Larry Joe Taylor: the man, the myth, the legend


Photo courtesy of Larry Joe Taylor

Larry Joe Taylor peforming at the 2016 Larry Joe Taylor’s Texas Music Festival.

Larry Joe Taylor is a name known throughout the state of Texas, his music played on radios all over and his festival has attendees from every edge of Texas. Taylor is a Stephenville, Texas native who saw an opportunity and ran with it.

Taylor’s interest in music started when he was young. Taylor started singing in church and then started to write in high school and was in a band at the young age of 14 years old playing guitar and drums. One of his first performances was at a community center in Brownwood, Texas and according to Taylor there were only around five people there but it was there when Taylor got hooked.

With an enjoyment of writing songs and sharing them with people, Taylor went for a professional career, “and one day I woke up and was making enough money to do it full time,” Taylor said.

Like any other artist, Taylor looked up to other artists in the music industry such as the rock band The Doors, folk singer Bob Dylan and the great Willie Nelson.\

With doing music for roughly 40 years, Taylor’s music has changed and grown with him.

“Well I like to think that over the years I have become a better songwriter,” Taylor said. “But I still try to write about things I know and care about and things that I think other people can relate to.”

With six albums, songs that are streamed over 50,000 times and years of experience and work; Taylor’s all-time favorite album was “Coastal and Western” which includes 10 songs all about the coast.

Photo courtesy of Larry Joe Taylor
The 2017 crowd at LJT during the performance of Roger Creager.

“It’s a collection of songs that I wrote about experiences on the Texas Gulf Coast which may be my favorite subject,” Taylor said. “It’s also the first record that I did with a record label so I had a nice budget too.”

In any career there are the ups and downs, challenges and successes and moments that stick with you forever. With 40 years under Taylor’s belt he has faced all sort of challenges and has his number of special moments.

“When I started out there was no live music scene in Texas to speak of,” Taylor said. “It was tempting to move to Nashville and pursue songwriting there but I really didn’t want to see that as an option for me. My roots and my family was in Texas and that’s where I wanted to stay. Gigs were hard to find then and didn’t pay so much when you got one.”

Taylor has recorded his music for listeners all over and it is always nice when you hear someone cover your song but when someone else records them, it becomes special.

“I’ve been fortunate to have many songs recorded and that moment when I hear another artist sing my song continues to be a high for me,” Taylor said.

With not many live music scenes and a short list of gigs during a year can be a stall for an artist. However, Taylor did something about it; when Taylor did not have a gig during April of 1989, he made one. That gig the very first Larry Joe Taylor’s Texas Music Festival.

The 30 years ago LJT was definitely not anywhere close to where it is today.

“I knew a bunch of chili cooks and used to play for cook-offs a lot. So when I decided to have a festival, I called em all and ask if they would come and cook chili,” Taylor said. “So we had a chili cook-off and music. It was only one day and my friend Ray Wylie Hubbard drove out from Dallas and played. My band played and there were about 100 people there. A bunch of us camped out that night where we had the festival and picked around a campfire. Somebody said ‘Hey we should do this again next year’.”

When the festival first started, it wasn’t in Taylor’s hometown of Stephenville. Taylor hosted the first two years in Mingus, Texas and he continued to keep moving around once they needed more space. The festival has been in towns such as Thurber, Texas for a year, at Possum Kingdom Lake for three, Glen Rose, Texas for another three and the last stop before Stephenville was Meridian for five years.

“We had outgrown all of those places and were looking for a bigger place,” Taylor said. “My friend Doug Montgomery at Texstar Ford was instrumental in bringing my festival to Stephenville. We moved the festival to Melody Mountain Ranch in April of 2002.”

And that is where the festival continues to stand for a full 17 years.

“Melody Mountain had been the site of a few small bluegrass festivals and had a few electric and water campsites,” Taylor said. “We leased the site for two years and then were able to buy the 380 acre ranch.”

