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On The Road: The Hinterland Festival Featuring Sturgill Simpson, Tyler Childers, Nathaniel Rateliff, Blackberry Smoke, Wheeler Walker, Jr. And More In St. Charles, Iowa

I know what you’re thinking. What in tarnation is Capture Kentucky doing in Iowa? The simple answer is the Hinterland Festival. The true reason is that I had the incredibly rare opportunity to make a very long trek to see three unique Kentucky artists surrounded by some of my personal favorite artists on this planet that we call Earth.

Do I have your attention yet? Good. The Hinterland Festival is a two-day event that has created one of the best lineups that I have ever seen put together. While we weren’t able to stay for the Friday night event that included Ancient Posse, Tash Sultana, Chvrches, and Band Of Horses. We were able to catch everyone on Saturday. We saw sets from Sturgill Simpson, Tyler Childers, Nathaniel Rateliff, Blackberry Smoke, Anderson East, Margo Price, J. Roddy Walston And The Business and as a nightcap in the campground, Wheeler Walker, Jr.! A little piece of Kentucky Heaven in the beauty of Iowa.

Make sense why Capture Kentucky was in Iowa now? Good! Now let’s talk a bit about the Hinterland Festival itself.

The area is a few miles South of Des Moines, Iowa in the small town of St. Charles. Hinterland took place at the Avenue of the Saints Amphitheater and Event Center, which is just off of I-35. We intentionally drove past the Amphitheatre so we could see the town. As we drove through the home of about 700 people, I couldn’t help but think of a song that we would possibly hear from Blackberry Smoke later that night, “One Horse Town”. If you’re unfamiliar with the song, allow me to introduce ya to it! Charlie Starr and the boys weave a tale about small town living that seemed the perfect soundtrack as we finished our trek.

The land is basically a bowl. With the stage at the bottom of the hills and at the back of the property. There were many folks vying to get as close as possible, but a large portion of folks took advantage of the hills and brought blankets and air couches to enjoy the day. In all honesty, the bowl shape allowed for great views from just about anywhere. We really enjoyed it.

“Get your corn dogs, bitches!” – Sturgill Simpson

At the top of the hill, there were many food choices and lots of craft vendors. Whether it was a food truck or a tent, you certainly had many choices. We just had to get ourselves some corndogs and cheese curds. Once the heat hit us, we certainly earned those calories. Right? Sure. Lol

I do want to mention that the Festival had set up many water bottle filling stations and had several port-a-potty locations. If there happened to be a line, it moved quickly. That isn’t always the case at Festivals, so kudos to Hinterland.

The first artist we saw were The Nadas. We weren’t familiar with the band, but we definitely walked away a fan. The band are Iowa natives, so they had quite a few fans for such an early start. Their set got moved up and extended a bit because Joshua Hedley had to cancel due to flight delays. I was certainly looking forward to seeing “Mr. Jukebox” himself, but things happen and the Nadas certainly did their part and earned several new fans.

By the way, as luck would have it, I ran into Mike and Jason from the Nadas in the media room and they told me that they have never played Kentucky. So all of you venues and promoters out there, let’s get em to the Bluegrass!

The next fella we saw, well he needs no introduction to the readers here at Capture Kentucky. Lawrence County’s Tyler Childers, whose star has risen like a meteor played next. No one tells stories or sounds more like Kentucky than Tyler Childers. As I’ve said in the past, there is a lot of church in his voice. Not from a religious angle, but from a delivery angle. His voice is immediately identifiable and his passion never wavers. Tyler and his band, The Food Stamps, were truly “eatin’ big time” out here in Iowa on the 1st birthday of his release, “Purgatory”.

If you’ve seen a Tyler Childers show, bless you, if not, well make it happen. Tyler and the band are not flashy onstage. They’re not a rock band jumping off of speakers. They’re craftsmen of incredibly well-written songs and melodies about the life and area that Tyler has lived and grew up in.

As if Tyler’s performance wasn’t enough to get people buzzing, a total Kentucky moment will likely make his set the main talking point of the entire day. Tyler was joined by two more Kentuckians, Wheeler Walker, Jr. and Sturgill Simpson. The Kentucky Trio as Wheeler dubbed em. They all played a Wheeler track, “Sit On My Face” (NSFW Video Here) and Sturgill stayed out to close the main set with Tyler’s cover of Charlie Daniels’ “Trudy”. As you may have already imagined, the crowd were going absolutely bonkers and that’s how three Kentuckians won the battle of Iowa.

