Muddy Never Sleeps
With his DIY music empire Muddy Roots, Jason Galaz is building special musical moments, from East Nashville to Western Europe
Ask Jason Galaz about standout memories from eight years of running the Muddy Roots Music Festival, and he quickly recalls a special moment shared with bluegrass founding father Dr. Ralph Stanley.
”I was about to drive Doctor Stanley back to his bus, and this totally drunk dude knocks on the window,” Galaz says. ”Doctor Stanley was a nice guy, so he opens the window and the guy leans in and starts telling him about being stationed in Afghanistan, and how every day he was afraid he would die. He started crying and said, ‘Your song, ”Oh Death,” became my song. I would listen to it every day – ”Won’t you spare me over till another year?”
For almost a decade, Galaz has been nurturing special musical moments and confounding conventional music-marketing wisdom through his DIY country-punk music empire, Muddy Roots Music. Beginning with the first Muddy Roots Music Festival in 2010, Galaz promoted an iconoclastic and egalitarian vision of American roots music that spans from hardcore traditional blues, honky-tonk, and bluegrass to hardcore garage rock, punk, and doom metal.
In addition to the annual Muddy Roots Music Festival, Galaz owns and manages the Muddy Roots Europe Festival in Waardamme, Belgium; the Nashville Boogie Vintage Weekender rockabilly festival; and the quarterly Wine on the Rails music/train excursion. He’s also curating the classic country music stage at this year’s Tennessee State Fair. Galaz’s other ventures include Muddy Roots Records, the Vinyl Bunker record shop downtown (now closed due to time commitments), and the promotional merchandise supplier, Power Merch.
A native of Riverside, California, Galaz grew up in a culturally diverse environment, and he was exposed to a wide variety of music. ”The Hispanic music I heard mainly came from friends,” Galaz says. ”My father’s family was more into traditional country, soul, and doo wop, but I had hair-metal uncles and cousins that were into rap. So I had this ‘it’s all good’ attitude about music from an early age.”
In high school he became involved in local DIY music events, and at the age of 19, launched a screen-printing company with $1,500 he won in a community grant competition. Using his connections with the local music scene, Galaz built a successful business printing band T-shirts and other merchandise, a trade he continued when he moved to Nashville in 2005.
”At the time I was fed up with Southern California – the crime, the traffic, and everything was too expensive,” Galaz says. ”After I moved, I was going to a lot of small festivals and seeing great bands that never came to Nashville. I would reach out to get their business to print shirts, and then try to find a venue for them to play in town. I eventually began promoting shows at Matty’s Alley [now The East Room], and within a year that turned into Muddy Roots.”
Embracing what might be called the DMZ of Americana, Galaz crafted an ever-expanding series of festivals and events where country icons like Ralph Stanley are venerated alongside such hardcore/ punk pioneers as Black Flag.
”The first Muddy Roots sold 336 tickets and I went $10,000 in debt,” Galaz says. ”It took me a year of screen-printing sales to pay off that one and do it again. And the next year I lost 30 grand. But what I didn’t realize at the time was we were creating a scene for this music and the people that love it around the world. Since then more than two dozen other festivals have popped up, inspired by the same formula. We may compete but we also support each other.”
That devotion to building a music community through mutual support is one of the bedrock DIY principles that guide all of Galaz’s businesses, along with the unofficial Muddy Roots mantra: ”Don’t be a dick.”
”The thing about Muddy Roots is it’s all in one big field. There’s no VIP package where you pay to hang out with the stars. Most of the musicians are in the crowd after they play. Everyone is equal. When Little Jimmy Dickens played Muddy Roots in 2012, he walked off the stage with tears in his eyes saying, ‘That’s how it used to feel.’ I’ve also had old-school, first-wave punk rockers tell me, ‘This is how punk was. This is how it started.’ I take those as the biggest compliments of all.”