Tyler Childers at Railbird Festival
Sarah Cahill

Tyler Childers, Zach Bryan Lead the Charge at Kentucky’s Railbird Festival

After stumbling out of the gates in its 2021 edition, Kentucky's Railbird Festival redeemed itself — and then some — in its return from June 3-4 with Tyler Childers, Zach Bryan and some of Appalachia's rising country music stars all sharing the spotlight.

Now located in the infield of Red Mile harness racing course and gaming hall in Lexington, the gathering drew roughly 40,000 people — about 60 percent of whom were non-locals — to the Central Kentucky jewel. The change of location brought with it added shade tents to provide a reprieve from the near-90-degree temperatures along with ample hydration stations and expedited food and beverage lines. However, one aspect that did carry over from previous Railbirds was its top-tier musical selections, with all three stages featuring incredible talent nonstop throughout the weekend.

The massive crowds were treated to not only Childers and Bryan but also some of Kentucky and greater Appalachia's best up-and-coming talent, such as Sierra Ferrell, Charles Wesley Godwin, Morgan Wade, Cole Chaney, 49 Winchester and The Local Honeys. Another of those stars of tomorrow is Brit Taylor, who kicked off Sunday with a delightful set from the festival's Burl stage. 

Brit Taylor

Brit Taylor at Railbird

Sarah Cahill

The Eastern Kentucky-born, Nashville-based artist shared songs from her latest project, the Sturgill Simpson and David Ferguson-produced Kentucky Blue, in front of the largest audience of her career yet. It's just the latest achievement for Taylor, whose sincere songwriting and charming wit make it hard not to fall for her. 

"This was the first time I've sung for a crowd and could see them singing back to me," Taylor says. "It's the biggest festival lineup that I've ever been a part of, and to have it in my home state made it even more special. It was only a few months ago I had my first headlining show at The Burl, so to go from that to opening up their stage on day two of Railbird is almost too good to be true. When you put music out into the world, it's sometimes difficult to know if anybody's listening or cares, but this past weekend was confirmation I'm on the right track and to keep pushing."

From Childers belting out "Lady May" to Ferrell's enchanting cover of the Beatles' "Don't Let Me Down," we've gathered all of our favorite moments of Railbird's redemption arc below.

The Local Honeys

The Local Honeys at Railbird

Sarah Cahill

Embracing the old with a modern twist were The Local Honeys. While the duo of Montana Hobbs and Linda Jean Stokley has ballooned to include fellow Eastern Kentucky standouts Zach Martin (drums), Josh Nolan (guitar), Don Rogers (fiddle) and others in recent years, its down-home sound has remained. The group dazzled with old-timey originals "Last Mule In The Holler" and "Throw Me In The Thicket (When I Die)," but the show's most electrifying moment came during a high-strung rendition of the Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer" that saw Hobbs turn into a woman possessed as she brought the lively crowd under her musical spell by making the iconic song her own.

Charley Crockett

Charley Crockett at Railbird

Sarah Cahill

After setting The Burl ablaze with a Friday night Railbird pre-party, Charley Crockett continued with a fiery Saturday afternoon set that saw the descendant of Davy tackle tunes such as "Run Horse Run," Johnny Paycheck and Aubrey Mayhew's "Jukebox Charley" and "Welcome To Hard Times," each rife with his signature South Texas style and swagger. Crockett later put a wrap on the show with a rousing run-through of one of his latest hits in "I'm Just A Clown," drawing everyone not already standing to their feet to move and groove to the funky finale.

Morgan Wade

Morgan Wade at Railbird

Sarah Cahill

One of several artists who went from playing at music venue The Burl in Lexington's Distillery District to playing Railbird's Burl stage, Wade's rock star status soared during an exhilarating performance that included fan favorites such as "Wilder Days," "Last Cigarette" and "Take Me Away." Despite all being stellar performances, they don't compare to Wade's toeing the line between country, pop and rock during a cover of Miley Cyrus' "Bad Karma" and "Psychopath," the latter being the debut single from her highly anticipated album of the same name due out Aug. 25.

Zach Bryan

Zach Bryan at Railbird

Sarah Cahill

With a pinkish orange strawberry moon hugging the horizon, there was already something in the orange well before Bryan even took the stage for his headlining Saturday show, and things only got better from there. The viral sensation held the tens of thousands in the palm of his hands from start to finish of the 90-minute set, beginning with "Open The Gate" and going on to include hits such as "Tishomingo" and "Oklahoma Smokeshow." While Bryan and company brought the heat throughout, the intensity of a closing run that included "Heading South," "Burn, Burn, Burn" and "Revival" was unmatched and easily one of the weekend's most memorable moments.

