Tall Tree Lake Music Festival

By Gus Bode

Hay is for horses — and the Tall Tree Lake Music Festival.

Event organizers, with the help of some Johnson County residents,  fought mud from heavy rain by laying down hay, and lots of it. They needed plenty because about 1,500 people came to Goreville to enjoy the music, including headliners Leftover Salmon and Conspirator, Friday and Saturday.

That’s about five times more people than the first Tall Tree saw, organizers said.


As The Congress plays, light emanates from the porch-turned-stage at the Barn Loft Saturday during the Tall Tree Lake Music Festival in Goreville. The Congress was scheduled to play on the main stage, but due to steady rain sound engineers had to set up under the covered porch. The Congress is a Denver-based band that fuses Americana, rock and soul. – Steve Matzker | Daily Egyptian

David Barrett, one of two brothers from Carbondale who founded Tall Tree, said he thinks a good reputation and advertising are part of the reason, but there’s more to it than promotion.

“There’s no television out here, there’s no huge distractions. It’s people you enjoy talking to, meeting. A hundred years ago, that’s how people lived,” he said. “That really doesn’t exist anymore, as far as I can tell, and maybe you get a little of that here.”

“Here” was 250 acres of lake and field, much of it covered with an array of neon-colored tents for the many fans who camped at the festival.

Erin Gurney, of Chicago, paused between jumping in and out of the lake to say she would return next year because of the festival’s atmosphere.

“It has a nice, small feel to it, like there’s familiar faces everywhere,” she said.

Those faces ranged in age from 3 months to 70 years, which Barrett credited to the southern Illinois culture.


“Something like this has a very family-oriented feeling to it, very close-knit,” Barrett said. “Sometimes when you live somewhere like this, you take it for granted, and I certainly did.”

He said life in the Internet age is full of superficial connections that do not involve face-to-face interaction.

“This is where you find that real connection,” Barrett said.

Becky Clark, box office manager, said the festival’s success stems from word of mouth and connecting with fans on social networking sites such as Facebook.

As the sun sets over Tall Tree Lake, festival-goers gather around the Showcase Stage Saturday during the Tall Tree Lake Music Festival in Goreville. Though a steady rain saturated people, tents and the dirt road, the spirit of the festival endured. – Steve Matzker | Daily Egyptian

She said Tall Tree’s budget is small for a festival, and the organizers try to keep ticket prices affordable. Admission ranged from $65 for a one-day pass to $100 at the gate for a two-day pass.

Clark said she joined the Tall Tree team after working with John and David Barrett at Arkansas’ Wakarusa Music Festival.

David Barrett said he and his brother have been involved with “festies” for seven or eight years, and always dreamed of bringing one to their home of southern Illinois.

The first Tall Tree, which took about a year and a half to plan, was held in summer 2009 and welcomed about 300 people, he said.

John Barrett, festival director, said relationship building is key to putting together a festival, but it takes more than that to hold one.

“You have to book the talent lineup, be sure everything is in place from the radios to transportation to golf carts to airline tickets … you have to be sure the capital is in place, the staging, the production,” he said.

A couple sleeps amid a crowd Saturday at the Showcase Stage during the Tall Tree Lake Music Festival in Goreville. The two-day festival hosted many genres of bands, including singer and songwriter Chicago Farmer, electronic artist Spankalicious, and bluegrass bands Greensky Bluegrass and Leftover Salmon. – Steve Metzker | Daily Egyptian

The details don’t necessarily stop when the festival begins, as organizers had to rearrange schedules and juggle stages during heavy rain. Without a roof or enough tarp to shield electronic equipment, the main stage could not be used and Conspirator’s set was cut short.

Three of the 58 scheduled bands — Bluetech, Todd Day Wait’s Pigpen and Fuggins Wheat Band — were cancelled, but John Barrett said all three will play at other venues in southern Illinois and appear at Tall Tree 2012.

Nathan Green, a sophomore from Ottawa studying photojournalism, said he returned to Tall Tree for his second year for the bluegrass and electronic scene. He said he was disappointed Conspirator had to stop abruptly.

“A lot of the equipment started getting wet and they had to stop playing and cover all the equipment,” Green said.

He said rain didn’t ruin the festival, though, as the small size made for a more intimate experience with friends and the artists.

“Wet, but very fun,” Green said.

A group of festival-goers carry their canopy to another stage Saturday at the Tall Tree Lake Music Festival in Goreville. Hundreds of people gathered from as far away as Texas to relax, listen to a wide variety of music and enjoy the positive energy during the two-day festival. Attesting to the atmosphere of festivals like Tall Tree, Sarah Skiold-Hanlin, of Collinsville, quoted the Dalai Lama and said, “To make peace, we need more music festivals.” – Steve Matzker | Daily Egyptian

David Barrett said size is part of what sets Tall Tree apart from many better known events.

“The big festivals can be a lot of fun but you kind of get lost in the shuffle,” he said.

Despite its size, Tall Tree 2011 attracted acts with strong regional followings to complement the headliners. Among them were bluegrass bands Mountain Sprout and Greensky Bluegrass; jam bands Spread and Brother Bagman; folk singer and songwriter Chicago Farmer; reggae-blues band Aaron Kamm and the One Drops; and electronic acts Spankalicious and Fresh2Death.

The brothers said they hope to see the festival grow and eventually book more nationally known acts.

In the meantime, David Barrett is happy with the way things are.

“When everything is going on and I can walk out in the middle of the field — and hopefully no one knows who I am — and I can stand there and see the smiles on everybody’s faces and see everybody having an unbelievably good time, then I know all the hard work and sacrifice and effort is worth it,” he said.

John Barrett said he just wants people to leave happy. And some more sunshine next year would be nice, too.