After the COVID-19 pandemic sidelined the Bowen MusicFest for two years, Texas country music singer-songwriter Wade Bowen and festival organizers are getting back into the water not with a cautious toe, but, well, a cannonball.
Not only is the festival returning this weekend to McLane Stadium’s Touchdown Alley grounds, but it’s in an expanded two-day format. It kicks off Saturday night with Bowen and country stars Parker McCollum and Deana Carter in concert, followed by the fest’s usual full Sunday of music capped by its trademark, closing All-Star Jam.
And where past MusicFests generally landed in late May or early June when summer’s heat starts creeping up the thermometer, the comeback fest arrives in a more moderate April, good news for the more than 5,000 fans that past MusicFests have attracted.
“It’s been a vision of mine for a long time to have two days. I’m never just satisfied. I always have a vision of something bigger and ‘we can do better,’” said Bowen, speaking by phone from his New Braunfels home. “I hope we have record numbers. That’s the goal.”
The Bowen MusicFest marked its 22nd year in 2019, before two years of COVID-19 protocols and precautions banned concerts, chilled touring and disrupted planning with unexpected musician quarantines and canceled appearances. Up to that point, the Bowen Family Foundation, which channels the money raised by the festival into local charitable gifts, had raised $5 million.
MusicFest organizers and Foundation staffers hope to pick up where they left off with this weekend’s show.
“We’re trying to get people in and let them feel like it’s theirs,” said the Waco native. “And it’s a celebration for me in that our foundation has survived a crazy two years.”
Last month’s Academy of Country Music awards provided a serendipitous touch for Saturday’s concert with McCollum winning New Male Artist of the Year and Lainey Wilson, who performs Sunday, both New Female Artist of the Year and Song of the Year for “Things a Man Oughta Know.”
Waco audiences will catch McCollum before he starts a much-anticipated summer tour with Thomas Rhett. “He’s one of the hottest acts in country music right now,” Bowen noted.
Carter makes her MusicFest debut on Saturday night and Wilson performs Sunday, as does Shenandoah, with Cledus T. Judd serving as emcee for both days.
Sunday’s All-Star Jam brings back longtime favorites like Randy Rogers, Josh Abbott, Stoney LaRue, William Clark Green and Jamie Lin Wilson — “They always answer when I call,” Bowen said — sprinkled with the return of Casey Donahew and Lee Roy Parnell, who had played the MusicFest in the past.
Bowen will share the stage with his peers this weekend, but fans will hear some new music from an EP released in November — “Phones Don’t Work” is the latest single from that recording — and a 12-song release planned for August.
After weathering vocal problems that threatened to derail his career in 2018, then two years largely sidelined due to the pandemic, Bowen has recharged his batteries and is raring to go.
“I am working a lot, but I’ve never enjoyed playing more than I do now,” he said. “This has been a good reset button and I’m excited.”
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