The Austin Chronicle

Fifth Annual KOKEFEST Brings Clint Black and More to Hutto

Two-day lineup includes Turnpike Troubadours, Robert Earl Keen, Aaron Watson, and more

By Doug Freeman, August 5, 2022, Music

In Austin music's founding mythos of the convergence of rednecks and hippies, KOKE-FM served as essential a role as the Armadillo World Headquarters or Willie Nelson's moving to town. In 1972, sensing the emerging local culture, the frequency debuted a new format that liberally expanded on the tide of country rock to help define "progressive country," the sound that would become Austin's calling card throughout the decade.

The award-winning, trendsetting station championed Austin songwriters, but more importantly gave them a legitimizing voice to the industry. KOKE's "goat roper" logo became a ubiquitous bumper sticker around town, and DJs like Joe Gracey became celebrities. Later, in a 2012 resurrection, the frequency 99.3 revived the call letters and ethos of KOKE-FM, famously relaunching with Dale Watson's "Country My Ass" played on continuous loop nearly 1,700 times. The new station planted its boots firmly in the Texas Red Dirt sound, a defiant antidote to contemporary commercial country radio's slide into overproduced pop.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, KOKE continues to expand its local influence, serving as the broadcast partner for University of Texas Longhorn Athletics, launching KOKE-TV, and reconvening the station's flagship event, KOKEFEST, this weekend in Hutto. The fifth annual KOKEFEST kicks off rolling a neo-trad country sound Friday night. No surprise that the generation raised on the early Nineties country revival are now returning to their roots, and few artists remain as influential to the era as Friday headliner Clint Black. The Texas native's 1989 debut Killin' Time shotgunned a new breed of songwriters onto the country charts and swept the Academy of Country Music Awards that year. Yet even after a brief career pause, Black proves he's still got something to say with 2020's Out of Sane.

The Friday lead-up, Aaron Watson, plays almost as homage to the sound the former defined. The Amarillo native broke out with 2015 album The Underdog, topping the country charts by finally going independent after over a decade trying to break through the Nashville system. The move proved prescient and paved a new path for country artists continued with this year's Unwanted Man on his own Adub Records. Likewise, West Texan Randall King styles as a modern traditionalist behind this year's smooth Shot Glass, and there's no doubt of the soulful country Stack of Records (2021) that Larry Fleet grew up on. Houston native Triston Marez kicks off the first day behind the suave Texas country buckle of last year's self-titled debut.

Saturday wrangles this year's biggest return and farewell. Turnpike Troubadours went on indefinite hiatus in 2019 as frontman Evan Felker got sober, and if there's any indication of how much fans missed the Oklahoma sextet's hot-stomping anthems and sharp ballads, it's how quickly their return shows sold out across the country this summer. The same for Robert Earl Keen, who announced his retirement from the road earlier this year, making his blowout farewell tour the must-catch show of the year. The Texas songwriter digs deep into his catalog to serve up lost gems and fan favorites that helped forge the contemporary Lone Star sound.

American Aquarium expands the lineup into more Americana territory behind this year's exquisite Chicamacomico, with principal BJ Barham's narratives wringing restless desires and regrets. Alabama duo Muscadine Bloodline stirs a down-home Southern brew with debut LP Dispatch to 16th Ave., and Nashville's the Steel Woods sear guitar-scorched Southern country rock. Local songwriter/the Trishas member Jamie Lin Wilson – the only woman on the entire bill – offers perfect afternoon poignancy, while North Texas' Tanner Usrey smokes his Medicine Man EP to start.


Hutto Park at Brushy Creek, Friday 5 – Saturday 6

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