Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Mike Farris Previews His Ride The Tide Fest On Finally Friday

Sebastian Smith

The Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies were a high volume fixture of Nashville’s 1990s, a fiery and funky southern rock and roll band fronted by the magisterial voice of Mike Farris. At a time when Nashville rock was almost an oxymoron (save for Jason and the Scorchers), the quintet got signed to Atlantic Records and spent the decade juking around the country with arena acts like the Allman Brothers and ZZ Top. They ended the run in 1999, and Farris, following a period of addiction recovery, launched a standout career in roots and gospel rock.

During the pandemic though, Farris reconnected with his old friends and the repertoire through a series of online “Wheelie Wednesday” shows. He instigated a series of reunion dates that included the Caverns in Pelham, TN, and that in turn inspired Farris and Caverns owner Todd Mayo to conceive a festival for this year built around SCW headlining sets and artists that had history and synergy with the Wheelies. Ride The Tide, which takes its name from the title of a song from the SCW’s debut album in 1993, takes place May 19-22. And in a celebratory preview of this first-ever event, WMOT’s Finally Friday features Farris in performance, with Ride The Tide artists Them Vibes and Kevn Kinney on either side of him.

WMOT reached out to chat with Mike Farris about the revival of the Wheelies and the concept behind the festival.

Mike, y’all hadn’t performed as the Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies since 2004. Were you guys in touch during those years? 

We kind of grew apart. It wasn't an easy breakup, so to speak, you know? And they didn’t even professionally play music, for all intents and purposes. And so we weren't real close these last 18 to 20 years. But somewhere around Covid we started connecting somewhat. And then I had the idea of putting together some shows, and I got on a group text with everybody and said, hey, what do you guys think about doing this? And everybody was all about it.

So how did that lead to a festival?

Once we went out and did the shows, and it was as successful as it was honestly a lot of fun, I was like, we can do this. We should do this. And it would be really nice, economically, for us to have something like a festival, instead of going out and running around. Because these guys all have jobs and stuff. So I was like, man, the best thing to do is have a festival and have it be our home. And let the fans have a home, and something they could embrace and call their own.

How did that name Ride The Tide emerge out of your past and why did it click?

It just felt like the right energy, you know? It's a verb. We had a page full of names, and that one just seemed to make the most sense. It's a beloved song to our fans. And it just sounded action packed. It was kind of a no-brainer.

Among the lineup for the festival are two artists playing Finally Friday. Tell me about Kevn Kinney.

It made sense to reach out to guys that we had a personal connection with, and people we toured with were top of the list. Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ were the first kind of real tour we jumped on. I was a huge fan growing up, and it was just such an amazing honor for us to be on tour with those guys and experience them and get to know those guys. I've always loved Kevn. And they're still killing it.

And Them Vibes seem like they’re carving out space in the 2020s that y’all did in the 1990s.

Like you said, they've literally got the right vibe that fits this thing, and it's the same vibe that you would have found in 1994 at the H.O.R.D.E. Festival that we toured on. And they're local. I was like, we gotta get these guys.

And then looking beyond, to the festival, you’ve got Ruthie Foster, Bonnie Bishop and Trigger Hippie, bringing a soul flavor, which is what you’ve been working in for the past 10 years. 

Yeah, I think so too. I have always been a great admirer of Ruthie and Bonnie, and Foy Vance man. He’s incredible and a good friend of mine. I really wanted to have this reflect my musical spectrum, just kind of mixing it up you know? I want the Wheelie people to experience Ruthie and Foy and Trigger Hippie. And I'm really excited about introducing a lot of new people to Highwater. I’m not sure if you go back that far. But man, Highwater is a fantastic band from the 90s. I'm just looking at this and going man, this is a high quality lineup.

Also on the Ride The Tide bill are the North Mississippi Allstars, Lucero, Eli “Paperboy” Reid, and Jimmy Hall. WMOT is the official radio partner of the event.

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's editorial director and host of The String, a weekly interview show airing Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. He also co-hosts The Old Fashioned on Saturdays at 9 am and Tuesdays at 8 pm. Threads and Instagram: @chavighurst. Email: craig@wmot.org