wop but his songs about the coast, sailing, and island hopping are some of the best from our perspective
The song swap was probably my highlight of the entire festival – great songs, respectful small group of loyal music fans, and hilarious side splitting joking as Larry Joe and his friends laughed and bantered back and forth. And each of them seemed to enjoy it as much as we did.
Michael Hearne & SxSW – following the song swap, the chairs were cleared and Michael Hearne and SxSW filled the dance floor and the tent with some great music – it’s hard to beat his virtuosic guitar picking, soulful lyrics, and whiskey-velvet voice.
Friday Night at the Motherlode Saloon
After a full day of music starting with “Bloody Mary Morning,” then a trip up the chairlift for “The Tip” Mountain Top Concert followed by the “Cook’s Party at Brandenburg Park and Mike Addington in the Lost Love Saloon, Larry Joe and his band took the stage for an hour or more and entertained us with all of his great songs.
Larry Joe was followed by Brandon Rhyder who has a unique unmistakably voice, songs based on inspiration he receives, and a tight, eclectic, and energetic band. Brandon’s sets are always entertaining – what a fantastic way to end a full day of music. I’m ready for bed but we had to find our bikes and carefully negotiate our way down Main Street back to the camper – lucky for us the street was empty except for a few other stragglers heading back to their lodging.
Saturday Night at the Motherlode Saloon
Saturday night Larry Joe Taylor and his band kicked off the final night of music (a sad thought) at the Motherlode. Another good set by Larry Joe and the band which was joined on stage by Dave Perez of the Tejas Brothers and his dancing accordion for a couple great songs plus Bob Livingston sitting in on guitar and vocals. Love it when Larry Joe does his tribute to good ‘ole Rusty Weir – Don’t it make you want to dance is one of the best! God Bless Rusty Weir.
Larry Joe was followed by Turnpike Troubadours with loyal fans who packed the front of the stage. It’s not surprising they have so many fans with there full-throttle roadhouse country, rowdy and quick witted sound that’s sung with authenticity and fire.
The Tip Mountain Top Venue
Friday we were up early for breakfast and a short walk in the cool mountain air for Bob Livingston’s “Bloody Mary Morning” at the Lost Love Saloon. Following a couple excellent Bloody Marys and a fun set from Bob, we walked a few blocks to the Platinum quad chairlift at Red River Ski Area for a ride from 8750′ to the top of the summit at 10,370′.
What a breathtaking ride up the chairlift with crisp cool mountain air and panoramic views of the Carson National Forest, the town of Red River, the native vegetation and grasses, and the surrounding mountain peaks.
At the top of the summit is The Tip Restaurant serving some food (burgers, dogs, sandwiches, etc.), cold beer, and stunning scenery. And when the music started with Michael Hearne followed by Richard Leigh on the deck I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Wow!
The music was excellent, the views were jaw dropping, and the weather was absolutely perfect. But it was time to head down the chairlift for music in Brandenburg Park.
Red River’s Brandenburg Park
Brandenburg Park is a large city park in the center of town and at the base of the Red River Ski area just a couple blocks from the chairlift. The park has a playground, green grass, and great views of the mountains in all directions. Larry Joe’s team had set up a huge stage, a large tent several yards back from the front of the stage, a bar area serving cold beer, wine, and soft drinks. In back of the bar and next to the stage was the VIP area. Fans are allowed to bring in lawn chairs or blankets but no coolers or drinks – New Mexico has some strange liquor laws! Set up in back of the tent and filling about half of the park were the cooks and their fancy grills preparing food for the cook-off with hopes of winning an award on Saturday – the whole town of Red River was filled with the sweet smell of chicken, chili, ribs, wings, sausage, pork, brisket, and more. Seems like my stomach was growling most of the festival!
Friday’s Music at Brandenburg Park
Around 4 the music started with Two Dollar Horse and concluded with Clay McClinton. Two Dollar Horse is a local band that plays at the Motherlode Saloon on weekends and they were joined by Mike Addington. Clay McClinton is the son of Delbert McClinton and some of Delbert’s influences have worn off on Clay but he is a talented singer songwriter with his own unique style that has been called honky-tonk, Americana, and Texas roots.
Saturday’s Music at Brackenburg Park
On Saturday, the town of River River was filled with some outstanding music, crisp cool air, and more of the aroma of lots of delicious stuff cooking on a variety of very fancy grills. The park started to fill with music fans, BBQ chefs and crew, lawn chairs, and blankets around 9:30 when a full day of music kicked off.
First up was the “New Mexico Music Showcase” which features some of New Mexico’s musical talent and included Mike Addington and hONEyhoUSe. Mike was great as usual and hONEyhoUSe (strange spelling but a dynamic trio) is a unique acoustic trio combining the talents of three very diverse and seasoned artists (consisting of award winning R&B/Gospel soulstress Hillary Smith, earthy Blues/Folk singer-songwriter Yvonne Perea, and sweet voiced Mandy Buchanan) blended into one unexpected powerhouse force that seamlessly melds the lines of musical genres with their original creations embracing blues, soul, folk and Americana. They were followed by:
- Terri Hendrix & Lloyd Maines – Terri is an award-winning Texas songwriter who spins sorrow into joy and brings wisdom from the blues with a poetic grace and uplifting melodic flair and Lloyd Maines is an American Grammy Award-winning country music record producer, musician and songwriter.
