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Review: Cherokee Creek Music Festival

Peter Blackstock

Editor’s note: This article was originally published May 18, 2014

For prosperous fans of singer-songwriter music, pretty much everything about the Cherokee Creek Music Festival is idyllic.

Held on Los Valles Ranch just outside the town of Cherokee about 15 miles north of Llano in the Hill Country, this three-day soiree features prominent local and national acts performing in an impeccably controlled environment. The event’s fourth year concluded Saturday with music from the likes of Patty Griffin, Joan Osborne, Lucinda Williams, Shawn Mullins, Paul Thorn and Jimmy LaFave.

Performances are held in an open-air pavilion with hundreds of folding chairs plus room to sit on the artificial turf in front of the stage. The sound is near-perfect even from the dozens of picnic tables just outside the pavilion, where patrons gather to dine on varied fare served up from several food booths. A picturesque creek stretches alongside the festival grounds, defying the drought conditions that ravage the area.

The catch? At $200 for a one-day ticket, this is a pricey affair. For those who stay all three days, it’s a little more of a deal at $300. (Headliners on Thursday and Friday, with music in the evening only, included Mavis Staples, the Indigo Girls and Josh Ritter.)

There’s a break for families; an adult ticket also allowed admission for a child under 12. And Friday-Saturday admission included free food – which ranged from burgers and hot dogs to barbecue, fajitas and catfish – as well as water and sodas. (Alcohol is bring-your-own.)

All of this is made possible by Kelcy Warren, a Dallas energy company magnate who owns the ranch as well as Music Road Records, an Austin label whose recent Jackson Browne tribute “Looking Into You” was a focal point for the event this year. Artists such as LaFave and Osborne played the Browne songs they did on the album (“For Everyman” and “Late for the Sky,” respectively) during their sets, and the record played continuously between acts.

Griffin’s performance just before twilight was Saturday’s highlight. Accompanied by guitarists Craig Ross and David Pulkingham and keyboardist John Deaderick, the passionate singer brought the dinnertime-bustling crowd to a hush with the heartfelt ballad “Coming Home to Me,” then turned up the heat on the gospel-tinged “Standing.”

Most acts kept to their one-hour limit without doing an encore, but the crowd wouldn’t left Griffin go without an additional tune after she’d closed with the standard “The Glory of Love.” She obliged with “Gonna Miss You When You’re Gone,” saving her finest of many moving vocal moments for the song’s ending.

Osborne’s midafternoon set also stood out, featuring songs from her new disc “Love and Hate” as well as her Grammy-nominated bluesy collection “Bring It On Home.” She obliged longtime fans with her 1995 breakthrough hit “One of Us,” but it was the whole of her performance that made it clear why she’d been asked back after appearing at last year’s Cherokee Creek event.

Early sets by Jonah Hill and Music Road co-founder LaFave eased the crowd into the day, with the pop-leaning Mullins and the more blues-rock-oriented Thorn keeping the energy up through the late afternoon and early evening. Williams’ closing performance beckoned just beyond sundown, as a silent auction wrapped up to benefit a variety of children’s charities for which the festival tickets also raise funds.