For local Texas country music fans, Christmas may have come a little early this year in the form of Winterfest, which tops three nights of country music with such performers as Roger Creager, Josh Abbott, William Clark Green, Waco’s Holly Tucker, Reckless Kelly and Micky and the Motorcars.

Winterfest takes place at The Backyard, where most of the performers have appeared before, and it’s a way for the downtown Waco venue to take advantage of a holiday slowdown in live music touring.

“It’s our version of Steamboat, if you will. It’s something to keep the music ball rolling,” said Backyard co-partner Brian Brown, referring to the Texas and Americana star-studded Music Fest at Steamboat held in early January at Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

It’s also a time of year where a Waco music fest can stand apart from larger, more established Texas music fests such as the Larry Joe Taylor Music Festival held in the summer, said Chris Cox, the Backyard partner who came up with the idea of Winterfest. “All these other towns Waco’s size have summer music festivals. Why can’t we do a festival, but in an off time when artists aren’t going to be pulled nine different directions?” he said.

While advance ticket sales have been a little slow, word-of-mouth and online comments have been “astronomical,” Cox said, who noted that Waco audiences are notorious for buying tickets at the last minute. Wade Bowen’s Nov. 24 show at The Backyard, in fact, sold twice as many tickets at the door as it had in advance.

The festival also gives Waco-area performers a chance to open for larger acts that often book their opening acts from elsewhere. “I hope audiences come out to support the local artists,” Cox said.

Booking acts in December is usually slow, particularly at venues with outdoor stages where cold weather can discourage attendance. Winterfest organizers, however, feel The Backyard’s outdoor firepits, covered outdoor stage and smaller indoor stage give them flexibility for any cold weather that might blow into town. The weather forecast for the weekend, however, looks far from frigid with evening temperatures in the 60s and 50s.

The three-day Winterfest lineup combines local, up-and-coming and established regional acts. The latter include Holly Tucker and Roger Creager on Friday night, Mickey and the Motorcars and Reckless Kelly on Saturday and an acoustic song-swap with William Clark Green and Josh Abbott on Sunday night.

The Backyard isn’t coasting before and after Winterfest, either. The Milligan Vaughn Project and Los Roachez are scheduled to perform at 8:30 p.m. Thursday with Koe Wetzel and Parker McCollum on Monday and Sam Riggs on Tuesday. “That’s a monster week,” Brown observed.

Admission is $20 a day with a $50 three-day pass available. The three-day pass also is structured to allow separate use; a buyer can attend two show and allow a friend to attend the third on his or her ticket, Cox noted. Tickets are available online at stubwire.com or in person at The Backyard.

Winterfest has a Texas-centric lineup, but that’s what draws the crowds at The Backyard and Brown noted the performers slated to play frequently pull in influences of rock, rhythm-and-blues and blues, signs of how contemporary Texas country is diversifying as it matures.

Each day’s lineup starts local and ends regional with a bit of a Southern rock flavor on Saturday with Reckless Kelly and Micky and the Motorcars and a songwriter emphasis in Sunday’s Green-Abbott song-swap.

Scheduled to play Friday are the Huser Brothers, the Brett Hendrix Band, Holly Tucker and and Roger Creager. Saturday starts with the Rodney Pyeatt Trio, followed by The New Offenders, Micky and the Motorcars and Restless Kelly. Sunday’s Winterfest schedule has the Hunter Rae Trio, Colton Fox of Callahan Divide, the Nate Rodriguez Duo and William Clark Green and Josh Abbott.

“We didn’t shoot for the moon (in the artists booked) . . . but there’s no weak link in this lineup,” Brown said.

Tribune-Herald entertainment editor