- Davin James – an unconventional traditional country music artist that is one of the most dynamic guitar players around with powerhouse vocals that belt out country to blues
- Chuck Pyle – a nimble guitarist with music that’s part cowboy and part new age, infectiously humble and nakedly beautiful and coupled with flowing and complex guitar work
- Tejas Brothers – the Texas Brothers, with Dancing Dave & his accordion, are always a crowd pleaser with music that will put a wiggle in your walk and a smile on your face with a little bit of everything from country to polka to Mexican to Louis Armstrong
- Larry Joe Taylor & His Band – Larry Joe and his band are always great and for this set they were joined by Bob Livingston and then Chuck Pyle, Davin James, and Dave Perez of the Tejas Brothers came on stage for a song or two – fun and entertaining set
- Ray Wylie Hubbard – Ray Wylie was joined by his son on guitar and he is always entertaining with his wit and humor, dark literacy, stories, and interesting lyrics in songs like Snake Farm and Screw You, We’re From Texas
In addition to all that excellent music, on Saturday we got to sample a lot of that good stuff we had been smelling over the last day or so. Hot Chili Days & Cool Summer Nights was home to the Chili Appreciation Society International “Red River Red” Cook-off, the New Mexico Green Chili State Championship, and the Lone Star BBQ Society. It was fun wandering through the park and checking out, and more importantly sampling, some of the food, chatting with the cooks, and admiring the state-of-the-art BBQ grills. I stuffed myself on some delicious food (wings, sausage, ribs, chili, and more) and then got roped into being a judge for the BBQ chicken cook off where I had to sample 15 different BBQ chickens. I waddled back to my chair and if the music hadn’t been so good I’m sure I would have fallen asleep!
The Hot Chili Days & Cool Summer Nights Music Fans
Part of what makes Hot Chili Days & Cool Summer Nights a fun music festival are the fans who attend this event. It’s a small mature crowd that is here for good music and good times. By mature I mean they are respectful of the musicians and when the music starts the chit chatting stops. They seem a little more affluent and a little older than other festivals fans – which makes us old folks feel comfortable when not everyone calls me “sir,” steps a couple paces back to let me hobble through, or offers me a cut in line. These Hot Chili Days & Cool Summer Nights fans ask “how’s the knee holding up,” “your back ok,” ” did you get a nap in,” “how did you sleep last night,” and other questions that us old folks ask each other – the sad thing is that most of us can’t hear the answer! For more pictures of the fans, venue, and cook-off, click on this link.
Hot Chili Days & Cool Summer Nights is kid and dog friendly for the music in the Park and on the mountain top – Lost Love Saloon and Motherload Saloon are not kid friendly. If you can afford it, VIP tickets are the way to go. At the Motherload, there is reserved seating for VIPs plus a separate bar as well as a room that had lots of good munchies including wings, enchiladas, desserts, cheese and crackers, meatballs, and more. Larry Joe and team had also set up a separate VIP area on the right side of the stage at the Park with private bar, tables and chairs, and a hot lunch. New Mexico liquor laws prohibited free drinks but there were no lines in either of the VIP bars. And most of the musicians hung around in the VIP area and they were all outgoing and friendly.
Red River Lodging
Red River is full of a wide variety of lodging ranging from campsites to yurts to hotel type rooms to quaint cabins on the river to multi-bedroom mountain homes. You should be able to find something that will accommodate your budget and group size. A couple RV parks are on the outskirts of town but don’t expect a luxury RV resort and a little farther from town are 6 National Forest campgrounds with water and electric only, but they’re very scenic with spacious tree covered sites. Make your reservations in Red River very early because summer vacations, the chili cook off, and Hot Chili Days & Cool Summer Nights typically take all of the available lodging.
Bottom line – Hot Chili Days & Cool Summer Nights is now one of our favorites and here are our Top Ten (or 11) Reasons Why We Loved The 17th Annual Hot Chili Days & Cool Summer Nights and why you should consider attending in 2014:
- all of the artists were outstanding and we hated to see their sets end
- there are lots of things for kids and adults to do from Jeep, Mule or horseback tours to go carts or ATVs and fishing to mountain biking to rafting the Rio Grande River
- the crowd is small and respectful of the musicians and you’re likely get to reacquaint with someone you met at one of Larry Joe’s other festivals and it’s virtually impossible to not meet some new folks, share a joke or two, and maybe make a new best friend
- the venue’s are unique and a part of what makes this festival so enjoyable
- it’s hard to beat all that Red River has to offer – what a fun, quaint, small town filled with Texans and friendly locals
- low 80’s during the day and 40’s at night is much better than the 105 degrees in Texas in August
- the scenery is breathtaking in all directions
- you can park the car and walk to all the music venues, lots of stuff to do, shopping, and restaurants
- you’ll get to sample some excellent BBQ ranging from chili to wings to pork ribs or sausage
- you can get up close to the stage, mingle with the artists, and dance you shoes off
- at Brackenburg Park there are indoor restrooms that are never crowded, clean, and air conditioned – no smelly, hot, cramped port a-potties
I know that’s 11 but I thought it was important to mention the clean bathrooms.
A special thanks go out to Larry Joe, his wife Sherry, son Zack (who is also Larry Joe’s drummer), and Zack’s wife Martha for making this such a fun event for all of us. We know you put hours and hours and hours into making Hot Chili Days & Cool Summer Nights a very special event.
And thanks to all the staff and crew who make this event fun – from the bartenders to the security crew.
See you next year.