MuRF ~ MUDDY RIVERS FESTIVAL, The birth of a new good time. Aswitnessed by F. Wes Breitenbach (story & photos)

If you didn’t go to Muddy Rivers Fest (MuRF) than you missed one of the best events I have been to and may ever go to. In only its second year, MuRF has huge potential. With the feel of a big family party, and an open camping area that provides spaces close to the action, farther out in the hills, or up in the shady pines, you’re sure to have a great spot. The Fest is held at the June Bug Ranch, owned by Herbert and Amber Clark, a 50 acre site dedicated to music festivals and biker rallies throughout most of the year and located near Cookeville, TN. It’s just far enough out to be in the country but close enough to the conveniences of town. Philip & Marisa Byard and Tom Hehnen planned the event. Along with help from a group of dedicated friends, they put on a great time.
Tom Hehnen and friends enjoying the fruits of their labor, Shawn Groton wins a Jackson Zen. (Photos by Tom Hehnen)

I arrived Friday afternoon and got my site picked out and set up. I wanted to be early and stay late. I like to watch the arrival and departure of things. From airplanes to seasons, I find it interesting. It was slow going until Friday evening but I met up with Philip and some other folks to throw a round on the disc golf course set up just for the event.  Designed and setup by former Pro and owner of the soon to be open Nashville Disc Golf Store, Shawn Groton, the course flanked the north edge of the property. It had open down and uphill drives along with wooded shots over a babbling brook. It was well done in so many ways yet I know it will still be improved upon -like making a full 18 hole disc course adding to the awesome 9 he has already laid out. I was able to maintain a somewhat decent score. It was a challenging course that I threw several times and I hope to see again next year.

The remainder of the evening was spent listening to music and watching as people trickled in. I had decided to get to bed early and not drink too much so I could be fresh in the morning. Well, that was plan “a”. I woke up with the felling that some time in the night I switched to plan “c” or “d” without notifying myself. Apparently neither of those plans included a fresh morning. Breakfast made, I gathered my things and prepared for a day on the water and tried to clear the fuzzy fog in my skull.

The nearest runnable water is Spring Creek. This natural flowing gem is a collection of ledges, drops, a few shoots and some spectacular scenery. The plan was to have several whitewater competitions, a race, waterfall drop, and a rodeo. Only thing is, with a natural flowing creek you can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you might just get what you need. Hmm, where have I heard that before? Well, try was what we did. With the flow as low as it could be to be “runnable” we set out for the unknown! For the most of us it was unknown.

At the put in was a motley group of paddlers, mostly kayaks, but there was a SUP and one shredder. That was what I would be paddling. When we gathered for the morning safety brief a young lady offered her shredder to anyone who might like to try it. I thought it sounded fun and I jumped at the chance. Never having paddled one I thought this a good opportunity. I searched for a companion to voyage with me though I was told if I needed I could go it alone. I found a willing partner in a solid dirt bag named Charles Murray Chisam III. He looked capable of commanding such a craft and if he couldn’t, I was sure his beard could. When we began to discuss our experience with this style of boat, we soon realized that it would be the first for us both. This fact seemed to not bother either of us so, off we went. Within the first mile we had fallen into a nonverbal co-paddling powerhouse. I thought left we went left. I paddled right and he the same. Digging, pushing, bumping and dragging we floated, mostly, downstream.

The creek was low and most of the drops and ledges didn’t have enough water to carry us over. It was a bunch of laughs and swims but no serious injuries. Even the SUP guy was killing it. I have never wanted to whitewater SUP, and I still don’t, but it was cool to watch him hang on to that board and come out the other side on top.  
Waterloo Falls was too low to run as well, so we portaged it. Some decided to seal launch the side of the falls, a stout 15 foot plunge. I can’t wait to come back when this baby is running big. Thanks to Kirk Eddelmon’s new 2 volume book set explaining the characteristics of weather maps and how to translate rainfall into water levels I’ll have a good shot at catching this creek with a solid flow. Right now the only gauge is a good ol’ boy named Tom Hehnen. You want the level? Ask Tom, ain’t no AW listing here.        
The take out just happens to be right at Toms back door, but that door is at the top of what seemed to be 900 stairs. I guess it was more like 30 or so but after the long slow run most everyone was ready to be done. Besides, Philip was about to be late for the first band. He was after all the organizer of the event and thus the MC. We scrambled to get the boats and people loaded and back to June Bug.
PHOTOS: 1 is DB crew of the shredder. 2 Nick Cross headed back to the land from which he comes? 3 is Waterloo falls, too low to run that day.  4 is view from the shredder. 5 is bottom of Waterloo Falls, seal launch spot on river left (right on pic)  6 is SUP dropping ledge on Spring Creek.

