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2012 Rockport Music Festival

How to start a music festival in three easy lessons

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Austin Photo: News_Kevin_Rockport Music Festival_Tommy Moore
Rockport Music Festival founder Tommy Moore Photo by Kevin Benz
Austin Photo: News_Kevin_Rockport Music Festival_Crowd
The Rockport Music Festival Saturday crowd Photo by Kevin Benz
Austin Photo: News_Kevin_Rockport Music Festival_Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker
Texas legends, Gary P. Nunn (l) and Jerry Jeff Walker (r) sing "Home to the Armadillo" Photo by Kevin Benz
Austin Photo: News_Kevin_Rockport Music Festival_Tommy Moore
Austin Photo: News_Kevin_Rockport Music Festival_Crowd
Austin Photo: News_Kevin_Rockport Music Festival_Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker

As 80,000 music pilgrims made their way to Manchester, Tennessee for the Bonnaroo Music festival, another much smaller music festival hit the ground just a couple hours south of Houston. The Rockport Music Festival kicked off its inaugural year this weekend.

Rockport (and Fulton, the sister city next door) make for a quiet, relatively affluent retirement community with its share of cool festivals. Tommy Moore, who otherwise runs coastal bird-watching and dolphin-watching tours, thought he had the right place and the right time to start one focused on Texas music.

So here’s Tommy’s recipe for starting a music festival on the Texas coast:

1) Choose a picturesque site … like maybe Fulton Harbor Park overlooking the Gulf.

2) Ask your friends to donate the seed money. The RMF sold lifetime memberships for as much as $1,000 for a gold membership to a $300 general membership. Members get to sit at tables right up front, get wait service, and get in to every future Rockport Music festival for a reduced member price, assuming of course there will be future festivals.

3) Invite a slate of legendary Texas troubadours to play, luring folks with money from Houston and Austin, even as far as Lubbock. It wasn’t hard to imagine yourself sitting at a Willie Nelson picnic in 1975, with the players looking a lot older of course — with Jerry Jeff Walker (sounding better and looking more energetic than I’ve heard him in many years), Gary P. Nunn, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Guy Clark, Willis Allen Ramsey and Delbert McClinton, toss in a little Cory Morrow and Casey Donahew to invigorate a younger demographic and you get the kind of special sauce that can make a first music festival successful.

Apparently over 5,000 people agreed on Saturday sparking Moore’s public pronouncement that there will be a 2012 Rockport Music Festival.

If there’s a fly in the ointment it’s in the VIP seating area. Yeah, those are the folks who provided the money to get the festival going; but the largest, most energetic group of fans, those who paid $40 for two days of music, had to sit (or stand) behind a fence separating the VIP's (sitting in front) from the general admission.

With the small stage and no video, the musicians looked pretty small to their fans. While the VIPs with the money got this party started, it’s the energy and loyalty of the folks in the cheap seats who will keep it going.

Rockport is a sleepy retirement arts community with its share of wealth, George Strait keeps a place here which he visits regularly. It hosts a well-known and prolific arts community, a well-attended wine and food festival, and the Seafair festival every October — a music festival just seems right here.

As you stand beside the Gulf at sunset watching sailboats go by and fish jump, listening to Gary P. Nunn sing “What I like about Texas”, you can only hope Tommy Moore knows what he’s doing and can make it work. Texas music fans deserve it.

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