Tyler Childers With Sturgill Simpson – “Trudy”:

Tyler and the fellas played many favorites like “Bus Route”, “Honky Tonk Flame”, “Universal Sound”, “Whitehouse Road”, “Peace Of Mind”, their version of “Tulsa Turnaround” which was originally recorded by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, (Tyler’s version leans more towards the Goose Creek Symphony version) and of course the Shel Silverstein classic, “I Got Stoned And I Missed It”. Tyler finished his set alone onstage, singing his love ballad to the lovely, “Lady May”.

J. Roddy Walston & The Business were a band that I wasn’t able to watch as I was attempting to conduct two interviews, both were eventually canceled, unfortunately, but from the fans that were sitting around us, they said their set was energetic and most folks seemed to enjoy themselves. I do know that they had one fan watching in the wings and that was none other than Mr. Tyler Childers.

If you’re a reader of this site, you will know that I have publicly stated, multiple times, that Anderson East has the best tone and voice on this planet. Otis Redding is my favorite vocalist of all-time, Anderson is likely the closest voice to Otis that I can witness, so his set was and likely always will be a highlight for me.

He sang many of his popular songs like “Devil In Me”, “Girlfriend”, the Willie Nelson cover “Somebody Pick Up My Pieces”, “Surrender” and “This Too Shall Pass”. The latter closed the set and I for one loved it. Even though the drunks in front of us thought the song was about a kidney stone. Hardy Har Har, A-Holes.

Margo Price was the singular lady on the Hinterland bill on Saturday. That’s truly a testament to her music and performance. Donning a huge pair of “leafy” earrings, Margo not only performed but captivated the Iowa audience. Her Southern, sometimes sexy drawl had folks swaying, dancing and truly taking in what was an absolutely epic performance.

Songs like “The King is Dead”, “Tennessee Song” and a host of new songs delighted the seemingly ever-growing crowd. She nearly knocked em all dead when she took to the drum kit during “Cocaine Cowboys”. They threw in a cover of the Tom Petty classic, “Last Dance For Mary Jane” and the crowd pushed even closer.

Margo’s set was a popular one for the other performers as well. I saw Tyler Childers, Anderson East and Miles Miller taking it in. Several members of Tyler’s band watched as well and one of Anderson’s backup singers stood right beside us for the set. Margo is the real deal and the fact these folks made time to watch her is the punctuation to my point. Let’s not forget that Margo and Tyler sold-out two nights at the Ryman in Nashville and that wasn’t that long ago. You can read more about that here, if you’d like.

Also, while Margo isn’t a Kentuckian herself, she has had two prominent Kentucky guitarists in her band in the past. Kenny Vaughan who now plays with Marty Stuart and Hinterland headliner Sturgill Simpson.

Blackberry Smoke are one of my personal favorite bands. This was my fourth time seeing them. So I definitely knew what to expect coming in. Few artists sound perfect in a live setting, but I’ll be totally honest, in four performances, I have yet to hear vocalist Charlie Starr miss a note. Vocally or instrumentally. The band is a well-oiled machine and they truly never disappoint. If you even remotely enjoy any of their songs, you owe it to yourself to see Blackberry Smoke live. You can thank us later.

I’ve referred to Blackberry Smoke as the more Country cousin of Lynyrd Skynyrd and I think that’s a moniker those fellas deserve and in my humble opinion, would happily embrace.

Their set was a nice mix of old and new as they tore through songs like “Fire In The Hole”, “Waiting On The Thunder”, “Let A Sleeping Dog Lie” which included a condensed version of Aerosmith’s “Come Together” sandwiched within it, the gritty and grungy “Flesh And Bone”, and “Ain’t Much Left Of Me”.

By the way, they also treated us to the aforementioned “One Horse Town”. How’s that for foreshadowing? I’ll bet my old English teacher, Kim Hall, will appreciate that one.

Nathaniel Rateliff took the stage next. I saw the band perform last Summer at Forecastle and had a feeling the crowd would be feeling pretty good by the time they took the stage. I’m happy to say that neither the band nor the crowd disappointed.

Call it roots, call it soul, call it rock ‘n’ roll but whatever you call Nathaniel Rateliff, you’d be well-advised to add badass as an adjective. Twangy, raspy, raw, polished, emotional, captivating, unique and immediately recognizable are all suitable descriptions of the voice that Nathaniel Rateliff possesses. Add in his dance moves and energy and Nathaniel becomes a tough act to follow.

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats had the largest set of the day, by far, and as the sun dipped below the tree line, their set became yet another star on the stage. The band absolutely delighted the Iowa crowd with hit after hit. Highlights included “Shoe Boot”, “You Worry Me”, “I Need Never Get Old”, “Hey Mama”, “S.O.B.”, and their cover of the classic “The Shape I’m In” by The Band.

