Two Step Inn Festival Blends Old And New, Proving That Country Radio Isn’t The Only Thing That Sells Tickets Anymore

Zach Bryan country music
Charles Reagan/Two Step Inn

The inaugural Two Step Inn festival is in the books.

The brand new festival in Georgetown, Texas, just outside of Austin, drew over 30,000 people in the sweltering Texas heat to see one of the hottest names in country music.

But if you only listen to the radio to get your country music, you probably wouldn’t have even considered buying tickets.

The two headliners have had a total of one hit between them on country radio. The entire lineup only featured 3 artists with #1 singles from the past 20 years. And a majority of the #1 singles from most of the lineup came from before the headliners were even born.

But the festival sold out almost instantly and was by almost any measure a huge success.

Of course a big part of the draw was the rare opportunity to see both Zach Bryan and Tyler Childers headline the same festival on consecutive nights.

But neither of those guys play the country radio game: They’ve both built their fanbases up independently, and have managed to become two of the biggest names in country music without the help of radio (aside from Zach’s #1 hit with “Something In the Orange).

The rest of the lineup was a mix of old country, new country, and not-so country. The Showdeo stage, which largely featured ’90s country artists well past their country radio success, was packed with fans who saw some of their favorite artists play some of their biggest hits.

There was David Lee Murphy, who performed a 60-minute showcase of all of the hits he has written for guys like Kenny Chesney, Justin Moore, Jason Aldean and Jake Owen before giving the crowd what they all came to see with his classic “Dust on the Bottle.”

Tracy Byrd proved that he still sounds exactly the same as he did back in the ’90s as he ran through hit after hit, ending with, of course, “Watermelon Crawl,” sending the entire crowd into a frenzy.

And one of my favorite performances of the entire festival was from Shenandoah, who gave repeated shoutouts to ’90s country between their string of instantly-recognizable classics like “Moon Over Georgia,” “Two Dozen Roses,” and “Church on Cumberland Road.”

We’ve often thrown out the idea here at Whiskey Riff of a ’90s country festival – and Two Step Inn may have proven that there are enough rabid ’90s country fans out there to make the idea a huge success.

But if you weren’t in to ’90s country, there was also the Country Curious stage that featured plenty of new country artists – as well as some country-adjacent names, and headliners who are just plain not country.

Hailey Whitters drew one of the biggest crowds of the weekend to her stage, proving that the newcomer has built up a fanbase far outside of her home state of Iowa – and far beyond the reach of country radio, where she’s yet to score her first top 20 hit.

And nobody’s going to call the headliners of the Country Curious stage, T-Pain and Diplo, “country artists.” But on Sunday, all of the conversation was about T-Pain’s set that took so many of the festival-goers back to their college days – or even before.

T-Pain may have been a strange name to see on the lineup for a country festival, but as we’ve seen so many times before, music tastes now aren’t defined so much by genre as they are by artist – and T-Pain is an artist that even country fans remember and listened to. And he ended up giving one of the most memorable performances of the festival.

Of course the main draw for the festival was the headlining performances by Zach Bryan and Tyler Childers. But before they took the main stage, the crowd was treated to performances from superstars spanning the eras.

Charles Wesley Godwin played to a packed crowd at 1:45 pm on Saturday, nearly 7 hours before headliner Zach Bryan took the stage. And it wasn’t a crowd that was unfamiliar with his music: People were singing along to every word of “Hardwood Floors,” and screaming out “Jesse” as the new superstar wrapped up his set. Make no mistake, these weren’t festival-goers who just happened to see Charles Wesley Godwin. These were Charles Wesley Godwin fans who were lucky enough to catch their guy at a festival.

Between Charles and Zach on the main stage were performances from two country music legends, Tanya Tucker and Travis Tritt, along with a performance from Midland.

But by the time Zach Bryan took the stage, the crowd at the main stage stretched nearly to the back of San Gabriel Park, nearly out of view of the stage but within earshot to belt along with Zach as he proved just why he’s one of the biggest names in country music.

Even Zach seemed surprised at times as he looked out over the crowd of over 30,000 people, hanging on to his every word and screaming them right back to him.

And this is a guy with a grand total of one single on country radio.

The next day featured the same mix of old and new on the main stage, with names like Clay Walker and Wynonna sprinkled in with newcomers Pillbox Patti and Priscilla Block, along with blues legend Mavis Staples.

Yet they all fit in and appealed to a crowd that set up hours early to see headliner Tyler Childers – a rare treat these days from a guy who doesn’t tour nearly as much as he used to.

But the common theme amongst all these artists: Their success isn’t driven by country radio, but by their fans. Sure, a lot of the older names had radio success back in their time. But the crowd that was there this weekend isn’t listening to their music on the radio. It’s all streaming and social media now, and Two Step Inn managed to put together a lineup that perfectly appealed to a crowd – and a time – when radio is no longer the only hitmaker in town.

And judging by the reaction from the crowd and the experience that I had in Georgetown, it was a gamble that more than paid off.

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock