I walked in to Logan Ledger playing. Not someone I had ever heard of, and, with all due respect to Logan Ledger, not someone I paid any particular attention to. The show really started for me with Jamie Wyatt. She was excellent, and it's a shame such a small crowd was there for it. Perhaps the acts that surprised me the most were Amythyst Kiah and Sierra Hull. I was broadly familiar with both of their work, but had never really delved in or sat with it for any substantial period of time. Kiah commanded the stage with a hugely impressive vocal presence and Hull's raw instrumental talent was fully on display. They're both fully on my radar going forward. I was also keenly interested in Sierra Ferrell's set. I enjoyed her last album, but hadn't spent a ton of time with it. I was sure impressed though, by both the size of her crowd and the performance. She had the whole crowd captivated, and I can't help but think she won't be playing the early sets for long. After her, I went to check out the merchandise table, and it was a sight to behold. So much merchandise for so from so many of my favourite artists -- it was honestly a dangerous situation for my wallet. I spent some time simply admiring the view, and settled on a pricey poster and a nice Turnpike Troubadours t-shirt.
The first major act I was looking forward to was Morgan Wade. I missed Paul Cauthen's set to wait up front to see her (to my understanding, nothing of value was lost), and she was excellent. Sadly, she didn't play my favourite track of her in "The Night", but she was still excellent, and the crowd reacted particularly fondly to "Matches & Metaphors". A guy complimented my American Aquarium shirt after the set, making for another win. After a slight break, I enjoyed Charley Crockett's set. He commands a stage, as many of said before and anecdotally, I perhaps saw more Crockett merchandise around the festival than any other act. He played his then-unreleased "I'm Just a Clown", and the crowd lost it for "Welcome to Hard Times".
I left Bryan's set early, but with good reason. My personal highlight was seeing the Turnpike Troubadours, and I wanted to get right up near the front. People indeed went nuts for them, and rightfully so. They were tight, cohesive, and in top technical form. It was exhilarating seeing my personal favourite "7 & 7" performed, and of all their tracks, "The Bird Hunters" probably got the best reaction. It was a lot of fun, and just increased my appetite for new music from them. They were followed by Orville Peck, who I listened to from a far (I like Peck a decent amount, but folks, it was a long day), as well as Old Crow Medicine Show. Willie Nelson drew a huge crowd, and it was really cool to see him perform.
The night finished with Jason Isbell and the 400 United and then Kacey Musgraves. Isbell was great, and I got decently close to the stage. "Dreamsicle" was my favourite performance, but the crowd obviously completely lost it for "Cover Me Up". I, along with the two men standing behind me, wished he'd have played "Elephant", but that's life. I've had a ticket to see Isbell that I bought prior to COVID, and it keeps getting rescheduled over and over again, so it was very nice to finally see him live.
My placement for Kacey was much, much further back, but it was fine nonetheless. She sounded great, but mostly played material from her (in my view) underwhelming star-crossed album. Still, she played a few tracks I loved from Golden Hour, "Lonely Weekend" and "Rainbow" in particular (I was shocked she didn't play "Space Cowboy". My read was that it was one of her signature songs). By far the highlight, though, was Willie coming out to sing "On the Road Again" with her. What a neat moment that was. By the end of her set, it was rather dark but still warm out -- a nice way to finish off an excellent day.
Overall, it was more than worth the cost. The lineup lived up to the hype, and being surrounded by hundreds of fellow independent country fans was such a joy. What was most striking, though, was how well it encapsulated the diversity of the independent country scene. You had the more Blues-oriented sounds in Kiah, the bluegrass feel with Hull, more of a pop-country blend with the likes of Wade and Peck, the Red Dirt scene in Turnpike, and so much more. Country music doesn't have one specific sound, or look any particular way; it's a scene of complexities, and I think Palomino did a fantastic job of encapsulating that beautiful array of talent. Were the beverages a rip off? Of course. Especially the exchange rate to Canadian dollars (yikes). Was the poster expensive? Yes. But it was a lovely day and a stacked lineup, and overall an absolute joy.