I would like to begin by saying I usually attend festivals completely alone. It’s not always the case but heading out to New Braunfels for the River Revival Festival I felt especially alone. Usually, even if I end up attending something by myself, I find random friends among the crowds but I knew it was only me for this one. Essentially, I knew two things about River Revival before attending, It was being put on by Splice Records who has a reputation for great music here in Texas and JD McPherson would be performing. Those reasons seemed enough for me to reach out and take a journey into the unknown.
I arrived with gear in hand but lost and out of place. I was told to locate a woman named Sarah near the merch tent. Sarah was immediately welcoming and I would later learn that she is not only one of the founding members of River Revival but one of the driving forces behind what makes this festival run smoothly. As the days passed I often wondered if she gets the chance to enjoy the festival because she always seems so hard at work. Then again, perhaps she is one of those individuals who finds happiness in making others happy. She handed me a bracelet and found me a place to set up my tent and my adventure was about to begin.
K & L Ranch Camp, located alongside the beautiful Guadalupe River in New Braunfels is one of the most picturesque places you could possibly hold a music festival. The main was located right alongside, as were a variety of vendors and a portable trailer kitchen which was run by the great folks at Little Kitchen HTX. Further down river road was the Corner Pub Stage and Zen City. The smaller of the two stages of this festival, The Corner pub stage was basically home to smaller acts during the day and where each night’s music would officially end. Although in retrospect it felt like the music never truly ended.
The first thing that stood out to me as the other campers began setting up their tents was how absolutely friendly everyone was. I don’t just mean a wave or smile friendly, but the type of people who could recognize that I was new and alone and invited me to hang out with them. It was quite honestly the most hospitality I have ever felt at any music festival. I had people walk up to me and say “Hey! You are new here!” and they instantly made me feel like I was becoming part of their extended family. The thing about River Revival is that it’s not a large festival and one might even say it’s kind of exclusive. This “Micro” festival is meant to be small so that it can have an intimate vibe, rather than making you feel overwhelmed by thousands of people and stages where you can barely see the artists. In the words of almost everyone I spoke to about it, any bigger and it just wouldn’t be as great.
One of the coolest things that stood out to me about River Revival was that all food and drinks were essentially part of the overall ticket price. Two delicious meals were provided daily and if you got thirsty Lonestar Beer and a variety of other drink vendors were always close by to quench your thirst. The food lines were actually where I would end up meeting most of my new friends. It was a great place to recap the previous day’s events and hype each other up for each new day’s activities.
The first act to take hit the Lonestar Beer main stage was a great Reggae band from Galveston called Dem. They provided the perfect intro for the weekend of music ahead. Next up was a man who absolutely blew my mind! His name was Aaron Stephens and he reminded me a whole lot of Gary Clark Jr. He often performs shows throughout Texas so if you see his name, make sure to check him out. The shock of the evening came in the form of Golden Dawn Arkestra. I wouldn’t so much call them a band but rather an experience. They were funky and probably one of my favorite bands of the entire weekend. They definitely have a P-Funk type vibe going on and they were absolutely insane to watch. Once they wrapped things up the crowd headed over to the Corner Pub stage for a late-night performance by The Iceman Special. They definitely rocked! Once they officially played their final song I knew I had to get to sleep because it was going to be a long weekend.
Friday morning began with Yoga followed by coffee and a delicious breakfast. It felt good to stretch out the soreness from the previous night. This would be the morning routine for the next couple of days although by Saturday and Sunday morning I would no longer be awake in time for Yoga. I followed up breakfast by taking a swim in the river while I listened to the music being spun by John Mills-McCoin, who would be the primary MC for the festival. I am not sure if he picks his playlists but it seemed like he had the perfect soundtrack for the weekend.
The river was cool and relaxing and by the time I was done swimming the latest wave of campers was filling in the grounds which provided for a lot of new people to talk to. I made a couple of rounds and helped set up a few tents and then headed down to the Corner Pub Stage to hear Jay Bee Zay and Leigh Sinclair perform some excellent sets. This is where I had the pleasure of meeting Barrett Lankford, who plays guitar for Folk Family Revival. He was one of the most down to earth and interesting people I would meet all weekend. His band would be playing later in the evening but I would see him almost everywhere all weekend. If he wasn’t serving up drinks at the Corner Pub stage he was handing out daises on the last day of the festival. We chatted about music for a while and I couldn’t help but remark at how truly friendly and welcoming everyone was, even the musicians!
