Jeff Foxworthy Interview: Legendary Comedian Talks Upcoming Redfest
Jeff Foxworthy has made a cottage industry out of all things redneck, and he’s about to add another venture to his ever-growing list of accomplishments.
The legendary comedian, author, actor and TV and radio personality is one of the headliners at the upcoming Redfest, which is set to take place in Austin from May 23-25. The Memorial Day weekend event features comedy from Foxworthy, Larry the Cable Guy and Rodney Carrington, music from country stars including Tim McGraw, Justin Moore, Florida Georgia Line and more, celebrity appearances and a wide range of other activities, including zip lines, retail areas, mechanical bull rides, outdoor lifestyle competitions, an old style saloon and much more.
Foxworthy is not only performing, he also spearheaded the event, which has partnered with the Boot Campaign, a charity that raises funds to help support past and present military and their families.
The Boot caught up with Foxworthy recently to discuss the upcoming festival, as well as his charitable endeavors.
Redfest is your brainchild. How did you conceptualize the event?
It goes back several years. When I was doing ‘Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?,’ Mark Burnett was producing that show, but he was also producing ‘Shark Tank.’ So one day he comes by the set, and he says, “Hey, I want you to be a judge on ‘Shark Tank.'” And I just laughed, and I said, “Mark, I’m not that mean. I’m too nice to be a judge on ‘Shark Tank.'” And he said, “Yes, but I love the way you run your business.” So I ended up doing a few episodes of ‘Shark Tank,’ and I told everybody later, “Here’s the deal: when you’re a shark on ‘Shark Tank,’ everybody on the planet that has an idea — not a good idea, just an idea — ends up getting in touch with you, wanting you to finance their business or whatever.”
"Memorial Day’s one of those holidays where we kinda forget what it’s really about."
When I’m not working, I’m on my farm. I’m on a tractor, or I’m hunting or fishing. I’m outdoors somewhere when I’m not working. So after ‘Shark Tank’ I got inundated with people with ideas, and within them, there was a bunch of cool outdoor ideas, so I started an outdoor company called Foxworthy Outdoors, trying to give people kind of a platform to take their things to, whether it was camping or fishing or hunting or whatever, to have an outlet for that stuff.
And then separately, I had a couple of guys come and talk to me, and they said, “Have you ever thought of doing your own festival?” And I said, “Well, I’ve done a ton of festivals.” And they said, “What’s your impression of a festival?” And I said, “It’s where you get a bunch of people together, and they’re either pretty much watching a show, or they’re loitering. They’re waiting on the next show.”
And we sat there and talked, and I said, “You know what would be cool, is if you had a place where people could come see shows like that, but during the rest of the day you could have a way to entertain them. Let them go look at stuff they like to look at, have games and stuff for the kids, kinda like a fair meets a flea market meets a festival.”
That’s kinda how Redfest got started.
That’s a huge challenge to put together.
It was fun creatively, because now you’re trying to dream something up that really hadn’t been done that way. It’s like, okay, so what would you do? What if we had a hunting and fishing village, where people could go look at all kinds of outdoor stuff, and if they wanted to learn to fly fish, we’d teach them to do that. If they wanted to learn to shoot a bow, we’d teach them to do that. And then we could do a whole cooking area where we could have a chili cook-off and have a whole bunch of food, but you could also showcase outdoor cooking equipment.
"You feel like an ant out there in front of an ocean of people, but it works."
It was kind of a blank canvas, and then once we decided on doing it over Memorial Day, it was like, well, Memorial Day’s one of those holidays where we kinda forget what it’s really about. So why don’t we set up a whole village there to just honor people in the military? Let’s give away tickets to people in the military, let’s invite them to this as a small way to say thank you, and give them a place where they can bring their families and they can hang out with us for the whole weekend. So that part of it was really fun. A lot of work — it’s kind of like birthing a baby, because we’ve been working on this for going on two years, and it’s like, “Okay, we’re ready for the baby to be here now!” [Laughs.]
How did you begin, once you conceptualized the festival? Is the first step to look for a location?
That was the first step. It’s like, all right, where are we gonna do this? Because if it works, you’re going to have to be able to hold a lot of people.
You know, we went and looked at some NASCAR tracks, because those are kinda giant facilities that are busy a few days a year, and then they just sit vacant. But we also made a list of cities. I made a list of my favorite cities, and Austin was one of them. And I had a friend in Austin who said, “They’ve got that new Formula One track that’s state of the art, why don’t you fly down here and look at this?” And Austin’s such a great music and food and cool little city anyway, and we flew down there, and that facility was just perfect.
