decision to head west to what turned out to be one of the best Texas music festivals we have attended. Jimmy LaFave had:
- brought together an incredible group of very accomplished singer songwriters
- picked a fabulous resort as the venue that is sandwiched between Big Bend National Park and Big Bend State Park and along the Rio Grande River
- attracted a small mature fan base of dedicated music lovers
- scheduled the music on two stages and with a unique presentation showcasing each artist playing and picking with two to three others over the two days
Jimmy wanted this festival to be “a celebration of song and friendship” and it was truly that. The fans were a mature dedicated group of music lovers that had come from as far away as California, Chicago, Tennessee, and England because they are big fans of Jimmy or one of the other musicians. When the music started you could hear a pin drop – no talking, no cell phones. Everyone we met was friendly and outgoing and loved music. All of which made it even more fun and enjoyable.
And the “song” was unbelievable. The music kicked off on Friday from 2:30 to 4:30 on the Calvary Post Stage with Jimmy LaFave, Ray Bonneville, John Fullbright, Will Kimbrough, and Gretchen Peters. The Calvary Post Stage was a perfect setting to listen to some music – a small outdoor stage with the mountains and some colorful plants as a backdrop and the weather was sunny and 75. The intent of the afternoon music was to give the audience an opportunity to enjoy some great music, ask questions of each of the artists, and request some of your favorite songs. Jimmy started and was followed by each of the other songwriters taking turns until all too soon the time was up – what a fantastic start to two days of music and fun. It just doesn’t get much better!
The three hour break before the music started again gave everyone an opportunity to get a massage, hit some golf balls, take a hike or bike ride, enjoy an appetizer and drink in the Thirsty Goat Bar, or just relax and take a nap! Or you could go listen to very interesting individual interviews of Slaid Cleaves, Gretchen Peters, and Sam Baker. In the Lajitas Theater on Friday and Saturday, Art of the Song, which is a one-hour public radio program heard on over 200 stations across the country with shows that explore universal truths common to all creative expression, conducted the interviews which were taped to be aired at a later date.
At 7:30 sharp the music started on the Lajitas Resort’s Pavilion Ballroom Stage and Friday night’s schedule included three songwriters playing in the round at a time. It started with Malcolm Holcombe, Ray Bonneville, and Jimmy LaFave followed by Gretchen Peters, Sam Baker, and Kevin Welch, and the final set was Slaid Cleaves, Will Kimbrough, and John Fullbright. We hated to see the evening end and our group couldn’t pick a favorite set or musician – they were all outstanding! What a passionate and very talented group of singer songwriters.
Saturday’s music followed the same type of schedule with music starting on the Calvary Post Stage at 2:30 with Jimmy LaFave, Sam Baker, Slaid Cleaves, Malcolm Holcombe, and Kevin Welch.
The evening performances started with Kevin Welch, John Fulbright, and Gretchen Peters. Next was Will Kimbrough, Slaid Cleaves, and Ray Bonneville and all to soon was the final set for the weekend with Jimmy LaFave, Sam Baker, and Malcolm Holcombe with John Fulbright joining in on the piano. The set concluded with whoever was left joining them on stage for “May the Circle be Unbroken” – wow, what a perfect way to end two days of superb music.
Jimmy is to be congratulated on putting together such a fantastic event with some of the best singer songwriters around. I think the artists had as much fun and enjoyed it as much as we did – the camaraderie between all of them was unique. Jimmy also made it fun by having each set consist of three different musicians playing together, with created fun and interesting bantering, outstanding dynamics, and made it very enjoyable for everyone, including the musicians.
