Ashland, Kentucky’s Riverfront Park made a beautiful venue for the first annual Foxfire Music and Arts Festival (Foxfire) September 24th and 25th. Hosted by the Paramount Arts Center (a beautiful 1400 seat downtown Ashland venue, that is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year), Foxfire saw around 2500 people show up to see established and rising Americana music acts such as Arlo McKinley, Old Crow Medicine Show, Morgan Wade, John R Miller, Shelby Lore, Lucero and more. Foxfire’s lineup showcased the amount of talent in the Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, and Virginia region, Four of the fourteen acts that performed are from Ashland (Patrick Leland McKnight, Cole Chaney, Devin Hale, and Shelby Lore) with seven of the other ten being from the KY (Eric Bolander, Laid Back Country Picker)/OH(Buffalo Wabs & the Price Hill Hustle, Arlo McKinley)/VA(Morgan Wade)/WV(Ona, John R Miller) region.
I missed the first three acts Friday, but having seen each of them previously, I can tell you that Patrick Leland McKnight, Eric Bolander, and Laid Back Country Picker all brought their A game to open up the weekend. In fact, the crowd was still buzzing about their performances when we arrived.
Buffalo Wabs and the Price Hill Hustle, a Cincinnati, OH based band consisting of four multi-instrumentalists is always a fun act to watch as instruments change hands over the course of their set. We could hear the notes “Oh Ramona” as we walked into the venue from the parking lot. They played several songs off their Stranger in the Alps album including their crowd-pleasing cover of “Four Walls of Raiford” which features drummer Casey Campbell on lead vocals while playing the snare drum with a chain. If you have never witnessed this, it is worth the price of admission on its own.
Huntington, WV based ONA stopped by for an appearance at Foxfire before heading on to Morrison, CO to open up for Tyler Childers at Red Rocks September 29th. Their set was warmly received by both the crowd and (to stage right) a magnificent sunset over the twin bridges crossing the Ohio river between Ashland and Ohio. Lucero (who replaced Colter Wall on the original line-up) took the stage as night fell on the Ohio river and warmed up the early fall night with a blistering performance.
Old Crow Medicine Show, Friday’s headliner, took the stage and showed why they are still a top act twenty-two years in. Old Crow Medicine Show (OCMS) was definitely the highest energy act of the day as they romped through their catalog of hits such as “Tell It To Me,” “Alabama High Test,” and “Big Time in the Jungle.” OCMS moved around the stage more than all the other acts I caught on Friday, including kicks from Ketch and Mason that would have made the Rock-ettes proud (or maybe envious).
Saturday was even better than Friday somehow. Cole Chaney opened up day two with just his guitar and voice. Ashland was well represented Saturday, with Chaney and the two acts that followed all being from Ashland. All Chaney needed to drive the crowd wild was just his guitar and voice. Playing mostly tracks off his debut album, Mercy, Chaney set the bar high for the rest of the day. Some of the highlights of Chaney’s performance included the title track, “Mercy,” “Ill Will Creek,” “Silver Run” and the crowd favorite, “Coal Shooter.”
My discovery of the weekend was Devin Hale. I was familiar with the music of all the other artists on the bill across both days, I only knew Devin Hale’s name. He definitely changed that with his set. He told me in a conversation I had with him on Friday, that he is recording his debut album in January. After seeing him perform, I am anxiously awaiting it. Highlights of Hale’s performance included released singles, “Burning Up the Family Tree,” “Salty Scales” and my personal favorite, “Harlan.” To close out his performance, Hale brought Shelby Lore onstage with him to perform his next single to be recorded, “Honky Tonkin’ Blues.” A guitar fueled romp with Hale and Lore ensued.
Shelby Lore was then joined by the rest of his band to close out the run of the hometown heroes. Lore’s performance included songs from both his self-titled debut album as well as his current album, Great Unknown as well as phenomenal cover of Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” Lore takes a Cash classic and puts his own style on it, transforming it into a blistering blues number. Other highlights from Lore’s set included ‘Great Unknown’ (with drum solo by Luke Estep), “I’m All In,” and “Other Side.”
John R. Miller was up next, there must be something going on with West Virginia, as like the other act from West Virginia (ONA) Miller is also on his way to Morrison, CO to open up for Tyler Childers (ONA opens up for Childers the 29th, John R. Miller opens for Childers on the 30th). In addition to Miller’s usual crew, Tom Hnatow has recently joined for a few shows on steel guitar. Miller’s set highlights included “Lookin’ Over My Shoulder,” “Faustina,” “Old Dance Floor” and “Borrowed Time.”
Morgan Wade (the festival’s lone female-led act) arrived with a full band in tow (the previous times I have seen Wade was just her and a guitar). Wade was one of the most anticipated acts of the weekend and most talked about in the crowd. From the first notes, Wade exceeded the crowd’s expectation. Highlights of Wade’s set included “Northern Air,” “Wilder Days,” “The Night,” and her stage banter around “Take Me Away.” Wade’s set was the sunset set and included a guest appearance of the ‘Queen of the Mississippi’ paddle wheeler moving up the Ohio River flowing behind the stage. This quickly led to Wade being dubbed the “Queen of the Riverfront” by the crowd.
Blues Traveler was originally scheduled to perform but had to cancel their appearance due to John Popper’s injury sustained in a tour bus accident. Arlo McKinley was announced as the replacement during Friday’s performances. Arlo was a warmly welcomed replacement. McKinley left the majority of his band, the Lonesome Sound at home and showed up with Chad Light (Lonesome Sound member) on steel guitar and David Faul on keyboard. This stripped-down acoustic trio highlighted both McKinley’s powerful voice and Light’s steel guitar playing. The work of Light that often blends into the background with the full band was on full display during a set that highlights included: “I’ve Got Her,” “Don’t Need to Know,” “Bag of Pills” (Arlo solo), “If I Could Only Fly” (Blaze Foley) and in honor of John Prine who signed McKinley to Oh Boy Records, a cover of Prine’s “How Lucky” (Arlo solo).
Whiskey Meyers closed out the night Saturday night, but I unfortunately did not get to see them as I had to leave at the end of Arlo’s set. Overall Foxfire Music and Arts Festival was a huge success driven by an excellent two-day line-up of great music. Sponsored by the Paramount Arts Center and driven by the hard work of Holly Canfield, David Miller, and Carley Stout with the Paramount and an army of volunteers. Canfield confirmed that with the success of the inaugural Foxfire Music and Arts Festival, that Foxfire would return to the banks of the Ohio river next year.