49 Winchester

49 Winchester at Railbird

Sarah Cahill

As gates opened Sunday afternoon, fans quickly flocked in droves to Railbird's Limestone stage to snag prime real estate for another of Appalachia's breakouts (and Luke Combs' favorite band), 49 Winchester. The Virginia natives, led by charismatic frontman Isaac Gibson, moved between heartfelt ballads of home ("Russell County Line" and "Everlasting Lover") to honky-tonk humdingers such as "Long Hard Life," "Hillbilly Daydream" and a set closing "Last Call" illustrating in the process why the small-town band of childhood friends deserves to feature on even bigger and brighter stages in the near future.

Sierra Ferrell

Sierra Ferrell at Railbird

Sarah Cahill

Fresh off a delightful Delfest performance in Maryland the weekend prior, Ferrell took listeners camped out at the Elkhorn stage back in time with her Janis Joplin and Loretta Lynn-infused vocals on songs such as "Bells Of Every Chapel," "Silver Dollar" and "In Dreams." Also included were songs teased from her forthcoming follow-up to 2021's Long Time Coming in "The Garden" and "Fox Hunt," along with a haunting cover of John Anderson's "Years" and an enchanting endeavor into the Beatles' "Don't Let Me Down" that the crowd seized control of by singing along to at its peak.

Cole Chaney

Cole Chaney at Railbird

Sarah Cahill

A lot of folks around Kentucky think of Chaney as the state's next star set to make it big and if his Sunday afternoon set is any indication, they're right. The 22-year-old Ashland-born artist was flanked by a bluegrass band that included Arthur Hancock (guitar), Chris Shouse (mandolin) and Ella Webster (fiddle), collectively adding even more depth and vibrancy to "Charlene," "Spirit," "Coalshooter," "Back To Kentucky" and other epics from the Appalachian upstart.

Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway


Molly Tuttle at Railbird

Sarah Cahill

Molly Tuttle and her band of misfits delivered a show commemorating crooked trees of all stripes during her Railbird debut, pairing everything from originals such as "Side Saddle" and "She'll Change" with a heady Grateful Dead excursion ("Dire Wolf") and a jamgrass breakdown on John Hartford's "Up On The Hill Where They Do The Boogie." Tuttle and Golden Highway (Kyle Tuttle on banjo, Bronwyn Keith-Hynes on fiddle, Shelby Means on bass and Dominick Leslie on mandolin) easily had one of the festival's most engaging stage presences as well, with the foursome constantly on the move as they engaged with one another and the crowd, welcoming those in attendance to Red Mile's big backyard.

Charles Wesley Godwin

Charles Wesley Godwin at Railbird

Sarah Cahill

Of all the weekend's amazing shows from The Burl stage, nobody could match the crowd size there to see West Virginia's Godwin on Sunday evening. Among them were countless Bryan fans hoping to see the Saturday night headliner make an appearance if their duet "Jamie" made the set list, which it did near the show's halfway point to an eruption of applause. Also mixed in were originals such as "Lyin' Low" and "Temporary Town" along with a duet with Eastern Kentucky's Nicholas Jamerson for "Peace Mountain" and a set closing cover of John Denver hit and West Virginia state song "Take Me Home, Country Roads."

Tyler Childers

Tyler Childers at Railbird

Sarah Cahill

We could get used to Childers headlining Railbird. He did it in 2019 as well as 2021, making this weekend's Sunday slot a perfect three for three of the Kentucky star's homecoming. After Mary Quinn Ramer of VisitLex introduced him by announcing that Mayor Linda Gorton has proclaimed June 4 "Tyler Childers Day" in Lexington, the Lawrence County-born songwriter jumped right into arguably his most popular and most-requested song, "Whitehouse Road." Crowd participation was plentiful throughout with the sea of people nearly drowning Childers out on tunes such as "All Your'n," "Lady May" and "Nose On The Grindstone." Also making appearances were covers of Crockett's "Tom Turkey," Kenny Rogers' "Tulsa Turnaround" and Cory Branan's "Sour Mash." Childers dedicated the last of those covers (and the show-closing song) to his fallen friend, "Moonshine Mike" Stallings, who passed away last fall after a long battle with leukemia, bringing a poignant and emotional end to an already profound performance.

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