Croatia, Turkey and McAlester.
It’s the tour itinerary for Ryan and Jessica White, who said they had just returned home to Tulsa from a trip overseas when they visited McAlester for the Dancing Rabbit Music Festival.
Saturday’s Dancing Rabbit lineup included Travis Linville, Joe Pug and John Moreland, all performing Saturday night on the outdoor stage set up at the corner of Third Street and Choctaw Avenue.
While all three artists had fans in the audience, Whites said they made the trip to see and hear Pug. They were so determined to see the show that they thought they could rest from the ride abroad a bit later.
“We had been up for 24 hours,” Ryan White said.
They were among hundreds of people attending the inaugural show for the 2022 Dancing Rabbit Music Festival, set up along Choctaw Avenue between Third Street and Fifth Street in downtown McAlester. The concert was presented free to the general public, with the cost covered by the Dancing Rabbit Music Association and the organization’s sponsors, as well as numerous volunteers.
As this is a festival, with some people coming and going throughout the evening and with the festival site spanning two blocks, organizers did not have an exact count, but the shows were well attended.
“Our estimates are between 1,200 and 1,800,” said Dancing Rabbit Music Festival President Blake Lynch. He said more Dancing Rabbit merchandise was sold at this show than at any other.
“I couldn’t be happier,” Lynch said. “We had people from Ohio, Colorado and a couple said they drove 10 hours to get here.”
Some festival-goers have set up garden chairs or taken a seat on the sidewalk. Some leaned against the display cases or strolled around the festival site, while others chose to stand for all the performances. Travis Linville opened the show, bringing his band, which included Johnny Carlton of McAlester on bass; Ryan Jones of Sallisaw on piano and Andrew Bones on drums, with Linville providing lead and rhythm guitar himself.
During his performance, Linville performed several tracks from his latest album, 2021’s “I’m Still Here.” He co-wrote the album’s title track with Nashville singer-songwriter Natalie Hemby, of The Highwomen.”
Brandishing a big orange Gretsch electric guitar, Linville turned many of his songs into showcases for his guitar licks.
Linville’s set included “Wishes”, with the line “I hope you keep chasing rainbows, I hope your wishes all come true”, and featuring a Duane-Eddy solo on the lower strings.
“We appreciate you listening to these songs, which you may or may not have heard of,” Linville said.
He also talked about the other two artists of the poster.
“I’m happy to be playing here with my good friends, Joe Pug and John Moreland,” he said.
In addition to her own songs, Linville added covers by other artists.
“Against my better judgment, I’m going to do a Willie Nelson song,” Linville said, before slipping into “Yesterday’s Wine,” one of Willie’s early classics.
Linville also covered the blues, when he covered Willie Dixon’s “Seventh Son,” interrupting the vocals with a searing guitar solo. Jones delivered his own funky solos on electric keyboards, and Bones even delivered a brief drum solo at one point.
Linville closed his set with two fiery instrumentals – a lively version of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” and Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages” – a song titled with the French word for “clouds” which Willie also recorded a few occasions. Linville delivered a powerful rendition in her Dancing Rabbit version of the song, even beyond her previously recorded “Live in the Front Room” version. Towards the end of the song, Linville used the guitar’s tremolo bar to great effect, adding to the song’s exotic vibe.
Pug then took the stage, presenting a solo performance, playing acoustic guitar and harmonica held in a rack around his neck, much like early Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie did.
He featured a captivating selection of his own songs, beginning with “Anthem #35. ‘I am the day, I am the dawn, I am the coming darkness,’ sang Pug, followed by ‘The Letdown’ and “The Flood in Color.”
Many seem affected by Pug’s words.
After Pug finished a song, James Monks, who was standing near the stage, said, “It gave me chills.” To show that he meant that literally, Monks lifted his forearm, which was indeed temporarily covered in tiny song-induced bumps.
Pug also gave a nod to other songwriters while singing “Sam Stone” by John Prine.
After hearing Linville and Pug, what did White people think of their first experience with McAlester’s Dancing Rabbit Music Fest?
“Anytime they can bring my music, it’s good for everyone,” Jessica White said.
As the evening slid into dark and with a crescent moon hanging in the sky, Moreland delivered her thrilling performance.
He performed solo, playing a Nash electric guitar – which he used to good fingering effect. Some in the front audience seemed mesmerized by Moreland’s set, seeming to latch onto every job and every nuance.
“So hopefully I can change tomorrow; you wanted hard as nails, cut and dried,” Moreland sang. “But I beg to steal and borrow, I’m so good at heartbreak, you don’t care enough for me to cry.”
While performing outside under the stars above McAlester, Moreland sang one of his best songs: “Meet me where I land, if I slip and fall too far, hang on me in the Tulsa County Stars.”
Many of the audience members up front seemed particularly enthralled by the song, which included the verse: “When it feels like nothing’s real and no one’s standing by your side, just meet me in the sky of the Indian nation.”
After Moreland played the last song of her set and began walking down the ramp to the outdoor stage, audience members stood up and spontaneously gave her a standing ovation. Moreland turned around, ran back up the stairs and told a grateful audience that he would give them one more song.
Matthew Woods came especially to hear Moreland. He too is a fan of the Dancing Rabbit Music Festival.
“I thought it was really awesome,” Woods said. “I think it’s a very family thing and very good for our city.”
Woods said he and those accompanying him are very familiar with Moreland’s music and have been listening to it for some time now. “We were YouTuber John Moreland,” he said.
Adam Gronwald of Spaceship Earth Coffee is also a member of the Dancing Rabbit Music Festival Board. He helped oversee a series of performances by young artists before the festival’s main event. Spaceship Earth also hosted a performance by Ben McKenzie following the outdoor performances of Dancing Rabbit.
“This might be our busiest yet,” Gronwald said of Saturday’s Dancing Rabbit Fest.
Woods is already making plans for next month’s edition of the Dancing Rabbit Music Festival, when artists such as Flobots, Josie Dunne and Stroke 9 will headline.
“I’ll be back for the June 11 show,” Woods said.
He’s also looking forward to the Dancing Rabbit Music Festival show on July 16, featuring the Quaker City Nighthawks, Shaw James and the Texas Gentlemen.
Contact James Beaty at [email protected]