Over a decade of revelry in rural middle Tennessee, the Muddy Roots Music Festival has booked Bobby Bare and Black Flag, Del McCoury and the Dead Kennedys. Only somebody with bravery and faith in their audience would throw such strong and contrasting flavors - outlaw Americana, string band punk and heavy metal - into one pot, but founder Jason Galaz has built a mini-indie empire of festivals under the Muddy Roots brand doing just that.
“We’re like the fringe of the roots scene,” he said in an interview this week. “The bridge to others, as opposed to just neo-traditional. We have had Del McCoury and Ralph Stanley and Ramblin’ Jack (Elliott) and Peter Rowan and all these old-school musicians. And they come there, and although it’s not a strictly traditional crowd, (they get) an explosive reaction.”
It’s all set to explode again this weekend, as Muddy Roots hits its tenth year at the June Bug Ranch in Cookeville, TN, 90 miles from Nashville. Country/Americana bands on the lineup include Mike & The Moonpies, Sarah Shook and the Disarmers, Rev. Payton’s Big Damn Band and Jaime Wyatt. But Galaz says this year has more punk, metal and hip-hop than most years, with rapper GZA of the Wu-Tang Clan, Detroit veteran Wayne Kramer and his MC50 band, plus, yes, a late breaking addition of the Dead Kennedys to the headliner slots.
“This party ain’t for the weak,” says the Muddy Roots Survival Guide online. And the scene is definitely not public radio donors seated in orderly rows of camp chairs. It’s a riot of banjos and mohawks, overalls and nose rings, enormous beards and acres of tattoos. It’s rustic and rockabilly, punk and metal, all jamming as one. The Muddy Roots web site has an illustration of a cowgirl in full fringe square dancing with a bearded biker with a wallet on a chain.
“The Muddy Roots crowd loves traditional country music. Not so much anything new, (unless) it’s coming from an organic place,” says Galaz. “I think it speaks to what the songs and the music are truly about. The life experience of the average working class or poor person out in the street. It transcends. One thing we’re always preaching is, say you’re into rock and roll. You have to look at the roots of that. Where does it come from?”
The ethos now spans a range of events, as the Muddy Roots brand and idea grew beyond its homebase throwdown. After Galaz noticed that Europeans were flocking to Cookeville, he launched Muddy Roots Europe in Belgium eight years ago. They’ve held blues festivals in Clarksdale, MS. There’s a Southern Gothic Festival in Adams, TN, home of the Bell Witch legend, on the last weekend before Halloween. And their more rockabilly and vintage country events include the Nashville Boogie Vintage Weekender and the upcoming Music Valley Jamboree at the Nashville Palace.
Galaz began putting shows together as he grew up in California. “My first large show was when I was 19. We rented out a skate rink and I had hard core bands in one room. Had underground hip-hop in another. And drum and bass in a third. It was pretty intense. That showed even at that point that I liked mixing up genres.” He’s still doing it, with a determined independence and volunteer help that arrives from Alaska and Europe.
“It’s got an evangelical tone to it,” he says. “We like to take one music and preach it out to others and find that common ground.”