By Melodie Ramey
Grayson, KY – MelonFest, a festival centered around the band Blind Melon, was held this year in the beautiful hills of Eastern Kentucky at a venue with a very fitting name, Hillbilly Woodstock. This wonderful little piece of camping heaven with a stage smack dab in the middle is owned and run by the magnanimous Bill Woods. After multiple last minute glitches that almost caused the festival to come crashing down, Bill, Jason Flesher, Ryan Conway, and a crew of remarkable volunteers stepped up to the plate and gave the hordes of Melonheads a weekend they will never forget.
Blind Melon originally formed in 1990. Lead vocalist Shannon Hoon, guitarist Christopher Thorn, guitarist Rogers Stevens, bassist Brad Smith, and drummer Glen Graham entered the music scene when the youth of America were crying out for answers. The culture demanded a voice, and that voice came from none other than Shannon Hoon. They quickly became responsible for some of the most epic moments and unsurpassed rock music of the ‘90s. Blind Melon with Shannon at the helm shined a light on the angst of the time, and taught us the necessity of change to make it better. They showed the world to relax because there’s no timeframe while highlighting the urgency of the small things like watching the puddles gather rain. Unfortunately the band came to a tragic end with the loss of Shannon shortly after the release of Soup in 1995. 12 years later Blind Melon had a miraculous reformation after meeting and finding a new lead vocalist, Travis Warren . It was as if Shannon Hoon himself had stepped down from heaven and blessed Travis’s golden vocal chords to keep the legacy alive. With their reformation in 2007 Blind Melon have picked up with their fans, exactly where they left off. They continue to play a handful of special shows each year looking forward to what the future holds. MelonFest was one of those special shows with a lineup that included extraordinary musicians from Blind Melon performing an acoustic jam session, as well as performances by their own spectacular bands.
The festival included over 20 bands rocking the stage throughout the 3 days of music as well as an astonishing group of fire dancers called The BurnOuts. The first day kicked off in beautiful bluegrass style with performances that included The Will Jones Band singing a cover of The Band’s “The Weight”, and a spectacular rendition of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”. City Heat brought their own later with a funkaliscious fever, and Salar Rajabnik and Moon Age took the stage and energized the crowd even more with their southern American roots feel.
Jonny Kaplan and the Lazy Stars headlined the show Friday night with their perfect musical blend of country, rock, folk, and blues. Jonny set the tone with his soulful voice that sails up into the heavens riding the harmonious melodies created by The Lazy Stars which for the evening included Salar Rajabnik and his wonderful bandmates in Moon Age. Their collective sound could be likened to Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, The Band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Gram Parsons. The amazing experiences from traveling, and working with stellar performers all over the world has made Jonny cultured and wise beyond his years. He brings all of this learned skill to his music, and you can hear the expertise and passion in each and every note. Jonny Kaplan came to the devoted fans at MelonFest 2015 and bestowed upon them the wisdom and talent of the ages.
Saturday’s musical performances were just as stellar as the day before including Mr. Uppercut, a Blind Melon tribute band formed through the Shannon Hoon vigil. Christopher Thorn even hopped on stage to join them for a stunning rendition of “Time“. Next, Travis T. Warren and Texas Lights took the stage to treat the festival goers to a set of strikingly powerful songs that rocked the crowd. The band formed from the extreme individual talents of Robby Hart, Matt Reeder, Zac Cornejo, Nathan Towne, and Travis Warren to come together into one band that is truly unique in sound and style. In each beautiful melody by Travis and Texas Lights there is a strong reminiscence of the fire of Led Zepplin, the hard rock of Slayer, and the passion and intensity of Blind Melon. Travis T. Warren’s spectacular voice carries touches of the soulfulness of Shannon Hoon, the originality of Perry Ferrel, and the classic rock elegance of Robert Plant. On stage at MelonFest he brought the same fire to Texas Lights that the beautiful renegade style of Sam Kinison brought to “Wild Thing” in 1988. Their style of rock and roll somehow manages to strain out the best parts of music from the past and present to concentrate it into one ultra-potent combustible mixture ready to explode. This combination of phenomenal vocals and brilliant music together on stage at MelonFest stole the attention of the diehard Melonheads making them seemingly forget that any other band ever existed if only for a moment. Travis T. Warren and Texas Lights were not just an addition to MelonFest 2015; they were a necessity. When they took that stage Saturday night their performance was nothing short of epic.
