Driftwood Country Music Festival

By Brandon “B-Mac” McCarthy, Photos by Matt “Rabit” Martinez Red Hare Images

I have gone to a lot of music festivals this year and last year. From Las Rageous to Cal Jam, they have not yet disappointed me. As hard rock and heavy metal festivals are extremely popular, country music festivals are just as popular. The last country festival I went to was 10 years ago, and it was the famous Stagecoach Festival. Over Veteran’s Day weekend, Doheny State Beach in Dana Point played host to the first ever Driftwood Music Festival. It was a weekend where country fans can line dance, try some craft beer, munch on some barbecue, and watch their favorite artists play to the crowd. Matt and I went to Sunday’s performance because my favorite country duo was headlining that night, Big & Rich! From established superstars to hot newcomers, it was time for me to trade in my denim vest for a flannel shirt.

The first artist we saw that day was Brandon Ray. This young Texan from Big Spring was the spark plug needed to get this festival underway. He has a pretty good voice and outstanding stage charisma. The band that was backing him up were pretty talented, especially his guitarist who did an amazing job with the solos he played. Ray recently dropped his debut EP, Body Language, and the fans have been responding to it very well. He got things started with a countrified version of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” which actually sound pretty decent. Then he went into his originals, and they were pretty solid. They included “Exes,” “Song of the Summer,” “Something Like That,” “Second Thoughts,” “Bring Your Love Back,” “Small Talking,” and “Ends of the Earth.” The best part of his performance is when went into a mashup medley that included hit songs from the 90s, from the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. I got a chance to speak to him later on in the day, and I was surprised to know that he is also a metalhead, growing up primarily on Pantera. That was awesome to know. Ray has a bright future in Nashville.

Full Brandon Ray gallery below:

Up next was American Idol contestant Brooke Eden. Though she did not advance too far in the famed musical competition, she has been leaving her mark in country music. Having already release 2 EPs, 2014’s Brooke Eden and 2016’s Welcome to the Weekend (debut on Red Bow Records), Eden has a lot soul and style. The crowd welcomed her with open arms as she sang into their hearts. Sporting bell-bottom jeans, she brought the honky tonk and swagger to Doheny State Beach. I do not remember some of the songs she performed, but the one’s I do remember are “Just By Bein’ You” and “Honky Tonks in Heaven.” Eden took us to church when she sang a song about her Christian loving grandmother, and how the faith rubbed off on her. Eden does not have the most powerful voice in country, but it is simple and effective enough to win me over. I hope she puts out a full album soon because I am intrigued to see how far she can go.

Full Brooke Eden gallery below:

Jamestown Revival was a pleasant surprise for myself and Matt. This duo, consisting of pianist/singer Zach Chance and guitarist/singer Jonathan Clay, has a mean combination of folk rock, country, and Americana. I never thought I would enjoy listening to them as much as I did. Jamestown Revival sure do love their country. Their Americana style fit in nicely for Veteran’s Day Weekend. Both Chance and Clay harmonize together beautiful, and the music they create sounds wonderful. From “American Dream” to “California (Cast Iron Soul),” “Back to Austin,” “Midnight Hour,” and “Wandering Man,” folk rock was in full force. They knew how to draw in the crowds with their simple style. Sometimes, simplicity can go a long way. Jamestown Revival put together an everlasting performance. I would love to check them out again and catch a full set.

Full Jamestown Revival gallery below:

The party picked up big time when Kristian Bush stepped out into the light. One half of the ultra-successful country duo Sugarland, Bush was electrifying through and through. He performed a lethal combination of stuff from Sugarland and his solo material from his 2015 solo debut, Southern Gravity. I never knew just how good of a singer he was until Driftwood, as he is usually playing guitar in Sugarland and letting his partner, Jennifer Nettles, do the singing. Bush was full energy and very engaging with the crowd. During one of his songs, he would whip around his mic stand to the crowd so they can repeat the chorus with him. He made them feel a part of his performance. It is always cool to see artists do that. Some of the Sugarland tunes he performed included “Stuck Like Glue,” “Stay,” and my favorite, “All I Want to Do.” The only solo song that I recognized was his chart topper, “Trailer Hitch.” Bush is a very talented singer, and I would love to see him put out another record soon.

Full Kristian Bush gallery below:

Now comes the headliners. They are the grand marshals of the Freak Parade, and Godfathers of the MuzikMafia. They are the duo known as Big & Rich. The bad boys of Nashville got the party kicked into high gear with “Comin’ to Your City.” Big Kenny Alphin, sporting his traditional stylish top hat, brought his twangy Southern voice to go along with the Texas redneck passion of John Rich. I have seen these cowboys perform twice in the past, and I thought they have lost a step. From “Lost in This Moment” to “Loud,” “Look at You,” and “California,” the fans flocked to Big & Rich to join the parade. They were the highlight of the night. Being that it was Veteran’s Day, Big & Rich are known for paying homage to fighting men and women of our armed forces with a shot of whiskey, and then went into “8th of November.”

It has been over a year since that tragic ordeal with the Las Vegas shooting. Big & Rich were actually at that festival and were still on the grounds when it started happening. They reminisced that day and brought up an O.C. fan who survived that shooting. To show their bravery and determination to move forward, they went into the Tom Petty classic, “I Won’t Back Down.” As the night rolled on, Big & Rich brought out their secret weapon: Cowboy Troy. As a MuzikMafia soldier, the rappin’ cowboy brought country hip-hop into the mix by performing his classic hit, “I Play Chicken with the Train.” They concluded the night with their breakthrough hit, “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy.” During that song, Big & Rich and Cowboy Troy turned it into a mashup by throwing in snippets of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back,” Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Give It Away,” Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” and Parliament’s “Give Up the Funk.” They ended the night in Big & Rich style.

Full Big & Rich gallery bellow:

I had a lot of fun at the first Driftwood Festival. All the artists that performed were on their “A” game. Big & Rich and Kristian Bush pumped up the crowd when it was starting to get a little chill. Jamestown Revival brought folk love to the show, while the artists Brandon Ray and Brooke Eden continue to make a positive impression on the crowds. It has been announced that Driftwood will be back next year. Depending on who will be there, I am actually looking forward to the next one. To the Driftwood artists, I salute you. Horns up! And Yehaw!!!

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