The Barn at Hotel Drover became a dance hall during Gary P. Nunn's concert during the first ever Fort Worth Music Festival & Conference.
Festival co-creators Tim Love and Larry Joe Taylor brought the music business to Fort Worth. (Photo by Courtney Dabney)
FWMF - Jake Bush took to the stage at Love Shack last week.
Michael Martin Murphey joined other headliners at the Fort Worth Music Festival.
Tannahill's lounge hosted new and emerging artists to its stage.
The White Elephant Saloon became a venue at Fort Worth Music Festival.
High-profile Fort Worth chef Tim Love has a lot of big ideas. But unlike most of us, he’s not afraid to give them a shot. That’s how the first-ever Fort Worth Music Festival & Conference came together in only five months’ time. Big-time music acts milled around The Stockyards alongside emerging Texas artists, agents, managers and promoters over the weekend in the first edition of what will surely become one of North Texas’ premier music events.
Love has been a regular at music festivals, from Chicago’s Lollapalooza to Austin’s own Austin City Limits and SXSW. So expanding on his new Tannahill’s Music Hall, while promoting all the other Stockyard music venues seemed like a natural fit. Last October, he approached Anthony Nicholidas and the rest of his partners at Live Nation with the idea, and then pulled together some of the best in the biz, including the festival’s co-creator Larry Joe Taylor.
“Never heard of the Larry Joe Taylor fest?… Then you ain’t met My Texas yet,” goes the song from Josh Abbott Band.
Taylor is a singer/songwriter who began hosting a gathering in the small North Texas town of Mingus back in 1989. Today, Taylor and his family produce the largest independently-owned outdoor music festival in Texas. The six day event is known as the Larry Joe Taylor Texas Music Festival ― often referred to simply as LJT. That famous fest is now located on Taylor’s 380-acre Melody Mountain Ranch in Stephenville, where he also hosts several other live music events year-round.
“I’ve done a million festivals,” Tim Love tells PaperCity Fort Worth. “Me, Larry Joe Taylor and his son Zach started making plans in October. We only picked a date for the festival in December. That’s not a lot of time to pull something like this together.
“But we are really pleased with how it turned out, and the response we’ve gotten so far. It was an overwhelming success.”
The vibe of the Fort Worth Music Festival & Conference was relaxed. No massive venue to navigate. No long lines at the porta potties. No souvenir stands or being overwhelmed by commercial gimmicks. In other words, not your typical 2023 music festival.
Instead, being there felt like a relaxed day touring a vibrant, artistic and upscale neighborhood. One where the sounds of live music were wafting through the air. One with top shopping and dining options around every corner. A one day or VIP pass allowed you to flash your wrist ribbon for entrance into any venue to hear any band all day. Some shows overlapped, so festival goers chose when to depart one concert and head over to the next one.
I met one couple who came over from Dallas and made a weekend of it in Fort Worth ― enjoying Cowtown’s hotels, restaurants and museums all over town ― while hearing some great live music along the way.
Fort Worth Music Fest’s Discovery Zone
“The whole point of this festival is to discover new artists, promote Texas musicians and to show off Fort Worth and all that The Stockyards has to offer,” Love says. His hope is that the emerging artists showcased at the festival will be its future headliners in coming years.
“The Stockyards is a really unique venue because of all the attributes we have in the neighborhood,” Love notes. “It allows festival goers to take it in at their own pace. They can watch a show at White Elephant, grab a meal, hit another show at Love Shack, do some shopping and maybe enjoy a cocktail before seeing another show.”
The first edition of the Fort Worth Music Festival, by sheer necessity of its tight time constraints, took place mostly at Love’s own Stockyard’s venues ― Tannahill’s Music Hall, White Elephant Saloon and Love Shack (with the addition of The Barn at Hotel Drover and Billy Bob’s Texas). In future years, plans call for the festival to utilize other venues.
“There will be eight venues next year,” Love says. “And, our longterm plan is to branch out beyond the Stockyards to other music venues across the city as well. But you gotta kick it off the dock, and then figure it out
“I knew issues would arise at the inaugural event, and we’d have to make quick corrections along the way.”
Before visiting those headaches and first-year jitters on other businesses, Love felt he needed the control of hosting in his own spaces. To avoid ruffling feathers and garnering ill will for sure. But also, most importantly, to be able to correct unforeseen issues on the fly, without the need to convene a committee. To be able to quickly pivot.
In fact, Love’s “all boats rise” mentality already seems to be paying off. Instead of being upset by the burgeoning festival, many businesses in The Stockyards seemed thrilled with the added tourism and showcase it provided.
Going Beyond Country Music
While the first installment of Fort Worth Music Festival turned out to be heavily comprised of country artists (with a few folksy and bluesy acts thrown in) that’s not the plan going forward. This won’t be a country music festival in Fort Worth. There will be a diversity of music genres at future Fort Worth Music Festival events.
Country music heavy is just how the lineup shook out this year on such short notice. That being said, it was one heck of a lineup.
Headliners at this first Fort Worth Music Festival included Josh Weathers, Texas Independence Day Jam with Ray Wylie Hubbard, Michael Martin Murphey, Dave Perez, Larry Joe Taylor, Gary P. Nunn, Roger Creager, Treaty Oak Revival and Stoney LaRue just to name a few.
The Gary P. Nunn show was hosted inside The Barn at Hotel Drover. It was pure fun, with two-steppers twirling and scooting their boots in front of the stage. Later, fans locked arms and swayed side-to-side when Nunn sang his “Friends for Life” anthem. This is the kind of atmosphere folks take weekend trips to small towns to find. It was like a little taste of Gruene Hall right here in Fort Worth.
On the music conference side of the equation, that also drew a surprisingly large crowd in its first year ― bringing together managers, agents, live music industry executives and the hospitality sector to discuss what works and why. There were panel discussions, networking opportunities and workshops. Love expects the conference to expand as well.
“There’s a lot to learn about the music business,” he tells PaperCity Fort Worth. “We feel like it’s essential to fostering Texas talent. The conference is a big part of what we want to grow.”
The Texas music scene is on fire. And the Fort Worth Music Festival & Conference wants to help artists establish and grow their careers while luring them to Fort Worth ― a city that’s proven it’s hungry for live music.
With plenty more to come.