- Andrew Quinn
BOWENFEST 2019 | 6.02.2019
Bowenfest | Waco, TX
Story & Photos by: Andrew Quinn
If there's one thing to take away from Bowen MusicFest this past weekend, it's that Wade Bowen is a Waco, Texas treasure. I arrived to “Touchdown Alley” at McLane Stadium on the Baylor campus right before the doors were opened to the public and a mass of people were already lined up anticipating the amazing day of friends, family, and music that was ahead of them. This annual event is one of the most anticipated festivals of the season and it's all for an amazing cause. The Bowen Family Foundation believes that "Music Heals," and they are "dedicated to the mission of helping to heal the children and families in and around Waco. Together, we can help them get the love, support, resources, and opportunities they need to create better lives for themselves."
Everyone knows that events like this and foundations like the Bowen Family Foundation are very important to their communities. I caught up with the director of the Texas Music Office, Brendon Anthony, and spoke with him about the importance of these events, "It's vital that Texas Music Artists give back the way Wade and his foundation are doing and holding live music events to do that is an essential tool that we have. When we have natural disasters, when we have things that need to be addressed one of the most organic things we can deploy is music and the artists that have the fan bases like Wade and his friends do. So, these things are essential and vital, without live music events like this, the Texas Music economy as a whole wouldn't function the same way, it's, again, essential, that these things go on and stay healthy, and folks like Wade and his foundation stay involved. We cannot move this scene forward, we can't address concerns that we have foundationally, without good people who do this kind of work."
Throughout the afternoon, all of the artists who took the stage showed the attendees what it meant to have a good time. Acoustic sets from Joshua Ray Walker and Shea Abshire, Juliet McConkey and Chris Colston, Drew Kennedy and Josh Grider, and Courtney Patton and Ben Danaher fed us with the amazing songwriting that we've come to love from this genre. There were also full-band sets from multiple bands throughout the day. Josh Weathers took us to church on Sunday with his gospel-infused talent, Shane Smith and the Saints showcased their amazing harmonies and new music that everyone can't wait for, and Tracy Byrd took us all back to the '90s and early 2000s with hits like Watermelon Crawl, Keeper of the Stars, and Ten Rounds with Jose Cuervo. Whiskey Myers took the crowd by storm with their southern rock sound that akin to a punch in the mouth! The last full band performance was from Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, Cheap Trick. They took the crowd for a wild ride, inviting other artists such as Cody Canada and Jamey Johnson on stage to play their hits.
I asked Cody Canada what keeps bringing him back to this festival every year. " I really want it to be successful for Wade and without me, he can't do it. No, I'm just joking. I think, you know, it has a lot to do with being his brother-in-law but he's just such a giver, you know? And it feels good to give. It's really awesome to be a part of something that raises so much money."
Normally at events like this, artists donate their time and come play but with Bowen MusicFest, something unique happens. Wade pays every artist and they donate their checks back to the cause. "I'm here because of Wade Bowen, simple as that." William Clark Green says. "Wade is such a great guy, he loaned me ten thousand dollars back when I was doing Rose Queen, and you never forget generosity like that. There are two people in my life that I would do anything for, Wade Bowen and Justin Frazell. Whatever Wade Bowen and Justin Frazell ask me to do I do it, no questions asked, because I know it is going to be a great opportunity to help people who really need it." Next, I asked Will what it takes to put on a charity event like this. As most know, Will and his team put on a festival in Lubbock every year called Cotton Fest, to raise money for local cotton farming families in Lubbock. (For more about Cotton Fest and Will's foundation, The High Cotton Relief Fund, click here). "I think, the most important thing I've learned is that Wade has hospitality in mind. He really wants to make sure that everyone has a good time, he's not trying to screw anyone over on ticket prices, he just wants to bring as many people as he can together for a great cause and that's the most important thing.
Oddly enough, people wait all day and anticipate the end of this festival. At the end of the night, Wade has the Bowen and Friends Jam. This year, the jam featured Bruce Bowen, Brent Cobb, Sundance Head, Jamie Lin Wilson, William Clark Green, Cody Canada, Stoney LaRue, Jamey Johnson, Courtney Patton, Paul Thorn, Jerrod Niemann, Randy Rogers, Kevin Fowler, and an all-star singalong of Midnight Rider at the end of the set. Thinking back on the night, there are some moments from the jam that will forever stay in the minds of all those in attendace. I witnessed thousands of people sing as loud as they could to Jamey Johnson's "In Color," Paul Thorn and Wade sing "Mood Ring"(penned by Paul and made famous by Wade), Nashville master songwriter, Brent Cobb, welcomed with open arms to “Touchdown Alley” as he sang about how there "Ain't A Road Too Long" to get to Bowen Musicfest, and Cody Canada bringing his sons, Dierks and Willy, on stage for a rendition of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Soul to Squeeze" as well as his own song "Dimebag."
This festival really touched me. I went in expecting everyone to be scrambling in and out on buses, getting to their next gig, as is normal for festivals, but I was greeted by the opposite. These musicians who lead some of the busiest lives in the world were all slowing it down for a day to come together for a great cause. There were nothing but smiles on faces and obvious full hearts. Wade has something special in Waco and I am proud to have borne witness to it.