Nebraska Folk and Root Festival and Two Cow Garage: an Adventure
It was warm and sunny the afternoon of June 16, 2017 as Polly and I drove through the beautiful green countryside outside of Lincoln, Nebraska. We were going to the Nebraska Folk and Root Festival held at the organic Branched Oak Farm outside of Raymond, Nebraska where Aaron Lee Tasjan and Lydia Loveless were headlining that night. We headed down a gravel road and turned into a field turned parking lot. People were setting up tents nearby and laughing. We walked down the hill admiring the bucolic setting, found a great place for our chairs, set up our sun umbrellas, and chatted with some folks we met.
In front of us were two stages. Groups could set up on one stage while another group played the other ensuring no gaps between the performances. Vendor tents lined the perimeter featuring crafts, food and beer. I bought a craft beer from Kinkaider Brewing Co., the main sponsor of the event. Polly obtained her first henna tattoo, a beautiful and elaborate work of art.
Finally, the music started. Emily Bass and the Near Miracles were first, followed by Under the Big Oak Tree (a new favorite), McCarthy Trenching, and Charley Crockett. We were both very impressed with Charley, a descendant of Davy, and his mix of zydeco, honkytonk, country and rock. I went online and ordered his vinyl record on the spot.
During the last two sets we had begun to notice the skies getting darker. We saw lightning away to the east and west and the temperature was falling. Maybe it will go around us, we thought. No one seemed particularly anxious about it. Children ran and people were dancing, seemingly oblivious to any change in weather.
When Charlie Crockett finished his set we felt some drops of rain and it was announced that we would take a 20 minute break to let the rain go through before Aaron Lee would take the stage. Go to the beer tent and relax, we were told. Polly and I continued to sit in the field with our sun umbrellas. We had been wet before and figured we’d wait it out. Twenty minutes later we were drenched to the bone and kept wondering when it would end. Suddenly, the wind started picking up. We heard people shout, “get off the stage!” At this point I decided we needed to seek shelter under a tent. So, we headed to the sidelines where groups were gathered. However, by the time we reached the tents the wind was gusting so hard that the festival crews couldn’t hold the tents down any longer and everything they weren’t holding with all their might blew away, including the roof of the stage.
Our car was way up the hill and I was worried about Polly. Suddenly, a crew member yelled, “Get in my car!” and we did. We seriously owe that man for giving us shelter in a storm. Someday, I hope to buy him a beer. We clambered into the car over cans of food and supplies and I am sure I squished a loaf of bread beyond repair. Hail started but the heroic crew held on.
As sudden as it started, the storm was over and the sun came out. We emerged from the car to survey the damage. Tents were gone. The sound board guy had managed to save the soundboards by holding them down through the storm, but the festival was over for the day.
We trudged up the hill through the mud. Polly had to walk barefoot because the mud kept sucking her sandals off. We finally arrived at the car and started off down the road back to the hotel we had booked in Lincoln. However, we hadn’t gone far before we encountered a huge tree blocking the road. The farmer was already out with his chainsaw cutting it and he told us another route we could take. We flagged down as many cars as we could and told them. All the way to Lincoln we saw trees down and cars off the road in ditches. We heard a semi had been blown off Interstate 80.
We walked into the hotel covered with mud and soaking wet, looking like something the cat dragged in, Polly still in her bare feet. People stared at us as we went through the lobby and into the elevator. Polly’s henna tattoo had smeared down her arm making it look like she had a horrible burn or disfiguring disease.
After, we each had showers we were feeling much better. Polly was checking the festival Facebook page and noticed that the concerts were supposedly moving indoors at a bar downtown. First it said The Bourbon and then The 1867. We decided we were game so we jumped in our car and headed to busy Friday night downtown Lincoln.
The bar was small and crowded but it had great local beer. The room we were directed to was intimate. We exchanged war stories with others as we waited … and waited. Apparently, the festival managers were having a back and forth with Aaron Lee’s and Lydia’s managers and ultimately they decided not to show.
We, of course, were disappointed but we knew the festival folks had done their best for us and that there were probably reasons they didn’t show up. No one is really to blame for a disaster like that. Rumor had it that Aaron Lee Tasjan was stuck in the mud and had to be pulled out using a tractor.
The festival went on the next day but we were not there. Thirty years ago I would have gone back without a second thought but we decided we had enough. I felt guilty, though, like I wasn’t supporting the festival. Later I heard The Cactus Blossoms were amazing.
Fast forward to July 12, 2017 in Kearney, Nebraska. My daughter Elizabeth and I had dinner at Thunderhead Brewery and then headed across the street to Buffalo Records to catch a Two Cow Garage gig. This was the second time I had seen them here and they did not disappoint. I would describe them as a punk band with country attitude. They have been described as cowpunk or alternative country but they sell shirts that read, “Two Cow Garage is not a Country Band”.
Elizabeth was very impressed by the lyrics of their songs, especially Micah Schnabel’s song “This Little Light” describing his harrowing encounter with a mugger wielding a gun. One of the store owners, Rex, assures me that Micah’s solo album will take your emotions for a wild ride. I can’t wait to hear it.
During the concert, the other store owner, Bryce came up and mentioned that the guy with the red guitar (Jay Gasper) played with Lydia Loveless. I knew I had to ask him about the Nebraska Folk and Root Festival debacle.
After the set, we headed up to the stage to get my Shane Sweeney Album signed and talk to Micah about how much we liked his lyrics. Then I spotted Jay and asked him if he had been with Lydia on that fateful night of the storms. “You were there at the Tornado Fest?” he quipped. “Yes”, I replied, “we were right out in the middle of the field but I’d like to get the story from your end.”
Jay told me that they were driving toward the festival when the storm hit. “We could see lightning and all kinds of stuff was blowing by us. We knew there was no way we were playing in that. Lydia feels really responsible for all of us, you know. She kept apologizing for bringing us into it, but how would she have any idea this would happen? I kept assuring her it was all good. We were safe and we were getting paid. She was pretty shook up by it.”
“They had borrowed my van,” Shane interjected “and Lydia was concerned she might damage it. I told her not to worry”
“Anyway,” Jay continued, “we were willing to move in doors but it got moved from bar to bar and we didn’t have any sound equipment (I think they were going to use Aaron Lee’s) and I’m not even sure Lydia had brought an acoustic guitar. By that time it was nearly midnight and Lydia had enough and Aaron Lee had to be pulled out of the mud twice. She feels bad, though, and would like to come back to Nebraska to make it up to folks some time.” I, of course, suggested Kearney as the perfect place to do that.
“It was definitely one of the worst experiences to go through at a concert,” said Jay, adding, “I think I prefer playing indoors with air conditioning.”
“I’ve gotten stuck twice in blizzards going over Donner Pass,” added Shane. I asked if he had to eat any of his bandmates and from there our conversation devolved into which bandmate would be the best to eat.
It’s an ill wind that blows no good and I feel like I discovered new groups, had a great conversation with Jay, and Shane, and Micah, and have a story to tell. All in all, that’s what makes life interesting, right?