They already had an amphitheater built in, and as we’re walking around with them, they’re saying, “Hey, if we’re doing a show for 20,000 people we use the amphitheater, and it’s already set up. If we find we have 60,000 people, we go over this hill and we’ll use those grandstands, and we’ll build a stage right here, and here’s a place where we can set up all the food, and here’s a place where we can set up all the games . . . ”
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And they had camping facilities, because when they do those Formula One races, they bring in 200,000 people. And it was all brand new. Great restrooms, great food facilities, great camping hookup, and it had almost like a Lego thing, where you could change it around to make it what you needed it to be. So to me, that was a great place in a great city with a great country music tradition. So it was like, yeah, let’s do Austin. And since then it’s just been trying to figure out which Legos you put where.
The event is also involved with charity.
I had told them right up front, “All right, if we’re gonna get this many people together and we’re gonna entertain them, everybody’s gonna have fun — but let’s be able to do something good for people.” That’s just the way I’m wired. I don’t get paid for most of the shows I do now, because most of them are for charity things, and I do them for free. And so I wanted to set up that component, too — let’s go in and work with some charities and do some stuff. And the Boot Campaign is headquartered right there in Austin, and we went down there and met with them.
And they do such great stuff for the people in the armed services. They help people who are dealing with post-traumatic stress, they get them counseling, they get them help, they help people find jobs. They’re right there. So I said, “Let’s partner with them, and let’s also have a place where we can showcase other cool things people are doing to love their neighbor.” We’ve got that many people together anyway, let’s let people see what other people are doing, and maybe give them the chance to get involved themselves.
That’s a component of the whole thing that I love. Because every Tuesday of my life, I drive to downtown Atlanta, I get up at 5:30 and go work at a homeless mission. Nobody knows that about me, and I don’t do it for publicity. I just root for the underdog, I always have. My wife and I have been chairmen of all the fundraisers for the Duke Children’s Hospital for 20 years, because they do the same thing St. Jude does — they don’t turn anybody away based on ability to pay. So to be able to do something like this and have that element in it, I love that.
You’ve performed in a huge number of different setting over the years. Is it different to perform comedy in a festival setting, as opposed to a comedy club or smaller venue? Do you have to change the way you present yourself?
That’s a smart question. Nobody ever asked that question. Yeah, I think in its purest form, comedy is almost made for small clubs. And to this day, when I’m working on new stuff, that’s where I do it, I go back to a little club. Because they’ll tell you whether it’s funny or not funny. And you’d think after 30 years you would know, and you don’t. You don’t know, until you throw it out there, whether people are gonna laugh at it or not.
I had the advantage of a big learning curve. I started out in comedy clubs, and I had eight years in a row where I did more than 500 shows a year. So I was just a road warrior, and that’s kinda how I cut my teeth in this business.
And then I was blessed enough to be successful at that and move into concerts, So now you move from little 200-300 seat comedy clubs into theaters, where you’ve got 2000-5000 people. And I did that for years and years, and then we did the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, and now all of a sudden you’re performing for 10,000, or 15,000 — I think we still have the record for the Nashville Arena, the biggest crowd ever there. And so, there was a learning curve on that. How do you take this little intimate thing, and now do it for 15 or 20,000 people?
And through the years I’ve done a ton of these festivals, and it works. I don’t know why, but it does. It’s different — you know, you feel like an ant out there in front of an ocean of people, but it works. Especially at night. Comedy is a little different than music in that you can kind of enjoy music without being seated and paying attention. You can be walking around and semi paying attention and still enjoy it. But with comedy, people do have to sit, and they do have to listen. So that’s the part of it . . . they can’t just be walking around, they’ve got to listen, or they’re not gonna get the joke. So part of that thought goes into it when you’re trying to set it up.
Is there anything else you want to say about this event and your participation in it?
It’s one of those things, you hope — because you work so hard on it — you hope you’re doing it right. I hope, when we get done with it, that Austin’s proud if it. That Austin’s proud that we’re doing it there, and that we do it in such a way . . . it’s always hard doing a festival in the first year, because the people that are coming to it aren’t sure quite what it is, and we’re even learning that as we go, to find out what works and what doesn’t work.
But I love the idea that it’s somewhere that you can bring your whole family, and you can camp out, and you can hang out with your kids for the weekend, and just have a fun weekend. I had written a blog about it a couple of months ago, and as I was writing that I had the thought, when you look back on the best days of your life, I bet none of them include watching television or checking emails. [Laughs.]
You have to get out and do something, and you have to get out and do something with people you care about. It’s about relationships. So I really think, as we’ve put this together, that’s what we’ve tried to do, is create something that you can bring your favorite people, and you can have a great weekend. You can look at stuff you like to look at, do things you like to do, and then you can go watch shows from big-name people and from people that are up-and-coming. So we have the big stages and the little stages.
And at the end of the weekend, we hope you leave dead tired. I want you to leave worn out, but I want you to leave going, “I want to do that again.” And to make a great memory. So hopefully when this is over, that’s the way everyone is going to feel about it.