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HOFFARD VINCE MUG

Vince Hoffard writes the weekly Country Scene column.

Moonpies will be free in Saline County next weekend.

No, organizers at the annual Eldorado Town & Country Days celebration are giving away the tasty Southern treats. Instead, they will be hosting a concert by one of the best bands to ever emerge from the musical hotbed of Austin, Texas.

After a decade of paying dues and searching for its true identity, Mike and the Moonpies finally reached a national audience with break-out 2018 album “Steak Night at the Prairie Rose” and quickly followed up this year with an eclectic batch of songs on “Cheap Silver and Solid Gold Country,” an eight-track project released Aug. 2.

“Ten years into our career, we’re still finding our voice … and we’re realizing that maybe its not one voice, but a collection of voices,” says band founder and lead vocalist Mike Harmeier.

The band will draw from a growing body of original material (six albums) and mix in a few cover tunes when they appear at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, at the Eldorado festival. The group will be fronted by the John D. Hale Band from Jackson, Missouri, and Travis Beasley, the Eldorado native who assists in the planning of the event every year.

“I first saw the Moonpies in Sidney (Illinois) and they were fantastic. I started following them and suddenly they just blew up,” Beasley says. “We’ve been after them for three years and were finally able to nail them down.”

The musical extravaganza kicks off at 7 p.m Friday, Sept. 20 with a show by contemporary country singer and rising star Drew Baldridge, outlaw deluxe Craig Gerdes and up-and-comer Hannah Dasher, who will play the prestigious Grand Ole Opry a week after the Eldorado event.

Both shows are free. Seating will be outdoors, festival-style, with space allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. Patrons are urged to bring lawn chairs for seating.

There will also be carnival rides and numerous food and drink vendors on sight.

Putting together the lineup always begins with chaos for Beasley.

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“You start out making a ton of phone calls and writing countless e-mails. Finally, everything just falls into place. You try to balance things and get a little something for everyone,” Beasley says. “Friday should be outstanding. Drew will play the new stuff, Craig is a true outlaw and Hannah leans a little towards the traditional side.”

The 27-year-old Baldridge is a native of tiny Patoka, located 95 miles north of Carbondale up Illinois 51. Since releasing debut single “B.Y.O.B.” in 2013, Baldridge has toured relentlessly. He finally charted a single, “Dance With Ya,” in 2016 and followed with “Guns & Roses” and “Rebound.”

Dasher is a guitar-slinging Sony/ATV Nashville songwriter from coastal Georgia. She is in the studio working on debut album “Heavy.” She recently got her first cut by a major artist when Brad Paisley recorded ”Go to Bed Early,” and she provided harmony vocals for the tune in the studio. Her style has been called “Dolly Parton on cocaine” and “hot chicken and honey.”

Gerdes made a name for himself with hard-hitting 2018 outlaw album “Smokin’, Drinkin’ & Gamblin’,” which includes the stark “Dead in a Box in Kentucky” and a honky-tonk-soaked cover of Johnny Paycheck’s “Slide Off Your Satin Sheet.”

Starting out, the Moonpies earned the reputation as the best dance hall band in Texas. Through the years, the sound matured and moved away from the snappy two-step numbers.

The new album was recorded at iconic Abbey Road Studio in London, where The Beatles cut “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart’s Club Band” and Pink Floyd tracked “Dark Side of the Moon.” Appearing on the “Cheap Silver” album for the Moonpies was the unlikely mix of Shooter Jennings, the London Symphony Orchestra and Nikki Lane.

Songs of the project range from soft ballads accompanied by a lush string section to emulate the Ray Price “countrypolitan” sound of the late 1960s, to a cover of Gary P. Nunn’s classic “London Homesick Blues,” also known as the Austin City Limits theme song.

Hale started his band in 2005 and quickly created a raucous sound with his five-piece group that forges elements of Southern rock, traditional country and bluegrass into its own edgy musical style.

They have released three studio albums and placed songs of the Texas Music Charts.

A graduate of Eldorado High School, Beasley formed the High Low Drifters in central Illinois in 2011 and the band developed a huge local following. Academic pursuits by Beasley caused a steady reduction in appearances and ultimately a breakup of the band. Dr. Beasley now devotes most of his time working at the Beasley Equine Clinic, but is still a frequent performer on the patio at Morello’s in Harisburg, where he played this past weekend with good friend Matt Poss.

This article has been updated to correct the dates of Town & Country Days. An earlier version incorrectly stated the festival is this weekend. In fact, it is next weekend — Sept. 20 and 21.

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Vince Hoffard can be reached at vincehoffard@gmail.com or 618-658-9095.

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