By Alli Patton
A gorgeous medley of all kinds of twang for an experience that brimmed with nostalgia, excitement and most importantly, hope.
Photography by Laura Ord
Through a thin veil of kicked-up dust, obscured by the silky twang of passing conversation, an echo could be heard from every direction. It was not a single sound, but several. All were wildly different, but still vaguely familiar. Midland performing their sultry hit, ‘Burn Out’, Jo Dee Messina belting out her classic ‘Lesson in Leavin’’ and Disko Cowboy spinning an inventive mix of Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’ with a hefty beat, all resounded at once from the three Two Step Inn stages.
The inaugural Two Step Inn festival – positioned just north of Austin, Texas in the city of Georgetown – offered attendees a place where all country music was considered equal. The lineup boasted every act from the pop-learning to the more traditional, a roster in which the country old schoolers and the newly indoctrinated carried identical weight. Offering a taste of yesterday’s torchbearers, today’s hitmakers and a sample of what’s to come in country music, the two-day event was unlike any other, a crystal ball glimpse into country’s past, present and future.
While the line-up was at times unexpected, the event – aptly coined the World’s Largest Outdoor Honky Tonk – had a little something to get everyone’s boots scooting.
The sounds of 70s, 80s and 90s country flitted through each day as the acts of country’s past donned the stages. Saturday saw the fiery stylings of Tanya Tucker, a decades-long mainstay performer and an all-around must-see, take on an eager audience, awaiting her at the main stage, Big River. Unencumbered by the early afternoon’s unforgiving sun, she stunned with her career-spanning set, one that featured epic sing-along hits like Texas ‘(When I Die)’, ‘Hangin' In,’ and ‘Delta Dawn.’
90s country elite Travis Tritt followed her performance with his own set that traversed his decades-long career. Fans erupted into song with each of his nostalgia-inducing tunes. Hits like ‘Here’s a Quarter’ and ‘It’s a Great Day to Be Alive’ all got their time in the spotlight.
The Showdeo stage played host to even more enduring country stars, like David Lee Murphy of ‘Dust on the Bottle’ fame, the great Shenandoah and the fierce Jo Dee Messina. While all that remains of the 80s and 90s country favorites Shenandoah is frontman Marty Raybon and drummer Mike McGuire, the band that graced the stage Saturday afternoon was pure power, exuding the same energy as the band’s original lineup and performing their hits as if no time had passed. “Long live 90s country music,” the lead singer shouted into the roaring crowd as they closed their set.
One of country’s greatest show-women, Messina followed for a dance-fueled display of her 90s girl-power anthems. She erupted into fan favorites like ‘My Give a Damn’s Busted’, ‘Bye Bye’, ‘Lesson in Leavin’’ and ‘Heads Carolina, Tails California’, spinning and sashaying throughout her high-energy set.
Sunday saw just as many country legends, including Clay Walker, Lonestar, John Michael Montgomery, and Wynonna Judd. 90s country outfit Lonestar showcased a set full of their biggest no.1s, turning the Showdeo stage into one big sing-along. Judd took the main stage just ahead of Sunday night’s headliner, but the night could have ended there after her all-powerful performance that showcased her hit-riddled catalog.
Throwback sounds filled the festival with a glowing warmth that could only come with fond musical memories.
Two Step Inn’s two headliners – arguably a pair of the day’s hottest acts, Zach Bryan and Tyler Childers – were no doubt the biggest draw, but several other of today’s must-see stars added to the festival fun. Helping to kick off Saturday on the main stage, spit-fire Nikki Lane got the crowd amped up in the already rising heat. She set energies high with her honky tonk-texted tunes like ‘Highway Queen’ and ‘Denim & Diamonds’.
A star that’s fast on the rise, Charles Wesley Godwin wowed as well, captivating spectators with his rich storytelling and rapturous stage presence. Across a sea of more cowboy hats than there seemed to be heads, he got the crowd in the country-rock mood for Midland to follow later in the day. A band known for putting on a show, Midland seemed to have a little extra fire under their boots. Maybe it was a confidence that came from being on their home turf or maybe there was some magic in the Texas air that evening that brought out their best.
Sunday followed suit, showcasing country’s current hitmakers as they pulled out all the stops. Pillbox Patti shook up the start of the day with an attitude-fueled set that found her conversing with audience members, raising glasses and toasting to a good time. She told personal stories about the necessities of “being a hoe” and lessons about the dreaded “fuck boy”. She was fun and funny, the perfect sass-filled appetizer to Priscilla Block.
A pop-country queen of tomorrow, Block brought the party with her latest anthem smash hits like ‘My Bar’ and ‘Off the Deep End’. Hailey Whitters was another soon-to-be-dubbed country royalty that made a festival appearance. She took to the Country Curious stage for an effortless performance, bubbling over with her effervescent twang that left no ear curious about their love for the star.
Paul Cauthen followed on the County Curious stage for a performance legends are made of. Texas through and through, the artist showed up and showed off his over-the-top style in all its honky tonk glory. His rowdy hits like ‘Country as Fuck’ and ‘Cocaine Country Dancing’ set the mood for the rest of the night, one overflowing with unquenchable talent and offering a bright look at today’s country stewards.
Two Step Inn also offered a clear direction of where the genre is headed. Several acts to watch dotted the bill, like the promising talent Alana Springsteen, who is on her way to becoming country music’s next “it” girl.
Her set, fitted with pop-country flourishes, saw her wow audiences with her ability to be both sweetly vulnerable and an uproarious good time with the change of a song.
Another to keep an eye on is newcomer Madeline Edwards, who donned the Country Curious stage with ease, delivering an effortless performance. She performed an enrapturing set that pulled a few stragglers in center stage within her first few songs. Kaitlin Butts was another soon-to-be sensation to take the stage. Less pop and more tinged in tradition, her set hinted that her future could be among the country greats.
While there were a few head-scratching additions to the line-up, like the hip-hop favorite T-Pain and the acclaimed DJ Diplo, all have country ties and offered the weekend a palate cleanser that drew crowds all the same. However, the lesser-known performers quickly became must-know acts, proving that country’s future is in good hands too.
Overall, the inaugural Two Step Inn festival offered a perfect balance of artists, exquisitely mapping out country’s past, present and future over two days of music. There, decades worth of country merged into a gorgeous medley of all kinds of twang for an experience that brimmed with nostalgia, excitement and most importantly, hope.
Photography by Laura Ord.
For more coverage from Two Step Inn, see below: