Mainstream country and red dirt music, bull riding and barn dancing, Love and Theft will be part of the lineup at a new festival bucking up Southwest Oklahoma.
The homegrown Buckin Wild Music Fest will kick off its inaugural festivities Friday and Saturday at Lost Creek Ranch and Arena just west of Erick, also known as “where the pavement ends and the West begins,” according to festival founder and producer Donny G. Liles.
Nashville-based duo Love and Theft is heading up the music lineup, which also includes Oklahoma red dirt bands The Great Divide, Cody Canada & The Departed, the Red Dirt Rangers and Chad Sullins and the Last Call Coalition as well as Texas country acts like Granger Smith, Mike Ryan and JW Lane & County Road X.
Stephen Barker Liles, who is one-half of Love and Theft, predicted Buckin Wild will be one of the most fun and best-run new music festivals he has ever played. But he’s admittedly prejudiced: His dad, who lives just down the road from Erick in Sayre, is putting on the event.
“I’m kind of a little behind the scenes helping out with making sure that he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes that a lot of first-year festivals do. You know, just because I’ve played so many, I can tell him the good things to do and the bad things not to do, how to take care of artists and all those other things. I think it’s going to be really fun. I have a lot of roots in Oklahoma,” said the younger Liles, adding that his sister is based in Norman, where her husband, Scott Thompson, is on the University of Oklahoma men’s basketball staff.
“Oklahoma festivals have a lot of red dirt artists, and a lot of those festivals we play don’t have that. We’re the only band out of Nashville really, and the only reason we’re probably on it is because my dad’s running it,” he added with a laugh. “But it’s cool. I think that’s a cool thing.”
Buckin good time
Although a diverse array of country artists will provide the music, Saturday morning’s 30-man novice invitational bull-riding competition will put the “buck” in Buckin Wild. Cody Custer, a world-champion bull rider and Professional Bull Riders co-founder, will oversee the contest.
The festival also will feature camping, barn dancing and local music showcases.
“I’m a fan of all country music, and that’s one of the reasons why my dad had the idea for the festival. I was like, ‘You gotta make it more local, that way you can get more people behind it,’ so that’s one of the reasons why he wanted to do the red dirt kind of thing, because there’s not many festivals that lean towards that,” Liles said in a recent phone interview from New York City.
He said his dad is a preacher — in fact, Love and Theft fans will recognize Donny Liles as the minister from the duo’s “Angel Eyes” music video — and had experience planning big events when the family lived in Florida. But this is the elder Liles’ first foray into planning a country music festival.
“He’s got a lot of good partners over there, and it seems like he’s doing really well,” the musician said.
“I went and checked out the property where the festival is gonna be when I was visiting my dad, and it’s gorgeous. It’s a gorgeous place. It’s gonna be perfect for a festival, so yeah, I’m excited about it. There won’t be a sound ordinance; they can go all night if they want. It’s on a good private spot of land, really good for camping. So, I hope it does really well, and it’s only going to grow ever year.”
Weddings and albums
Stephen Barker Liles, 30, is doing plenty of planning of his own these days. He and his fiancee, Jenna Kennedy, with whom he has a 7-month-old son named Jett, are getting married in August, so he is busy with wedding arrangements when he isn’t touring.
His partner in Love and Theft, Eric Gunderson, 29, wed in 2010, and he and wife Emily welcomed their first son, Camden, on March 10, 2013.
“We have to be a little more responsible with every decision we make, because we’re feeding another mouth and raising a human, so I definitely think it makes you think differently about everything you do on a daily basis, even music. Now this new album we have that comes out this summer, there are a lot more party songs on it, but it just kind of happened that way,” Liles said with a laugh.
Love and Theft’s as-yet-untitled new album will follow 2012’s self-titled release, the group’s first as a duo following the departure of bandmate Brian Bandas.
“Our new single, ‘Night That You’ll Never Forget,’ is the lead-in single to the new album, and it kind of paves the way for what it’s gonna be like,” Liles said. “We got Timothy B. Schmit from the Eagles to sing on a couple songs on the new album, which is awesome. We co-produced it with Josh Leo, who produced a lot of Alabama’s albums ... and it’s the first album we’ve actually co-produced. So, we had a lot more involvement. We spent about double the time in the studio just to get it all right.”
Buckin Wild Music Fest attendees will hear about half the new album during Love and Theft’s Saturday night headlining set.
“We love playing new songs. I mean, you think about it, we play so many shows, so many nights, so when we get to play a new song, it’s always like a breath of fresh air for us. It keeps everything new and interesting,” Liles said.
Buckin Wild Music Fest