As I said, Nathaniel is a tough act to follow, but us Kentuckians know just the guy to accept that challenge. Mr. Sturgill Simpson, much like Mr. Tyler Childers, needs zero introduction around these parts. The Breathitt County native has taken the world by storm with his intelligent mix of Country, Americana, Rock ‘N’ Roll and middle finger for Nashville. Sturgill is the modern torch bearer for true Outlaw Country and Iowa got one healthy helping of ass-kicking from the man himself.

After unleashing himself and becoming his own lead guitarist again, Sturgill has found the joy in performing again. He seems more like the young Sturgill that I saw so many moons ago in Lexington when he had his Sunday Valley project. He’s raw, he’s aggressive and he’s not taking any prisoners. Sturgill and his band are an absolute force and every time I see them, drummer Miles Miller moves up even further on my favorite drummers list.

The crowd was pure energy and a large portion were rather intoxicated, so believe me when I say, Iowa knows how to party and Sturgill was the absolute perfect soundtrack for the night!

Sturgill did indeed did mention a new album coming soon, so soak that info in for a sec. You back? Good. Sturgill spoke a lot to the crowd. He mentioned having a lot friends on this bill and he of course name dropped our Kentucky boys, but two things he said were absolutely amazing to me.

The first is an arrow right in the bullseye on what we do here at Capture Kentucky. He said, “Get out there and support your local music scene. This wasn’t always like this for us. We used to all sleep in the same hotel room, smelling each others shit. I am certain that there are bands and artists in your town who could use some support.” That is the exact ideology of why Capture Kentucky exists. Everyone was local once.

The second thing Sturgill said was, “We’re going to play a lot of songs you probably know, but they will sound nothing like what they do on the records you own. If we’re not inspired then you’re not inspired, and if you’re not inspired then why the f*ck even bother, ya know what I mean?” The band then did exactly what Sturgill said they would do. They tore through a set that was familiar, but entirely new and let me just say, Holy Sh!t. It. Was. Incredible.

The epic opener “Live A Little” is a 10 minute assault and left many jaws on the ground, myself included. Highlights for me were “Breaker’s Roar”, reworked versions of “Keep It Between The Lines”, “Turtles All The Way Down” and the biggest surprise of the night was the classic Jeff Beck anthem, “Going Down”, which led into “Call To Arms”. The band was stunning in their precision. I don’t even have the words to tell you what it was like.

Listen, Sturgill was really good last year at Forecastle, but at Hinterland, this was a different Sturgill. His focus and skills, both vocally and on guitar, are off the charts. This performance may have taken the spot for the best I’ve ever witnessed. I don’t say that lightly. I don’t know if the fact that Sturgill was surrounded bu so many friends elevated his performance, but he was certainly in a great mood when I ran into him and Miles after their set.

Y’all get ready, Sturgill and the band are about to take the Country Music Crown, but he ain’t gonna be King Turd up on Sh!t Mountain. He’s going to be the King of Nashville and there isn’t one damn thing they can do to stop him.

Wheeler Walker, Jr., where do I start? If you’re unaware of Wheeler and at work, you better wait till you’re home to Google him. Lol Wheeler played the Campfire stage where a rowdy crowd of campers packed the place. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but like I said, Iowa knows how to party!

Wheeler is a Lexington native and has carved out his own niche in Country music. In a nutshell, he has created a legitimate sound and taken the idea of David Allen Coe’s infamous bootleg X-Rated Hits and made it just a little less offensive. Most songs are all about sex and a field full of drunken campers ate Wheeler up.

He sang songs like “Sit On My Face”, “Beer, Weed, Cooches and Honky Tonk Music”, “Redneck Sh!t”, “Puss In Boots”, “Summers In Kentucky”, “Drop ‘Em Out”, a new song called “I Like To Smoke Pot A Lot” and of course everyone’s favorite, “F*ck You Bitch”. See, wait to Google.

I do want to apologize for not getting better photos of Wheeler, but there was no photo pit and a lot of drunk folks. So I just couldn’t risk my equipment, but more on that in a bit.

Wheeler definitely isn’t for everyone, but the drunken campers certainly didn’t seem offended. Once you get past the shock value, you’ll hear some good Country music, but you’ve been warned!

Back to the crowd, there was a tense moment when someone threw something (possibly a beer) at Wheeler. He stopped the show and had the man tossed and rightfully so. That moment told me that I made the right decision by staying out of the crowd.

I want to wrap this article up and the simplest way to do that is to tell you that if Hinterland repeats a lineup like the one this year, the Festival will be a premier destination for lovers of real music. Officially, the festival reported that over 11,000 music lovers attended from 42 of our 50 states.

There will likely never be another large festival packed with so many popular Kentuckians, so this one was a real treat for us and we’re super thankful for the opportunity. I hope you enjoyed the article and photos. Thanks for reading!

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