The music was provided by regional talent and it was a home grown throw-down that you can only find in East Tennessee. Graced with the delicious concoctions of Bible Belt Brewing Co. to quench the thirst and cleanse the soul, complemented with tasty, affordable food available from The Magic Food Bus to stuff our bellies, we huddled around a roaring fire listening to music and sharing tales of river trips past and plans for future adventures.
Auction the Secret opened the night with their hard rockin’ tunes followed by Curtis Marsh with an Americana/country style that pulled the next act in nicely. Nick Cross. If you have ever wondered what it is like to hang with a true person then Nick is your man. I had met Nick Friday afternoon and had no idea what I was in for. I heard he was a musician and was starting out in kayaking. I quickly learned that moderation was not on his list of to do’s. He paddled like a beast, drank like a fish and partied better than the best. But when he got up on that stage with his black cowboy hat and dreamy eyes (I’m comfortable enough in my manliness to acknowledge another man’s attributes) his voice was what blew me away. You would never have known the first half his day had been spent getting beaten up by a river while fighting a bottle of whiskey. I would like to think that this man is going to end up somewhere big. His ability on stage is as topnotch as I have seen anywhere and he really brought it that weekend. The next band, the River Funk, could have had a better time had they been on time. I think the crowd had been drifting away when they showed up and with the light dimmed for the random acts of LED hula-hooping alongside Poi, the art of spinning fireballs on short chains, they had the deck stacked against them from the start. It wasn’t till the second half of their show that the lights returned to the stage. I know how tough it is for a young band trying to work their craft and the reward is sometimes way less than the payout which is sometimes nothing. But a band has to be on time. Pun intended. The last group, the Flowhicans, was out of Atlanta and they performed what I was told was Dubstep/EMD? I am sure everyone has their taste of music but this is just not mine. Is was such an odd mix of electronic beats and noises that a nearby farmer awoke to the sound and drove over to see what was going on. He was heard saying “I’m not complaining, I just wanted to know what that noise was?”  He was enlightened and wandered back home with a smile on his face and  a free festival shirt for being such a good sport. I feel like they hit a good mix of artists and everyone I spoke with enjoyed the lineup.
The fire raged into the night.  

I had the chance to hang with a few kayak giants that night, Pat Keller from Liquid Logic and Steve Fisher with Jackson Kayaks. They had great advice and answered lots of questions I am sure they get asked all the time, but they responded with genuine enthusiasm and listened with interest to everyone I saw them talking with. And Steve still owes me a burger! He played the old “don’t have my wallet trick” and I fell for it like a school girl. But Seriously Steve, next time you pass through Knoxville?
Sunday was roll ’em up and head out. The smoke lifting out of the ash pile was drifting low in the cool morning air. I had a pound of thick cut peppered bacon I began to fry up and prepare to hand out as people drove by. I know, awesome, right? We have all been told never to take candy from a stranger. Especially one in a van! But everyone seemed just fine taking bacon from a dirt bag in the back of a utility trailer! I handed out the last of the free stickers I had and began to pack up myself. 

The DBP Booth; Rope or Whiskey??

All in all the weekend was a blast. And here are a few recommendations for everyone going next year.
1) Bring CASH! The bar has an ATM but it emptied out quick and all the vendors, food truck and the bar/ grill only took cash.
2) Get there early for the best camping spot. There are many good spots and a few great ones.
3) Bring your friends that don’t kayak! There is plenty to do from disc golf and mountain biking to hiking or just sitting around the festival chatting it up with some beers.
4) Bring your bike! The property is big and a bike is a great way to get around.
5) They have rustic bunkhouses for rent if you don’t want to tent camp. RV’s and campers welcome.
This festival is in its infancy and it is no easy task to get something like this up and running. I would like to recognize the people who worked so hard at this event.  
*Planners
   Philip & Marisa Byard
   Tom Hehnen
*Logistics/ manager
    Jim Whittaker
*Disc golf course design and set-up
   Shawn Groton
*Liquid Logic boats demo
    Pat Keller
*Caney Fork Outdoor Center provided the Jackson boats for demo
   Mike Ardvison
*Bible Belt brewing
   Zach Caro
*The Magic Food Bus  
  Greg Osai
*Jackson kayak provided a boat for raffle as well as featured the festival on their website
  Emily Jackson
*June Bug Ranch owners
  Herbert and Amber Clark
*the bands all volunteered to play at the event!
Auction the Secret (hard rock) -Nashville, TN
Curtis Marsh (Americana /country) Broadway-Nash Vegas/ Cali
Nick Cross (country) BROADWAY- NashVegas
The River Funk (funk) from Dumpy’s at Ocoee River
the Flowhicans (Dubstep /EDM /trap) Atlanta, GA

PHOTOS: 1 is Philip’s toss into the grill of the old camper that was a hazard on the disc golf course. 2 Shawn Groton getting the news about winning the kayak from jackson. 3 is Shawn Groton falling through his seat on Friday night just as the evening was getting under way. So he started the weekend with a busted seat and finished it with a new kayak. not a bad trade. 4 is the toss that put Philips’s disc in the grill of the Dodge. 5 the entrance to JBR. 6 course designer Shawn G. teeing off with Nick Cross. 7 Magic food bus with Greg Osai. 8 Me with my Noodle fenders, cause it was wet on Friday and i like my rivers muddy not my ass! 9 Tom Hehnen’s motorcycle kayak carrier maddness. 10 An awesome ending to an awesome weekend, Cheap Gas!!! 
 Muddy Rivers Festival edit, by organizer Tom Hehnen
Muddy Rivers Festival on Facebook
Muddy Rivers homepage, complete with cool photos and blog
two great resources for middle tn ww boaters:
Nashville Whitewater (Facebook group) 
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  • Show Comments (0)

  • Anonymous

    Got there Sat mid-day… still going strong… on thru Sun …. good time had.
    Barnett Williams

  • alfred

    btw, would love to see video from the Spring Creek run, I know there was a plethora of GoPro's floating around, someone post something somewhere!!

  • alfred

    Nice writeup, I had a great time myself!

  • Shawn Groton

    Sweet story Wes. Well done.See you soon

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