Luckily for fans of LJT, at the time there were no other locations in considerations and there are no plans to move the festival from the beloved mountain.

Over the years the festival has grown into what it is today and not once did Taylor expect it to be as big and loved as it is today. “After the third festival somebody asked me how big I thought it could get. I said ‘I think we could have 1000 people here someday’. That happened three years later haha,” Taylor said. “So no I did not expect it. I have always had the goal to introduce as many people as possible to this kind of music and that’s still my goal today.”

After moving to Melody Mountain Ranch the festival just continues to grow and will continue to grow for years to come.

“After we bought MMR we were able to make improvements,” Taylor said. “When we came to MMR we had a total attendance of around 7,500 people. Last year we had a total attendance in excess of 50,000.”

The Taylors believe that Melody Mountain Ranch can accommodate a much larger attendance.

The artists are obviously a big part of the festival and some of the first festivals artist were guys such as Ray Wylie Hubbard, Gary P Nunn and Tommy Alverson and those guys are still going strong at LJT.

The planning for LJT starts in August and it is not a little task. You have to get all the artists, all the food and drink companies and last but not least the mandatory toilets. However, Taylor has his work count out for him when it comes to finding the artists. Finding the artists is Taylor’s favorite part but it is also the hardest. He mainly looks at independent artists who write and perform their own songs.

Photo courtesy of Larry Joe Taylor
Josh Abbott singing while Parker McCollum and Larry Joe Taylor hug it out during a performance at the 2018 Larry Joe Taylor’s Texas Music Festival.

“When we started we couldn’t find enough Texas Musicians to do one full day,” Taylor said. “Now we have so many Texas touring bands and songwriters that it makes it really hard to pick which ones. And there is so much demand for Texas Musicians across the US and the world that some of the guys I really want every year are just not available every year (that’s a good thing for artists).”

Larry Joe Taylor’s Texas Music Festival isn’t just the six days artist put on shows for the 50,000 attendees. There is the Chili Cook-Off that is before the festival along with the Songwriter Showcase that gives the winner a slot to play for the LJT crowd as well as a spot on Taylor’s Coastin’ and Cruisin’ cruise in January. Artists such as Parker McCollum, Jarrod Morris, Dalton Domino and Cole Risner have won the showcase before and now they are playing at LJT and beyond. Other artists who have been finalists such as Kody West, Cleto Cordero, Randall King, Kaitlin Butts and Giovannie Yanez who are now big names as well and playing LJT and other stages throughout Texas. Taylor started the songwriter showcase because they wanted to get more young artists involved and more artists heard as well.

Taylor has started many different festivals beside the infamous Larry Joe Taylor’s Texas Music Festival. He now has Coastin’ and Cruisin’ that cruises around in the Caribbean, Island Time in Isla Mujeres, Mexico, Hot Chili Days and Cool Mountain Nights in Red River, New Mexico and Rhymes and Vines.

For Coastin’ and Cruisin’ it combines Taylors’ two favorite things warm weather and music, “I love warm weather in January, and I love playing music so why not put the two together,” Taylor said.

Rhymes and Vines takes place in September at Melody Mountain Ranch and it is a more laid back, adult music festival.

“After we bought MMR we wanted to do something else there so we decided to have a fall fest,” Taylor said. “We don’t really advertise it so much so it kind of takes on the feel of my April festival in its early years. Laid back and relaxed.”

After 30 years of LJT, 19 years of Coastin’ and Cruisin’ and 13 years of Rhymes and Vines, Taylor keeps expanding his festivals and his name is getting known all over the states.

Larry Joe Taylor’s Texas Music Festival, is not something you want to miss. Grab your “jorts”, fanny packs, coolers and your friends and get ready to experience one of the best weeks of your life; six days and over 50 artists of music. Additionally, do not forget to catch Larry Joe Taylor himself performing during the week, he has two performances during the week. His first one is Tuesday April 23 on the Bud Light Stage and his second will be on Saturday April 27 at the Allsup’s Stage.