Blue Ox Music Festival’s second day brought a full schedule. On an afternoon with a lot to offer from the main stage, the smaller side stage ended up delivering more compelling performances. Hometown trio Laska got things started with three-part harmonies that left the crowd rapt. Since Thursday’s schedule involved mostly male or male-fronted bands, Laska’s voices were a welcome addition and signaled a small bend towards gender diversity. Pert Near Sandstone’s friends Trout Steak Revival, out of Colorado, also played an exciting blend of bluegrass and folk. The two bands crossed paths years ago, banjoist Travis McNamara told the crowd, after battling for a spot in Telluride’s band contest and losing. But, as it does so often, alcohol softened that blow, and they’ve been fast friends ever since. Folk band Dead Horses continued with a moving, somber set that included their new song, “American Poor.”
On the main stage, which saw Son Volt, the Infamous Stringdusters and hosts Pert Near Sandstone perform throughout the day, Split Lip Rayfield invited one of the more boisterous moments. The three-piece from Kansas drew a sizable crowd that revelled in their massive acoustic sound as they performed songs from their new album On My Way, as well as older hits like “Used to Call Me.” Bassist Jeff Eaton played his hand-built instrument with the fervor of a galloping horse, and put any Preakness competitor to shame with his energy. When it came to Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, though, the crowd was ready to celebrate with the band. It just so happened to be guitarist Adam Greuel’s birthday, and fans practically screamed a chorus of “Happy Birthday” across the campgrounds. Horseshoes & Hand Grenades returned the love with a set bursting with fervor and smiles. They were clearly the band having the most fun, and ended their set with “Whiskey,” while the crowd sang along. Greensky Bluegrass closed out the evening with an aesthetically charged experience that went against the simplicity of the festival’s other set-ups. They combined the power of a rock ‘n’ roll nighttime stage presence with heady instrumental jams and songs like “Living Over.” They even threw in a dedication to Pert Near Sandstone for throwing the festival before launching into their single, “I’d Probably Kill You.”
As mentioned, for a day charged with energetic performances and rousing numbers that fed into the campground’s communal spirit, Blue Ox Music Festival was surprisingly lacking in any kind of diversity. Not one female musician or female act took the main stage—and let’s not even get started on race. While that absence didn’t seem to stem from any malicious choice on the organizer’s part, it was notable considering the blossoming and exciting music being made by female roots artists. The festival is clearly here to stay, growing more and more each year, but if that’s the case there needs to be a shift moving forward. It’s a strange, bordering on unsettling, experience in 2017 to spend three days at a festival where hardly a female musician, or any musician of color, can be heard.