Here’s just a short note on each of the musicians and a link to their website:
Jimmy LaFave – wow, what a startling range with it’s own peculiar sense of gravity (which some label as dirtyâboots folkârock) and the most expressive voice around
Sam Baker – a raspy, almost spoken word vocal style and his literate, poignant, and carefully observed songs grapple with the beauties, complexities, and little tragedies of this world – Sam has a real gift for narrative songwriting by telling stories in which the American dream has gotten a little tarnished
Slaid Cleaves – a compelling and sharply observant roots songwriter with songs that reflect his deep appreciation for the ageless fundamentals of folk, country, and rock
Kevin Welch – his intelligent lyrics and passion are a blend of traditional country, rock and blues, with a dash of celtic thrown in for flavor; a master storyteller who incorporates well-crafted lyrics and magical melodies, and delivers them in that rough around the edges, yeah-I’ve-seen-it-all-but-I’m-still-a-believer voice
Malcolm Holcombe – a hard one for us to figure out – a rare find of old soul and a modern day blues poet that Rolling Stone Magazine labeled as “not quite country, somewhere beyond folk, Holcombe’s music is a kind of blues in motion, mapping backwoods corners of the heart”
Gretchen Peters – Grammy nominated, Nashville folk-country singer-songwriter and writer of CMA Song of the Year ‘Independence Day,’ her melodies and deliciously textured arrangements grab and hold your attention whose lovely voice projects warmth and sincerity; Gretchen’s husband Barry Walsh complimented her sets with his deep-toned voice and keyboard artistry
Will Kimbrough – we loved this very talented singer, award winning guitarist, songwriter, poet, producer, musician, collaborator, and free thinker
John Fullbright – a young up and coming very talented musician and songwriter who uses characters, stories, language, and melody to create something lasting and memorable when he sings and plays the piano he commands your attention and you could hear a pin drop in the ballroom
- Ray Bonneville – a weathered voice, percussive guitar playing, amplified footboard, and hook rich songs with a rootsy folk blues sound
Lajitas Golf Resort & Spa (read our review of Lajitas Resort to learn more) was the host to the Songwriters Rendezvous and what a perfect place to spend a weekend listening to some good music. Lajitas Resort is one of our favorite resorts because of it’s unique lodging, excellent amenities and lots of fun things to do plus it’s remote but outstanding setting on over 27,000 acres with majestic views of the desert, Rio Grande River, and mountains of all shapes, sizes, and colors. The Resort offers guests a variety of choices for overnight stays – the Badlands’ hotel has typical hotel rooms, the Officer’s Quarters has oversized upscale western motif rooms, Calvary Post Cottages are very unique and upscale, and the Boardwalk Suites are one and two bedroom well appointed suites with fireplaces. If you’ve got a tent or an RV, then just across the street from the Resort is Maverick RV Park which has full hook-ups, a pool, and full use of the resort amenities.
Speaking of amenities, you won’t get bored when you stay at Lajitas Resort and some of what you can enjoy during your stay includes:
- get a massage at the full service spa to work out the work day stress
- play a fantastic 18 hole championship golf course that we rated as the #1 Resort Course in Texas – read our review of Black Jack’s Crossing
- take ATV and Jeep tours – read about our ATV tour one morning before the music started
- go horseback riding or take riding lessons at a first class equestrian center
- rafting or canoeing on the Rio Grande River – read about our white water rafting trip on a previous visit to Lajitas
- enjoy some drinks at the Thirsty Goat which is a fun and lively bar and outdoor patio
- go hiking or biking on any of several trails from easy to steep and strenuous
- go hunting or take some target practice at the shooting range
All of that is going to make you hungry and you won’t be disappointed with the Candelilla Cafe which serves three hearty meals a day with contemporary new American cuisine infused with indigenous fruits, vegetables and herbs – the outdoor patio offers stunning views of the mountains in Big Bend as well as deep into Mexico and the sunsets are majestic. The bakery at Lajitas Resort has a wide variety of pastries from klatches to the best cinnamon rolls ever. The scenery was as stunning and breath taking as the music – a perfect blend of soulful music and majestic mountain and desert landscape.
If you attend next year, plan on spending a couple extra days so you can enjoy Big Bend National Park and all it has to offer, explore the Terlingua Ghost Town, and enjoy the local restaurants and bars. See this map of Lajitas and Terlingua to find some things to do.
Again, our thanks to Jimmy LaFave for putting together such a fantastic and unique music festival with some of the best singer songwriters around. A special thanks also goes out to Ashley Warren with Music Road Records who was the behind the scene coordinator of all of this and to Susan Stevens, the Lajitas Resort General Manger, who helped make this a memorable event which we hope, and Jimmy promised, will be an annual event. Don’t miss it next year – start saving your money and vacation time!