3rd Annual Local CountryFest
Indian Ranch, Webster, MA
September 29, 2019
This popular annual event draws more fans every year while presenting the very best local country music. Organized and promoted, as always, by Octo Rock Cinema Productions, this year’s 3rd Annual Local CountryFest lived up to the high expectations attendees now have of it.
I’ve reviewed this event every year so far (see my reviews of 2017’s 1st annual and 2018’s 2nd annual), and I look forward to next year’s year number four, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This year, Backyard Swagger performed on the Corral Stage as the gates opened. Then the performances moved to the main stage, featuring short sets by Meghan Lynch, Ayla Brown and Rob Bellamy, Taylor O’Connor, Tim Buono, and Matt York and full-length, full-band sets by Lyssa Coulter, the Jake Ash Band, Mychael David, the Darren Bessette Band, Annie Brobst, and No Shoes Nation.
But first I’d like to talk about the venue. Indian Ranch is very cool. It’s big enough for a big stage show but small enough that every seat feels intimate, definitely compared to most other decent-sized outdoor concert locations. The venue is also home to The Indian Princess, a riverboat that gives tours of the lake, a campground, the very nice Samuel Slater’s Restaurant, and a banquet hall/function facility. Yes, I’ve only ever attended concerts at the amphitheater, but the entire grounds seem well worthy of future visits.
With so many artists performing, I’ll keep each review quick, drop in a band photo, and move on to the next, especially since the posting of this review has been so delayed that I have to lean almost strictly upon my notes. Hopefully it’ll be enough to give you a sense of each band’s performance.
I arrived a little late, but I did catch the last couple of songs of Backyard Swagger’s Corral Stage set. Ayla Brown and Rob Bellamy then performed the national anthem on the main stage before yielding the stage to Lyssa Coulter’s full band performance.
And on the grounds, attendees were treated to the magic stylings of Steve Charette, who was as impressive this year as he had been when I first saw him perform during the 1st Annual Local CountryFest.
Before the national anthem, Backyard Swagger kicked off the day’s music with a performance at the Corral Stage as fans filed in. Their fun rendition of “Man I Feel Like a Woman” was being performed as I approached. The group also delivered a lively rendition of “Little White Church” with kick and punch, a version of Maren Morris’ “Rich” sporting a fun, funky rhythm, and a performance of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” that showcased Miriam Smith’s blistering fiddlework. Backyard Swagger closed its set with “Any Man of Mine,” a tune ideal for Diane Ferullo’s voice, driven home by the band’s booming rhythm section.
After Ayla and Rob delivered “The Star-Spangled Banner” to kick things off on the main stage, the Lyssa Coulter Band launched into its set. Lyssa Coulter has been a mainstay at Local CountryFest, moving up the performer food chain each year. This year, she finally landed a main stage, full-band, full-set performance, and she not only owned the stage this year with her full-band, eight-song, main-stage performance, but she delivered with some serious charisma and vocal talent, leaving no doubt that she’s a bona fide front-line New England country act.
Lyssa kicked things off with “Whiskey in the Twilight,” a tune that showcases her best vocal qualities, those that are most identifiable, a great opening song choice. Lyssa’s sensitive vocal quaver worked well on the heartfelt “Maybe Tonight.” Her “Should’ve Said No” cover was energetic. “By Myself” sported an emotional, moving wail. Indeed, Lyssa’s originals are always the songs best-suited to her voice, as if they’ve been written with her unique strengths in mind.
And, speaking of originals that utilize Lyssa’s vocal skills, she closed the set with “Curisin’,” her summer single. This is one of those upbeat, catchy, teen-movie-friendly numbers. And this one, in particular, has a catchy, playful guitar line. Lyssa has established herself as a marquee local talent in her lane. I really dug this set.
Pop-country singer Meghan Lynch – from Boston but now based in Nashville – followed with an acoustic set. I wish my notes were more detailed, but the short set was fun. She kicked things off with “Wild Guess,” sung with a heartfelt vibe. She followed it with original “My Greatest Mistakes.” Meghan closed her set with an energetic, bubblegum, pop-country, fun number “Party Girl.” The quick four-song set was over too quickly. Here’s hoping Meghan will be back again next year.
I was psyched for this. I’ve been following The Jake Ash Band for a while, and this was my first chance to catch them live. They did not disappoint. They kicked off with “Five Star Dive Bar,” complete with driving guitar, great storytelling, and reminiscing vocals. Catchy, this song sounds like it’ll grow on you. Next up, on “Easy on the Eyes (Hard on the Heart),” I really liked the way the piano line prominently drove this song. My notes even tripled use of this word for this song: catchy, catchy, catchy. “Sweet Babies” had a raucous energy with a great use of vocal pause-and-punch. The band’s October 4th release, “Tequila Season,” followed. Then catchy, hooky, fun, guitar-crunching “Wedding Ring Money.”
After a powerful, edgy, bluesy-rocking country numbers (whose title I didn’t glean), the JAB launched into “Devil Went Down to Georgia” and “Mountain Music” before closing with original “25 Again,” a powerful song, “on 11” from beginning to end, followed by a frantic close. It’s obvious why it’s a fan favorite, a terrific way to close a set, leaving the crowd buzzing.
