ach year in mid-March, beloved cliff swallows of San Juan Capistrano return from Argentina to this quant Mission community. Like these migratory birds, the outdoor music festival – MissionFest - landed once gain in San Juan Capistrano, headlined by Midland, and it was far more celebratory than mere birdwatching.
It was hard to avoid feeling a sense of déją vu while surveying all the folks sitting on blankets and folding chairs, eating, and drinking and listening to live music. Didn't we used to do this – a lot – about a year or so ago? Yes, this mini music festival, held at a beach-adjacent park best known as the home to the Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo, sure felt like musical good old days. MissionFest, a day-long gathering headlined by that neo-traditional trio, just felt so good!
Headliner Midland didn't disappoint, even though they got off to a relatively quiet start. Why they didn't kick off with the rollicking, Dwight Yoakam-esque "Mr. Lonely," made for a puzzling choice. It's a perfect fire starter. Night had fallen, and this audience was ready to dance, after all. Nevertheless, vocally harmonious hits, like "Burn Out," went over well with this relatively small crowd (by usual festival standards) who sang along with every word. The group even commented from the stage how this felt a little like a backyard BBQ, in comparison to other larger venue events.
The group also found room to include new tracks from the newly released EP "The Last Resort," including the soft "Sunrise Tells The Story" and the lightly rocking "Two To Two Step." Their set also included a couple of winning covers. One was a lovely take on Bruce Springsteen's sweet "Tougher Than the Rest," and another was the rhythmic "Walk Of Life," originated by Dire Straits.
Midland was preceded by a warmly received Devin Dawson set. While he closed with the hit "All on Me," his best moment came when he sang "I Got A Truck." He told a touching story about how a conversation with Tim McGraw (with him he was touring at the time) inspired the writing of it. Its lyric smartly describes the struggles of trying to 'make it' in the country music business. It was also fun to hear "One Beer," his collaboration with Lauren Alaina and Hardy, done live.
No, MissionFest is not any replacement for Stagecoach and some of the other larger country music festivals. However, after our long country music festival drought, it did the heart good to hear all that twang floating out in the open air. Mission accomplished.