Here comes another all-the- decibels-you-can-handle musical gathering. The Big State Festival, which spans a weekend this month (and has a moniker only a Texan could love), is aiming to do for country music what the Austin City Limits Music Festival does for rock and roll: that is, lure in thousands of folks to see star headliners—Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, Tim McGraw—on a handful of stages and show ’em such a good time that the experience transcends that of any mere concert.
Of course, the multiday, multistage format is nothing new. Plus, country fans are used to getting a high-wattage show at the rodeo or the county fair, and often as just one diversion among many. So, buzz aside, this full-throttle debut raises a key question: Can Big State keep the momentum going longer than 48 hours—and become an annual destination?
Well, consider the following: First, there’s a sore lack of such organized country music shindigs in Texas. Not even the Braided One has been able to figure out the magic formula for keeping fans happy—Willie up and exported his Fourth of July Picnic to Washington this summer—but Big State’s lineup should appease hard-core honky-tonkers and pop-country proselytes alike. There’ll be a range of acts from morn till night, including Dierks Bentley, Miranda Lambert, Kelly Willis, Jack Ingram, and dozens of others. And you can expect a cross-pollination of sounds as musicians amble into one another’s sets.
If that’s not a strong enough predictor of success, the party is also in a prime, if not obvious, location. College Station may seem like the boonies to a lot of Texans (teasips especially), but it’s smack-dab between Austin, Dallas, and Houston. (Compared with the nightmare traffic at any of those cities’ monster arenas, a trip to the Texas World Speedway should be a breeze.) Besides, Big State’s organizers, who are anticipating 30,000 people a day, have made it a priority to reach out to small-town residents, a demographic largely underserved by the concert circuit.
Moreover, it just so happens that the promotion geniuses behind Big State—Charlie Jones, Charlie Walker, and Charles Attal, of the Austin-based C3 Presents—also put on the ACL fest and the resurrected Lollapalooza in Chicago, so they know a thing or two about amped-up gigs. “Today’s audiences have elevated expectations, so although the music is the driving component, we want them to experience other things too,” says Jones. Which means, when you’re not singing along with the Wreckers or getting down to Trace Adkins’s “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” you can take in twice-daily stock car races (on one of the few two-mile ovals in the country) or sample the hits (and misses) of the barbecue cookoff, which boasts a notable $25,000 grand prize.
In short, Big State should indeed be worth the ticket price this year. At $95 (at press time), it’s quite the steal once you calculate how much you’d pay to see two or three of these musicians on solo tours. And if it proves to be a crowd-pleaser, expect more all-out country festivals to pop up across Texas, and the U.S., in the next few years. Even better: You’ll have the inaugural wristband to prove you were there when it all started. Oct 13 & 14. 17529 Tx Hwy 6S, 888-512-7469, bigstatefestival.com Jordan Breal