Oct 24, 2023
Huntsville’s Throttle Fest 2023 is a small version of a music festival, but it’s more like a family reunion with live music.
The announcement of Throttle Fest 2023 indicated the return of a huge music event that, since 2020, has brought joy to many people. Originally held at Sidetracks Music Hall in Huntsville, Ala., Throttle Fest is the brainchild of booking agent Shane Bickel. While Throttle Fest continued in 2021, the music event did not return in 2022 due to Sidetracks’ unfortunate closing. Luckily, opportunity struck this past summer when Bickel announced to adoring fans all across the South that Throttle Fest would be returning this October to Huntsville, now taking place at Rocket Republic.
The lineup for Throttle Fest 2023 featured some of Southern rock's brightest rising stars—six bands originating from six different states. Hailing from Biloxi, Miss., newly formed hard rock band The Heavy Strides kicked off the event on Friday, Oct. 13, with their unique, signature sound known for marrying deep rhythmic grooves with searing guitars under the guidance of soulful lead vocals. The Heavy Strides promise an electric fusion of classic influences, including the likes of Led Zeppelin to Soundgarden, all wrapped up with a temporary edge. The Heavy Strides are Drew Fulton on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Josh Estes on bass, Cedric Feazell keepin' the beat on the drums, and Tyler Storms on loead guitar.
Next up were The Josephines out of Bowling Green, Kentucky. These guys are always a crowd pleaser with their raw, rough-around-the-edges rock and roll that’s sure to have you dancing while you shed a tear or two. The Josephines—consisting of Brad Tabor (lead vocals, acoustic guitar, mandolin), Zach Lindsey (lead guitar, vocals), Alex Lindey (lead guitar, pedal steel, lap steel, vocals), and David Page (drums, percussion)—arrived with a different lineup this year, which included special guest guitarist Kyle Daniel.
Mixed Alternative Magazine was there and had a chance to talk to The Josephines’ lead singer Brad Tabor about how it feels to play Throttle Fest again.
Says Brad, “It was awesome! We got to play with some new guys. We had a couple of players with us who don't normally go out with us, and they ripped it! And then, you know, the set sounded good to me, so people had fun and that's kind of the goal. I'm glad to be here for that reason. People got to enjoy themselves.”
Closing out the first night was Them Dirty Roses from Gadsden, Alabama. This Southern rock band knows how to bend a string and break a heart Skynyrd-style.
From the Alabama clay to Europe to festivals all across the United States, Them Dirty Roses are used to bringing the fireworks in their headlining abilities. The Throttle Fest crowd was treated to a bass solo from Ben Crain, a lead guitar solo from Andrew Davis, and a rousing drum solo from Frank Ford.
After that set, Mixed Alternative pulled Them Dirty Roses lead singer James Ford aside to get his thoughts about Throttle Fest and being able to play in Huntsville again.
“It does really feel good [to be back in Huntsville playing Throttle Fest],” Ford says, “because it [was] scary when Sidetracks went away. It was kind of like, ‘Damn, where are we gonna play now?’ We just didn't have a home in Huntsville anymore. And we've been doing it since 2018. So, I'm hoping this is the new place that's our new home in Huntsville. And I thought [the set] went great! … The crowd seemed to be into it.”
Kicking the music off on Saturday, Oct. 14, was Southern soul/rock ‘n roll band One For The Road, who came straight out of “a small building back in the woods of Resaca,” in North Georgia. I have been hearing about this band from my good friend Todd Dean, an outstanding musician photographer who sat in with OFTR to sing Marshall Tucker’s “Can’t You See”. If you enjoy totally unadulterated Southern rock music, you have to look into this band. One For The Road features frontman and lead singer Zach Crumley, drummer Chris Webb, organ/piano player Joe Morgan, and bassist Jaithan Neal.
Up next, and straight out of Little Rock, Ark., deFrance’s rock ‘n roll style did a slammin’ job of setting the table for the classic rock sounds of Jive Mother Mary, from Burlington, N.C., who closed out the night. deFrance is cut straight from the roots of the best in Southern music, blending elements of true folk and country music with the classic songwriting styles of Tom Petty, Neil Young, and Ryan Adams into a fresh take on rock ‘n roll. I should also mention that deFrance travels in a church van. I think band leader Drew deFrance enjoys the reaction when the church bus pulls in to play at a rock club.
Jive Mother Mary, who headlined the second night, put on a damn good set, with several attendees mentioning that their Throttle Fest 2023 performance may have been the best JMM set they’ve seen. It comes down to this: Mason Keck and JMM never cease to amaze me at just how good of musicians they are. The word stunning comes to mind. When it was announced that they were coming back to Throttle Fest, I saw it as an opportunity to sit down and talk to Jive Mother Mary lead singer Mason Keck.
In response to what Throttle Fest means to Keck as a performer, he says, “Man, Throttle Fest just kind of feels like a family reunion. Huntsville is a really cool little market for us. You know, we're from North Carolina originally and we kind of just had a core group of folks that really were supporting us strongly down in Huntsville. We played at Sidetracks a couple of times, then the first couple of Throttle Fests were there, and Huntsville was always a spot we could kind of count on as a good mood lifter, you know what I mean? The people that were going to be there were there to see [us] and that was an important part of it—always getting to see the folks that [come] out time and time again.”
(In my best infomercial pitchman voice): But wait there’s more!
Prior to Day 2 kicking off, Mixed Alternative also had the chance to talk to Throttle Fest organizer supreme, mastermind, genius, and promoter extraordinaire Shane Bickel. (If you can’t tell, we love Shane in Huntsville.)
When asked what Throttle Fest means to him, Bickel replies, "It’s hardcore love for Southern rock music … just bringing a bunch of familiar faces together with some new faces and just creating a family atmosphere. All of the bands and the fans just get along so well. It's just, I don't know, something about it I like. It's a small version of a festival, but more like a family reunion with live music."
In 2022, Throttle Fest didn’t happen due to the closing of Sidetracks Music Hall. This year, it was out of the blue when Bickel announced Throttle Fest 2023. We wanted to know what his plan was behind that, so we asked.
"I miss y’all!" Bickel laughs. How else can we get everybody who used to support Sidetracks for most of the shows together? How can we get them all back in one room? Because so many people come from out of town, out of state. You have to put six of these bands together so you can get all different parts of the South to show up. And so far, we've done that: I think we had eight or nine different states show up [the first day]. So, it's pretty impressive that people still care about these bands and follow them. Most of these bands we won't be able to [accommodate] in a smaller setting or hopefully, they'll honor me with doing … Throttle Fest whenever we need to do it."
He continues, "It's like a family reunion, but these guys are going to move on to bigger and better stages. I mean, [we have to] enjoy it and embrace it while we can because a lot of these bands are going to be too big for us soon. [Everything has gone] really well. Everybody enjoys the new venue, so that is really comforting to hear positive feedback on that. So, all in all, [Throttle Fest 2023] has been a home run!"
And I'd have to agree, especially when taking note of the festival's main theme, in addition to showcasing Southern music: family. Take it from someone who attended all three Throttle Fests: This is truly like a family reunion. There was also a phrase I heard repeated many times throughout the two-night event. I heard so many people tell someone else that they loved them, and in this day and age, where there is so much hate in the world, it was quite refreshing to see and hear. It is a shame that more people are not able to attend and share a loving, family-like experience one gets with Throttle Fest.
For more information on Throttle Fest or any of the bands, follow their links and be sure to browse the gallery of images below!