The next acoustic set featured this exceptionally well-matched duo. On set-opener “Always Have a Home,” as throughout the set, Rob’s deep textured voice was complemented by Ayla’s softer, sweeter tone. The “white space” was as musically important as the guitar, at least in this acoustic arrangement. Next up was a cover of A Star is Born‘s “Shallow.” On this powerful ballad, Rob’s rich voice kicked things off, followed by Ayla’s warm, also-rich voice. “Built That Way” was about the purest country song there is, about praying, patriotism, and working hard; it was delivered powerfully and sincerely, as they have the requisite vocal chops for this song to hit home the way it was intended. Ayla and Rob closed their set with “The Honeymoon Phase,” a fun, clever, light-yet-lyrically-interesting, catchy tune.
The marquee old-school country voice of Central Massachusetts for quite some time, a singer with an impressive national pedigree, Mychael David took the stage next for a long set with his full band. Sporting a deep, powerful, timeless country voice and endless talent and surrounded by some of the region’s best musicians, a Mychael David full-band concert event is always a treat.
The band opened with “Even the Man in the Moon is Crying,” followed by “Folsom Prison Blues” – so much axe talent in the band, they totally rocked this! In fact, it’s such a great fit, the band included “Folsom Prison Blues” on Mychael’s most recent album, Heroes & Honkytonks.
Next up was “Smoke and Ash.” As here, Mychael’s old-school, rich country voice can carry a set. Always. Anywhere. But Howie Swett’s wailing riffs put this song over the top.
After a cover of “Country Roads” that nailed that pluckin’ country energy, the band rolled on to “Some Gave All.” This ballad “to veterans and to those who never made it back” is always a misty moment during a Michael David set. This swaying, sad ballad was punctuated by Mychael walking through the crowd shaking as many veterans’ hands as possible. A true, sincere, patriotic mid-set moment.
After uptempo “That Ain’t My Truck,” the band closed its set with “Goodbye is Still Goodbye,” a country rocker driven by an energetic guitar line and subtle hooks, complementing Mychael’s rich vocals.
Taylor O’Connor’s short acoustic set was next. Showcasing serious twang for a Grafton girl, Taylor delivered a solid cover of Luke Combs’ “When It Rains It Pours,” featuring vocal tempo and pace changes. Next up was “Reset Button,” an original that highlighted Taylor’s nice, tuneful voice. Finally, Taylor’s performance of “Wine Again” impressed; there was a bit of an emotional warble on this song that really delivered the goods.
The Darren Bessette Band followed, opening with “It’s a Long Way Down,” a song that prompted me to note “rockin’ country, tight band, great vox.” That about sums it up for this crowd-pleasing assemblage of consummate country music pros.
I was particularly impressed by original “Tail Lights,” an old-school country music hall type of song. It sported a steady rhythm, but the guitar line was active, giving the soundbed character to complement Darren’s expressive vocals.
Cover songs ranged from Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” to Eddie Rabbitt’s “Driving My Life Away,” delivered flawless and timeless. And the set closed with “I Love This Life.” A great set of crowd favorites, showcasing this talented band.
Tim Buono’s short set was next. He opened with a laid-back country song (whose title I missed). My favorite song of Tim’s set was his original “Anyway,” with soulful emotion dripping from every syllable – an absolute must-hear! And he closed his set with a cover of Brad Paisley’s “Little Moments,” again featuring emotional vocals, almost seeming like they the words themselves were about to crack. Whew!
The Annie Brobst Band was next. As has been the case every time I’ve seen this world-class outfit, they owned the big stage, delivering a big concert performance. They kicked things off with energy via “You Either Love Me Or You Don’t.” Next up: “Still Water,” a song whose dancing rhythm guitar live added character and motion to this catchy, mid-range number. Oh, and the cool vocal bridge added even more character.
After “Change of Heart,” Annie and band went whiskey – original “Whiskey Colors,” a dynamic personal favorite delivered with a catchy use of stop-starts and a funky bass bridge and “Whiskey Glass,” which featured crowd engagement. Then went wine. New original “Red Wine On My Mind” sounds like a real crowd-pleaser, a singalong-able tune that builds to power and even features a little guitar shredding. Well done.
Then, after “Love You More,” Annie delivered “Ghost,” a smooth, rich, full song to close the set.
The last acoustic mini-set of the day belonged to Matt York. He opened with an energetic, fast-strumming, country story-song growler, then a strummer with a deep growl. He closed with a cover of Billy Joe Shaver’s “Fit to Kill and Going Out in Style,” delivered engagingly with that all-knowing, smirky vocal edge. Exceptionally well done.
Local CountryFest closed with a set from No Shoes Nation, the Kenny Chesney tribute band that’s a huge local draw with its tight musicianship and near-flawless delivery of Chesney’s hits.
The band opened with “Reality” and closed with “Beer in Mexico.” Highlights in between included “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” which had the crowd swaying, and “Boston,” an obvious local favorite. Also, my personal favorite Kenny Chesney tune, “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.” Across a set that spanned more than a dozen songs, No Shoes Nation wrapped up a day of great local country music with an energetic, funny, very true-to-Chesney set.
I’m already looking forward to next year’s Local CountryFest – this concert has quickly become a must-attend annual event on the local music calendar.