Turnpike Troubadours celebrates five years of Medicine Stone Music Festival ahead of a new album release 

click to enlarge Turnpike Troubadours (David McClister / provided)
  • David McClister / provided
  • Turnpike Troubadours

Many of the best ideas start as a conversation between friends. Medicine Stone Music Festival and the strong base of support it has gathered in five years of existence is a great example of that.

The music and camping festival focusing on red dirt, country, Americana and roots music was founded as a collaborative idea between Tahlequah’s Turnpike Troubadours and Stillwater’s Jason Boland and The Stragglers.

The fest returns to the banks of the Illinois River Thursday-Saturday at Diamondhead Resort, 12081 Oklahoma Highway 10, in Tahlequah. In addition to the event’s founders, guests can enjoy music from Randy Rogers Band, Shane Smith & The Saints, JD McPherson, Red Dirt Rangers, Lucero, American Aquarium and more.

Medicine Stone comes just weeks before Turnpike Troubadours is scheduled to release A Long Way From Your Heart, its first album since the success of its self-titled 2015 studio project, which peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard country music chart. Grammy-winning engineer Ryan Hewitt, known for his work on The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 2006 release Stadium Arcadium as well as music for The Avett Brothers and The Lumineers, produced the album.

In late August, the Troubadours released the single “The Housefire,” which opens A Long Way From Your Heart. The striking, fictional tale of perseverance through love sets the tone for the songs to follow.

The band’s release show for the new album is Oct. 20 at The Criterion, 500 E. Sheridan Ave. Its current roster includes vocalist and frontman Evan Felker, bassist R.C. Edwards, fiddler Kyle Nix, guitarist Ryan Engleman, drummer Gabe Pearson and new addition Hank Early on steel pedal.

Edwards recently spent some time catching up with Oklahoma Gazette on Medicine Stone’s fifth year and the band’s new album.

Oklahoma Gazette: What’s the story behind how Medicine Stone originated?

R.C. Edwards: It was a long time ago. You sit around talking about stuff like this. I think some of us were just sitting around talking to The Stragglers somewhere about it. We had played really cool music festivals all over the country, and we wanted to do something like that at home — bring a legit, big-time music festival and do it in our backyard with quality sound and quality production. We wanted to bring in bands that we’ve met traveling the country. Doing it at home, doing it in Tahlequah, was kind of a big thing.

We’d all played a lot of crappy festivals around, and we were like, “Man, why can’t we do a cool one in Oklahoma?” That was sort of the start of it.

OKG: That fest has really taken off in terms of its growth and popularity.

Edwards: Yeah. We’re busting at the seams right now. That’s a pretty neat deal.

OKG: What does that say about the red dirt scene and the fans that come to this?

Edwards: We’ve tried to diversify it quite a bit, and I think that’s really helped a lot. We never set out to be a red dirt festival, whatever that is. We just wanted to bring good music to Tahlequah, and I think we’re getting there. We’ve got JD McPherson coming with some throwback rock ‘n’ roll and Lucero with their grittier Americana stuff. Then you’ve got the traditional country stuff, like The Stragglers and bluegrass stuff. We wanted to diversify it, and I think we’re finally getting close to that goal as far as the lineup goes.

OKG: What’s been the biggest surprise for you in these few years organizing the festival?

Edwards: Just how much it’s grown. Like I said, we’ve played smaller festivals along that river our whole lives. To see a big-time one out there is a pretty amazing thing, just to see how many campers and how many people are at the show.

It’s also awesome to show off the [Illinois River] and Tahlequah to your friends from other parts of the country — for fans and bands. A lot of people don’t realize how pretty this part of Oklahoma is until they go see it for themselves.

click to enlarge A Long Way From Your Heart (David McClister / provided)
  • David McClister / provided
  • A Long Way From Your Heart

OKG: You have a new album coming out in October. It’s got to feel like you’ve got this great secret that you’re eager to share with everyone.

Edwards: Yeah, totally. It’s like, “I can’t wait for everyone to hear this.” You want to let it loose into the world and see what it does, but you got to get all your ducks in a row first.

OKG: Coming off the success of the last album, a lot of people are eager to see where you all go from that.

Edwards: It’s the same sound we’ve always had, I think. This album, it’s better arranged. We had a producer this time. We’ve just been kind of doing it ourselves forever. It was like adding another band member. And we also did actually add another band member since the last record. Having Hank [Early] on board as a band member and then Ryan Hewitt on board as a producer, they both brought a lot of new, very musical stuff to the table. But it’s still the same sound; I think it’s just a better version of it.

OKG: Talk about working with Ryan Hewitt. He has a great career working with a lot of great bands.

Edwards: Yeah. Let me tell you, when you get done working and you listen to his stories about working with all those great bands, it’s pretty cool. He’s a neat guy. He has a very tenacious approach to songs as far as arranging parts and getting the right part. He will make sure every line and every note is the best thing we can think of and the best thing for that song. Like, “Let’s just keep working on it until we get it right.” I think that’s another difference on this album. In that past, we’d be like, “That’s a cool arrangement; let’s go with that,” instead of working on it a little more and coming up with something that we liked even better.

OKG: “The Housefire” is a great, powerful single. In terms of overall theme on the project, is there something that you all were going for?

Edwards: Yeah; it definitely fits into the overall theme. The album name comes from the lyric “I’ll bet you make it, it’s a long way from your heart.” That’s sort of the theme of the album, just perseverance through tough times. I think “Housefire” was a good summation of all of that.

OKG: Talking about these themes of overcoming adversity, is that something the band has had to do a lot in recent years?

Edwards: Definitely. That’s the band; that’s our personal lives. That’s everybody. It’s just about life and realizing that, you know, you are going to make it through this in whatever’s going on. I think that’s a pretty universal thing or feeling that’s good to be reminded of every once in awhile.

Print headline: River rock, Turnpike Troubadours celebrate five years of Medicine Stone Music Festival ahead of a new album release.

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