One of our favorite music festivals in Kentucky over the years has been Kickin’ It On the Creek. In fact, it was listed in our top Kentucky country music events for 2019. Check out the article here.
My cousin Daniel made a great call and took a few hours off work on Saturday night at the factory in Middlesboro so we could leave earlier than originally planned. Little did we know at the time how important that decision would be. As we rolled into Irvine just after 4:00 a.m., the scene we were greeted by perfectly epitomized the love that the folks in the Kentucky music community have for the Roberts family. Hundreds lined Main Street for a chance to score the Golden Ticket to the best music festival in the nation: Kickin’ It On The Creek.
Why the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory reference? Due to how the popularity of the festival has skyrocketed over the years, combined with the limited space at the Roberts farm that creates an intimate music setting like no other, your chances of getting into the event are directly related to your willingness to wait in line for the ticket, or trying your luck at one of the remaining 500 or so online. For folks that have been to the event before, or those who have been dying to go but have been unable to get tickets, the former is far and away the best option.
It was a throwback feeling for me, a glorious sense of Deja vu…back to the days when if you wanted a concert ticket, you drove to Cats Music in Knoxville or the old CD store in Lexington Green off Nicholasville Road. We used to make those trips all the time in high school. And you’d see it acted out like the final scene in Dazed and Confused, where the group makes the long trek for Aerosmith tickets. Those journeys have long been lost to technology, whereas now concert tickets are available at the click of a button. The scene in Irvine reminded me of the lengths that true lovers of live music will go to see a quality show. Some had been there since Thursday afternoon. Read that again. THURSDAY AFTERNOON. The lady who was first in line stayed even after she got her ticket, until the very last got theirs, chatting it up with a group of music lovers that’s more like a family than anything else.
The night before, KIOTC alumni Arlo McKinley (along with Kyle Crownover and the Bedford Band) rocked the Steam Engine Session Room. Tickets were handed out to folks going to the show to retain their place in line. After the show, the folks returned to their chairs on Main Street, awaiting the magic 8 a.m. hour when Kickin’ It On the Creek tickets would go on sale.
By the time we arrived around 4 a.m., the line was four blocks long. As we slowly walked past the folks in line, some sleeping in their chairs and some still up from the night before, there was a sense of excitement coupled with worry. We knew there was a limited number of presale tickets available. As we sat our seats up just across from the public library, my cousin and I talked to the folks who piled in after us. We talked music mainly, past shows and favorite artists…but every now and then, the worry in the back of our minds would bubble to the surface. “You think we’re too late?”. We all talked about different scenarios, and how we hoped we hadn’t got there too late.
As dawn broke, the excitement grew. So did the worry. Folks were waking up, and the Kickin’ It On the Creek family vibe was on full display as our neighbors brought donuts to us. We talked to friends we knew in the music community, and eventually Kenton Roberts himself came walking down the street, carrying a click-counter in hand, trying to determine how many tickets were available and where the cut off would be. You could see the contrast of emotions on his face as he walked past, talking, and hugging those who had made the journey in hopes for tickets. He was seemingly in awe of the sheer number of folks that had been waiting for hours and in some cases, days. In between the smiles and conversations with friends, you could also see the worry etched on his face. He knew that the byproduct of this incredible outpouring of support would be that some folks would leave Irvine without the ticket they coveted.
As the witching hour approached, word trickled through several different folks in line that our location was the approximate cutoff point. Our friend Josh had got there just after dawn and was a few dozen folks behind us. By the time the line was forming around 8 a.m. for tickets, we had another 150 or so people behind us. As we made our way towards Wildflower Boutique where the tickets were sold, Byron and Kenton Roberts continually made their way up and down the line, giving out handshakes and hugs, striking up conversations. In between each conversation, the look of concern would return ever so briefly, like a somber cloud hanging over an otherwise joyous scene.
Groups of ten walked in the boutique at a time, and as we inched closer, the concern got very real for my cousin and I. Just before the group before us walked in, we got word that tickets were extremely low and that the cutoff point was upon us. As they let the next ten in, there were 2 folks in front Daniel and me. At that point, we were talking to Byron, and you could tell he was genuinely heartbroken about the news he was about to deliver.
What makes the Roberts so special was on full display at that moment. It’d have been easy for them to send one of the folks helping run the sale out to deliver the bad news, and for them to savor in the overwhelmingly positive environment. It’d have been all too easy for them to be overcome with joy and pride at the huge turnout of folks wanting to visit the magical event they put on, and just shrug the difficult part to the side for someone else to deal with. But instead, they delivered the news themselves. When we were talking to Byron at the store entrance, I made it a point to let him know that if they had to cut the line at our group, we would completely understand, that I was blessed to have gotten to go last year and would still think the world of them. In typical Byron fashion, he simply smiled and said “we’ll sell them til we run out, Jon. I hate that we can’t have everyone there”.
As we stood there and braced ourselves for the bad news as the last group joyously walked out, we got the word. They had just enough for one last group of ten. It was a weird mix of emotions: joy that we were lucky enough to barely make the cut, and sympathy for those just behind us who didn’t, including my friend Josh (don’t feel too bad for Josh though, I gave him one of my two). As we were in the store getting the last few tickets in the stack on the counter, Byron and Kenton were outside giving the incredibly difficult talk with the folks who had just missed out. Most were understanding, a few weren’t. Byron was apologetic and explained everything to them; that they had to have at least a few hundred tickets for online sales for those who were unable to come. That was fair. He pointed out that is why they had made the post the day before on Facebook, warning that this was likely to happen.
Afterward as Daniel, Josh and I stood in the store talking to the Roberts, Byron told a story of how difficult it was, even having to turn a cousin away. With the few in line that were being overly negative, in true Roberts fashion, he left them with words of wisdom…to take that anger and disappointment they felt and use it for something positive…go see a local band or buy their merch, or do something to positively impact their community.
As the crowd dispersed, it was clear the weight of having to disappoint those behind us in line weighed heavy on them. Again, a testament to what kind of people they are. While he repeated the sentiment that he wished he could have everyone at the farm, I reminded him that one of the aspects that makes their event special was how intimate a setting it was. There’s a reason that the entire Kentucky music community looks to them as leaders – because they don’t go searching for praise or recognition. They are just humble, hardworking mountain folk that want to make a positive impact on their community through live music. They put in the hard work with no expectations of anything in return. That’s why we all look to them as the patriarchs of the Commonwealths blossoming live music community.
But the main thing that makes Kickin’ It On The Creek so special isn’t the smaller crowd. It’s not the amazing setting nestled in the hills and hollers of Wolfpen Branch; land has been watered with the Roberts blood, sweat, and tears. It’s not even incredible line up that they construct, a who’s who of Kentucky’s revitalized music scene.
Above all, it’s the love that the Roberts family has for each and every person that steps foot on their property. And every person that enters the event treats the land and the hosts with the respect they deserve. It’s literally a Kentucky music family reunion, and there’s a reason why hundreds of folks lined the streets of Irvine for a chance for Kickin’ It tickets…it’s because that the folks who put it on are some if east Kentucky’s best.
Guest contributor, Jon Grace, currently serves as Tourism Director with the Bell County Tourism in Kentucky. Jon helps organize the Middlesboro Levitt AMP concert series, providing musical entertainment across multiple genres. In his free time, he enjoys attending concerts with his wife, as well as entertain others with his Audio Outlaws broadcast every Monday from 8-10pm on WRIL. The broadcast features outlaw and classic country, Americana, bluegrass, southern rock and and blues. Jon has contributed several stories to Kentucky Country Music to help highlight the best festivals, concerts, albums, and adventures from here in Kentucky.