Muddy Roots 2023 is officially in the books, and with this being my first trip out to Cookeville, TN for MRMF, man was it a hell of an introduction.
If you aren’t familiar with what the Muddy Roots crew has brewing in the middle of rural Tennessee, think of a DIY version of Bonaroo, but way sicker and way more affordable. Free camping virtually anywhere on the premises and a wide-open BYOB policy have helped build a reputation valuing the music and community over large profits, something I appreciated just as much as the huge headliners they’ve attracted in recent years.
The huge headliners in question for this year’s installment were GWAR, Suicidal Tendencies, and Cro Mags, all of which were live firsts for myself. There wasn’t a drop-off in big names either after the top 3, with Amigo the Devil and DRI also playing. And, with the exception of Daikaiju and Night Talkers, almost all artists were, at least personally, live firsts.
The atmosphere was perfect, the music was perfect, everything was perfect. Whatever they’re doing out in Cookeville surely seems to be working. The shuttles to a nearby private waterfall help folks truly appreciate the gorgeous and unique scenery of Eastern Tennessee, while the music starts early and continues late into the night. From bluegrass to sludge-metal, punk rock to rockabilly, local act to international touring musician, Muddy Roots did as good a job as any in bringing people together from all over to celebrate the music we all love.
With the festival lineup growing larger and more diverse each year, I felt coverage of Muddy Roots would be most productive in highlighting some of the weekend favorites, rather than each individual performer. Below you’ll find the eight artists I most enjoyed seeing.
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Night Talkers a handful of times, most recently opening for The Last Gang at Music City’s best punk bar, the Cobra. And when local ska-punk legends Stuck Lucky were a last minute Covid scratch, onlookers were graced with the Night Talkers signature style of shredding guitar solos and fast, in-your-face rock ‘n’ roll. Although it was a disappointment missing the always entertaining Stuck Lucky, Night Talkers very much filled their shoes, much to the pleasure of the packed-out Wood Stage crowd.
Unless I’m mistaken (which is always a possibility), this was Night Talkers’ Muddy Roots debut. They’ve recently, as of the last year and a half or so, emerged as a local favorite of mine and I’ve been glad to see some local dudes garner interest both around town and out of state.
Hans Gruber and the Die Hards was one of those pesky touring bands that has somehow alluded my radar for several years now. I’ve known who they were for a while, but it wasn’t until the Muddy Roots lineup was announced that I hopped on board with these guys. It sucks to think that I’ve missed out for this long on probably the most entertaining band of the weekend.
Between every song, it seemed someone was switching instruments, whether it was lead-singer Rosey Armstrong switching from saxophone to some sort of handheld percussion instrument, or her husband Kurt dropping the bass and grabbing the traffic cone trombone, these dudes were all over the place, both musically and literally. I couldn’t take my eyes off their set, not only for the fast, hard-hitting punk rock, but for the stage antics that I only managed to capture a fraction of in my shots.
I’ve found the band whose duty it is to fill the Masked Intruder void that was left with the hiatus of everyone’s favorite masked punkers. The Jasons have emerged, assless chaps and all, with their own unique blend of villanous attire and Ramones-core punk rock. Humorous, sexy, terrifying, they’ve got the look figured out, and the music is in no way lacking.
Their closing came in the form of a sort of response to the Menzingers‘ ‘I Don’t Wanna Be an Asshole Anymore’ titled ‘I Wanna Be an Asshole’. And it sent the crowd into nothing short of a frenzy.
Waxed was a band I decided to break my punk-rock-only policy for, and it was probably the best decision I could have made. The experience that’s been gained in their 10+ year history really presented itself with their mastery of stage performance. The crowd was as rowdy as any I’d seen all weekend, even keeping up with the obvious contenders in Suicidal Tendencies and GWAR (although I’ve gotta rank it behind Cro Mags saying as an actual ambulance had to rush to the pit during their set).