After a delicious taco dinner, Madeline Edwards would begin the music for the evening. She would stand out to me for two reasons. One, her music was amazing! She has a smooth, soulful voice and her set was exciting and fun to watch. The second reason was that she was the ONLY person who had a pet at the festival. Don’t worry Madeline, I won’t say anything about the adorable bunny. 😉
Pinata Protest was quite honestly unlike any other band that performed over the weekend. They were basically like the Dropkick Murphys but instead of Irish themes they mixed in elements of Mexican culture and produced some high energy punk rock. I mean, these guys were flying all over the stage and it was an unexpected shift of gears from the previous bands that had performed. It took about three songs of their set for me to soak my shirt with sweat from dancing to the music of this truly talented San Antonio based band.
Following Pinata was Folk Family Revival, who began things with “Hecla Hill”, an awesome new song off of their latest album Electric Darlin’. They are part of the Splice Records Family and performed one of the best sets I have seen in a while. If you don’t know who these guys are making sure you check them out. It was almost hard to believe that there was so much more music left to be heard. After a ridiculously fun set by New Orleans based funk group Shiny Ribs, a parade of people headed down to Zen City and the Corner Pub stage to the tune of “Iko Iko“.
I didn’t want to even see Pearl Earl if I am being completely honest. I had never heard their music before but I was basically asleep on my feet as they were setting up to start their set. I wasn’t sure I was going to find the energy to make it until they hit that opening note of the first song. Instantly, every atom inside of me came to life. They were one of those bands that takes your mind on a journey while you listen. Psychedelic Rock is probably the best way to describe them but they were so much more. I honestly didn’t want their set to end and found myself so amped up after, that I could hardly fall asleep. I would however….eventually.
Saturday would be the day I would meet one of the primary festival founders, Shaun Brennan. He would be floating in the river when we first had the chance to finally chat. He knew my name before I had even met him. Shaun has the type of personality where he could get along with almost anyone. I am pretty sure there wasn’t a person at this festival that didn’t either shake his hand or get a personal “Thank You” for attending. He could be found dancing and laughing everywhere throughout the event and it’s not yet certain if he even got the chance to sleep at all. During the presentation of the camp awards ceremony later in the evening, he could hardly hold back his emotions when thanking everyone for their hard work and efforts to make River Revival happen. He is truly a stand-up guy who has excellent taste in music.
Saturday night was pretty much the most perfect night of music I could have ever experienced. Not only did I get to see JD McPherson for the first time ever, but I had the chance to chat with the bands Bass Player Jimmy Sutton for almost an hour and a half, something that I will absolutely never forget. He and I talked about everything from music to existentialism, we even gave each other song suggestions to check out when we had better reception. I am pretty certain he is now one of my all-time favorite musicians. I think that is one of the best parts of River Revival. It’s not just that you can see some of the coolest bands around but you can also interact with them on a comfortable level. I have been to plenty of festivals and had the chance to interview many bands, but I never thought I would float down a river on a relaxing Saturday afternoon with any of them. I don’t often have the chance to watch a great band perform while standing right next to another great band.
River Revival Music Festival is hands down the best overall music festival I have ever attended. Not only was the atmosphere second to none, every single band was excellent. You often don’t find many festivals where you don’t have to sit through a bunch of boring acts before you get to the good ones. This festival truly has everything you could ask for. One especially nice festival goer named Shannon summed it up perfectly when she said: “River Revival isn’t just about music, it’s a festival of love”. I can’t think of a single thing I didn’t like about it, I even enjoyed the lines for food. It was family-friendly and the kids in attendance had just as much fun as the adults did. There were no bad attitudes or fights, at least none that I saw. I honestly feel like this was less of a music festival and more of a family gathering. I can’t thank Shaun, Sarah and the rest of the River Revival crew for their generosity and hospitality. I will most definitely be making a return trip next year!
For more information on River Revival be sure to check out:
Photos and Review by Derek Jones
Additional photos by Hunter Levy