Sonny Boy Thorn followed Texas Lights to close the show out. They are a beautiful collaboration between guitarist-songwriter-producer, Christopher Thorn, of the legendary Blind Melon, and vocalist-songwriter David Dennis of the “dearly departed” LA indie-rock band Voxhaul Broadcast. Sonny Boy Thorn exploded on the MelonFest stage bringing with them the passion and soul of Stevie Ray Vaughan crossed with the downhome rock of Blind Melon. They spent July of 2015 playing their first public shows at a month-long residency every Monday at The Satellite in Los Angeles. Their next journey brought them to Kentucky on a lovely summer weekend to bring some of Sonny Boy Thorn’s own special brand of musical love to the beautiful Melonheads at the 2nd annual MelonFest. The musical chemistry between Christopher and David is evident in every song they performed. David’s mind-blowingly fervent voice soared through the atmosphere like a hot knife through butter, piercing the soul. Christopher’s epic guitar skills were razor sharp as always; every note he played slicing through the air, into the ears, and impaling the hearts of the eager fans dancing and singing along. If all that wasn’t enough, it only got better when Sonny Boy Thorn was joined on stage by Jonny Kaplan, Travis T. Warren, and Salar Rajabnik to perform a few covers including the fantastic “Rainy Day Women” by the great Bob Dylan.
On the final day of the blessed festival many more performers braved the hot sun to come out and play including Tennessee Tuckness. Tennessee’s greatest influences are Bonnie Raitt/John Prine, Lucinda Williams, Stevie Nicks and Ryan Adams. Just days before Tennessee’s 3rd cd release her son, Travis Warren, released For My Friends with new acclaimed band Blind Melon. The Tennessee Tuckness Band has opened before for Blind Melon with great response, and it was only fitting that she be at MelonFest to join her son once again at such an epic time in his life. Tennessee played many spectacular original songs including “Long Way Home” as well as an awe-inspiring and emotional cover of “Landslide” accompanied by Travis, and the legendary Christopher Thorn.
Throughout the festival fans were awe-stricken by the friendly and kind personalities of the performers no matter how famous. Jonny Kaplan, Christopher Thorn, Travis Warren, and even the stunning Nel Hoon joined the audience to dance and sing along with the music. They mingled with fans, and were genuinely pleased to pose for photos and chat. In this day and age that type of kindness is so rare, but somehow at MelonFest the kindheartedness was brimming. As sad as it was for the weekend to come to a close there was one last surprise for the fans. A last minute decision was made to move the final performance off stage and down to a cool shady spot in the heart of the camp on the Hillbilly Woodstock grounds. Christopher and Travis closed out MelonFest with a phenomenal acoustic performance of Blind Melon songs right in the midst of their multitudes of fans gathered around closely and harmonizing together. The fans were all invited by the guys to grab their instruments and their voices and join in, and all were eager to oblige. Stories were told in between the songs, and Nel Hoon riveted the crowd with her tales of a young Shannon Hoon conquering the world with his trickster nature, eons of talent, and gentle soul. Shannon might not have been able to be there in body on that epic day, but it’s guaranteed that the marvelous melodies created by Christopher Thorn, Travis Warren’s awe-inspiring vocals, and the harmonies of the dedicated and talented fans reached up into the Heavens, and brought Shannon’s spirit right on back down to dance with all of the beautiful Melonheads at MelonFest 2015.