Trending more towards modern hardcore than the skatepunk I normally fancy, I did see shades of Turnstile in both sound and performance from these guys. It was obvious from the packed mob of onlookers that a group of fan-favorites was about to take the stage.
Not much else really needs to be said here other than Tim Barry did what Tim Barry does. He put on a hell of a fuckin’ show, split pretty evenly between being up on stage and down on ground level with the rest of the crowd. The sentiment and storytelling were there, giving meaning and insight to the ever-attentive crowd. All the favorites were heard, at least all my favorites, including ‘Fine Foods Market’ much of Rivanna Junction, all culminating with the obvious closer, ‘Avoiding Catatonic Surrender’.
If were going off of technicality here, I guess I had already previously seen Tim Barry’s Fest 20 set last October, but the view sucked and I was rushing off to another set before Barry was halfway through his. This was my first real Tim Barry show and it satisfied every live-show craving I had to see my favorite Americana writer.
I’ve covered multiple Daikaiju attacks, being that they aren’t merely live performances, but attacks. Prior to each show, I seem to forget why they are my favorite band to photograph, and maybe favorite live band overall. Fire always holds a prominent place in performances, almost as prominent as crowd interaction.
Every crowd interaction possibility that I can devise occurred at the Wood Stage, during the late hours of Muddy Roots night one. Lead guitarist Secret Man led the crowd onslaught, riding the shoulders of one crowd member, recruiting others to play instruments, and surfing the remaining spectators, all while playing seemingly neverending surf-punk riffs. The tattered remains of each member’s Hawaiian stage uniform makes a whole lot more sense post-attack. The only antic I had yet to witness (until this performance that is) was their ritualistic tour van arson, which was done almost ceremonially to close their performance.
Having lived in Tennessee for much of my adult life, Suicidal Tendencies and Cro Mags have been bands of legend, with my only hope of seeing live performances being out-of-state travel. So I was beyond stoked seeing the lineup announcement featuring two of the founders of Hardcore. What I was unaware of, however, was the amount of talent and musical experience that would grace the main stage late during the first night.
Beginning with Mike Muir and Dean Pleasants, Muir being the only original member and Pleasants’ now outlasting that of former guitarist Rocky George. The two veterans recruited their asses off, bringing in the next generation of great musicians in Ben Weinman, Tye Trujillo, and Greyson Nekrutman. Weinman, formerly of Dillinger Escape Plan, Trujillo, whose last name may be recognizable as son of RnR Hall of Fame Metallica member Robert Trujillo, and Nekrutman, a worthy replacement for current Offspring drummer Brandon Pertzborn.
During the show, Muir’s years did not show a bit, while Trujillo portrayed a musicianship that didn’t seem to align with the mere 18 years he’s lived. Trujillo boasted some of the fastest, yet cleanest bass playing I’ve witnessed, while Weinman and Nekrutman’s speed was equally impressive. The current Suicidal lineup was, in many ways, the epitome of punk: a group from different backgrounds, genres, and even generations, producing genre-mending music.
While Suicidal Tendencies had gone through an evolution, Cro Mags appeared to be the fast, wreckless, fuckin’ insane punk band that I had pictured from 40 years prior. As was the case with Mike Muir, Harley Flanagan’s age was not a factor in his ability to utilize the entirety of the stage within a matter of seconds.
What was immediately obvious was these guys were veterans, they knew exactly what they were doing up there. The crowd excitement gave this the feel of a small-club East coast show rather than an outdoor festival in rural Tennessee.
There you have it, a pretty good wrap-up of my Muddy Roots experience in a nutshell. However, only so much can be portrayed through word and photograph. The community atmosphere was just as enjoyable as the big headliners, but don’t get me wrong, the music was as rad as ever, making me proud to live so close to something so special.
I feel it to be a punishable offense that the Nashville Dying Scene branch has failed to cover Muddy Roots in the past. I hope to have the privilege to cover MRMF far more frequently in the future because it really is as special as I hope I’ve portrayed. Scroll on down for a bunch of shots from the weekend. As always, thanks for checking out the site. Cheers!