Larry Joe Taylor Feast is back after a two-year reprieve

By: Nicholas Ratcliff

Multimedia Journalist

The Larry Joe Taylor Music Festival (LJT) is finally coming back to Melody Mountain Ranch in Stephenville, Texas, this September after two years of delays due to the coronavirus pandemic.

LJT is a country music festival where preforming artists come together to play their music for a crowd that averages around 60,000 people throughout the week of the festival.

Larry Joe Taylor at Melody Mountain Ranch.
Photo by Nicholas Ratcliff

LJT wasn’t always the large festival that it is known for today.

According to Larry Joe Taylor, the host and one of the main performers of the festival, “It started as another gig in 89’ and we didn’t think we would do another one. When it started it was just a bunch of people cooking chili and we would play…It was a good time, so we decided to do it again that next year.”

As time went on, the festival began to grow in size and every year more musicians and people would show up to kick back and enjoy some live country music. Things progressed the first six years of LJT’s history, until it finally became an official annual event during its seventh year.

Larry explained, “After every we year we would say, ‘We aint doing this again,’ but by the time the seventh one came around we had our first sponsor and thought to ourselves well… we can keep going.”

The festival, which was started in 1989, continued down a similar path and didn’t skip a year until the spring of 2020, when it was rescheduled due to the pandemic.

According to Zack Taylor, the event coordinator of the festival, “When we initially made the decision [to reschedule LJT], we didn’t think there was going to be a way, and then by the time April rolled around, there was obviously not a way [to host the festival]. We would have had to get gathering permits and work with homeland security and all that stuff, and none of that stuff was gonna happen.”

Originally, the festival was rescheduled for the April of 2021 and while it could have happened, Larry decided to reschedule the festival again.

“The one that we had scheduled for last April was possible, but it was right on that line,” Larry explained. “At the time we were gonna have to do pods, and when we started setting those up and mapped them out, we had already sold more tickets than we could put pods out there. So, then we decided that we were not gonna do this festival like this, so we rescheduled for September.” 

This September’s festival is expected to make a full return, and Larry couldn’t be happier about the lineup stating that, “This year has a great lineup top to bottom. I just proofed the laments for the VIPs and I was thinking ‘Man how’d we put this together.’ Every day and night is headliner, headliner, headliner, all the way till the end. The tough part was figuring out who to put in front of who because they are all basically headliners, but we got some new and established people that we are really excited for.”

With artists such as Koe Wetzel, William Clark Green and Gary P. Nunn preforming, it’s easy to see why Larry is so excited about this year’s lineup. Selecting a lineup like that takes years of practice and Larry was happy to shed some light on their process of picking.

“There’s two things that go into our process of picking.  First of all are they going to entertain the crowd. They either have to entertain the crowd or draw the crowd. Not everybody has to draw a big crowd. We just want the crowd to be entertained when they get here,” Larry said. “There’s also a lot of loyalty that goes into that, Guys like Randy Rodgers have been here for 15 years so we don’t even really communicate, he just knows and we know that he’s welcome to perform.”

While loyalty is an important aspect to Larry and his team, they also like to give new guys a chance stating that, “We’re always looking for the young guys, one thing that’s helped us over the last seven or eight years is having our song writer show case a lot of the guys that are preforming like Parker McCullum, Jared Morris and Cody West all came through him. I’d say about 30 or 40 percent of our performer’s come through him.” 

 Zack added, “We also look for artist who out there staying busy, the ones that play every weekend, we like they guys that are out there promoting themselves. There’s some artist that won’t draw the same size crowd as the others but there out there working hard fine tuning their art. The fans like to be a part of the up and comer.”

Not only is there a process in selecting the performers, but as it turns out, setting up a festival for 60,000 people is no easy task.

 According to Zack, “It’s like organizing a small city, the same stuff that goes on in town is kind of the same stuff that goes on out here over six days. We have to worry about water, sewer, bathrooms, ems, security, food and roads. All of that stuff goes into building this little small temporary town to make sure everybody’s needs are met while they are here. So, it’s a very long detailed process, but we get a lot of help from the county and city.”

“We are constantly trying to improve which always requires more work, and on top of this the grounds have gotten bigger which requires us to organize even more, so it’s not that things get harder as much as it is that as soon as we figure something out, there’s already that next thing to figure out,” Zack ended.

COVID-19 hit the music industry hard, and a lot of artists barley scrapped by while their tour dates were canceled month after month. This has led to a crisis within the music industry, especially for those that weren’t supported by a multimillion-dollar record label.

This is why Larry thinks it is now more important than ever to buy a ticket. “It was devastating and a lot of guys are out of the business cause of it, or at least temporarily they had to step out,” Larry said. “We really found out how unimportant we were towards the government, but the public supported a lot of the Facebook live shows musicians started to host during the pandemic, but there’s no substitute for live music.”

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