Country music icon Charlie Daniels and his six-piece band make a rare appearance in Waco for the 19th annual Bowen MusicFest on Sunday, and he says the challenge, as usual, is deciding what not to play.
“We do all the familiar stuff — ‘The Devil Came Down to Georgia,’ things like that. My feeling is you owe people that. We’ll have some new things, but with some 50 albums out, the problem is choosing what not to play,” Daniels said during a recent tour stop in New Mexico.
“We do an entertaining show. I set my sights to be an entertainer,” he said. “It comes down to how you pace it. I come on hard, slide down a little bit, then come on hard again.”
The Charlie Daniels Band will headline this weekend’s Bowen MusicFest at Indian Spring Park, the combination charitable concert and golf tournament started and maintained by Texas country singer-songwriter and Waco native Wade Bowen.
That’s saying something: Sunday’s musical lineup of Bowen, his friends and peers provides a hefty slice of Texas country pie. Daniels makes his first appearance, as does Austin’s Shinyribs, a past Brazos Nights performer, and Nashville star Kip Moore. Texas country star Kevin Fowler, Waco country singer-songwriter Holly Tucker, Jackie Darlene and Doug Moreland will be there as well as BowenFest stalwarts Cody Canada, Randy Rogers, Stoney LaRue and Willy Braun; William Clark Green, Flatland Cavalry, Mike Ryan, Kaitlin Butts, Jamie Lin Wilson and Austin Allsup.
If you’re counting, that’s 17 names. “The festival is bigger than it has ever been,” Bowen confirmed. “We’ll have a bigger stage, bigger sound, bigger lights and everything, . . . More food trucks and a kids zone. We’re going to cover it all.”
Bowen and his sister Jill Goss, who handles the festival logistics, say advance ticket sales are higher than they’ve been in the past and anticipate a crowd of more than 5,000 people. If the weather cooperates, this year’s Bowen MusicFest might actually sell out.
While one of the festival’s signatures is a Bowen-led extended jam of participating musicians that closes the fest, Bowen advises fans not to show up late. “The music starts early and there’s not a bad spot (in the lineup),” he said.
Daniels and his band come to Waco after an eventful 2016 for the country music veteran. Last year, he turned 80, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, saw his long-running Volunteer Jam break an attendance record, released a new album of cowboy songs, “Night Hawks,” and restarted a long-postponed memoir that will be published this October.
Best known for his 1979 smash hit “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” the native North Carolinian has been a major player in country music as an entertainer on fiddle and guitar, fluent in traditional country, bluegrass, country rock and gospel; songwriter and recording artist with 54 albums; producer and record label owner; winner of Grammy and Dove Awards: and a leading supporter of American veterans and charities benefiting children and handicapped persons.
Membership in the Country Music Hall of Fame didn’t come until last year, however, and Daniels finds the magic of that hasn’t yet worn off.
“It’s like when they announce you at the Grand Ole Opry as ‘member of the Country Music Hall of Fame’ — I’m still in awe when they say that,” he said. “Wow — it really is true. It’s almost like a toy that a kid loves. I don’t think that thrill will ever go away.”
The induction proved a catalyst in sparking the songwriter into a longer form of writing: a memoir that he had begun some 20 years earlier, but couldn’t figure out how to end. Something clicked at the CMHOF ceremony that gave Daniels the conclusion he was looking for. “The night after, I had an idea . . . and I wrote the ending. Then I backwrote to where I had left off,” he said.
His autobiography, which will be released as “Never Look at the Empty Seats,” kindled a “newfound passion” for writing, Daniels said, even as double-checking his stories showed him memory sometimes doesn’t align with others’ reality.
Daniels continues an active performing schedule of some 100 dates a year and enjoys it. “I’m looking forward to coming to Waco. I look forward to any place where I can get grits for breakfast,” he chuckled.
Bowen’s music festival finds the Texas country singer-songwriter in a familiar spot: his two-day music and golf festival that provides a break — albeit a busy one — between spring and summer touring. In between summer festival dates are shows with friend Randy Rogers on their annual “Hold My Beer and Watch This” tour. Bowen and Rogers also will open for fellow Texan Miranda Lambert at an August show at Red Rocks Amphitheater near Morrison, Colorado.
Bowen is working with producer Keith Gattis on a new album that should be ready for release near the end of 2017, one that finds the Texas country performer edge into a more Americana sound, he said. “It may turn a few heads,” he teased.
The year also will find Bowen involved in his latest business venture, The Caboose, a “higher end barbecue” place and full-service bar in Alvin. It might seem like a departure, but Bowen said running a restaurant is a thread in the Bowen family, with an uncle involved in the former Bill and Bob’s Hamburgers.
The Bowen MusicFest is another family thread, with a Bowen Family Foundation created to channel the money raised for Waco children’s charities — about $400,000 last year and a total of more than $2 million during the course of the music festival. Goss runs the foundation in a non-salaried position. “We do it because we love it,” Bowen explained. “And the people we ask, they all say yes.”