Deep in the Musical Heart of Texas

Don’t Mess With Texas and Its Music

“You got Bellaire class and Dallas style, Austin soul and a Luckenbach smile”
-Slaid Cleaves- “Texas Love Song”

“Greetings from Austin” Mural

If you’re a fan of country music, especially old school country, then you know that Texas is a big deal. With artists like George Strait dominating the airwaves from the 1980’s through the 2010’s, songs about Texas were commonly heard on the radio. And thanks to “All My Ex’s Live in Texas,” most country music fans from the past few decades can probably rattle off the names of a handful of Texas cities with ease. I’m pretty sure King George can also be credited with putting “Amarillo” on the map! Texas is also home to numerous country (and non-country) musicians including some of the most influential in the genre like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. Texas itself is a musical state, it’s capital, Austin, is the “Live Music Capital of the World” and it’s home to bars and honky tonks made famous because of their musical connection, like Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth. It can be credited with birthing the Outlaw Country movement of the 1970’s and today, with the help of Oklahoma, it’s given us “Red Dirt” music. It’s the location of movies like Urban Cowboy and it’s the host of Austin City Limits. It’s because of its rich country music history that I chose Texas as my summer vacation destination. Texas also has a lot to offer outside of music- you can find rodeos, cattle drives, and BBQ there. You can float the river in New Braunfels and you can pick up a kolach from the Czech bakery in West. It’s where you go to get back to the basics of love.

Country music was definitely a central theme of my trip. Prior to heading out to the Lone Star State, I made a Spotify playlist titled, “Texas Love Songs,” the title of which can be credited to Slaid Cleaves‘ song “Texas Love Song.” As the trip planning got underway and even while I was in Texas, I was continually adding songs to this list. Even now after I’m home I’m still adding to this extensive list. On it you’ll find songs about Texas, songs that reference Texas, and songs by Texans. Even stuff that doesn’t fit this criteria has made its way onto this playlist such as songs by the Turnpike Troubadours who I thought were worth including because of their “Red Dirt” classification. While the Texas connection of some songs on this playlist may be obvious, like “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind?” others may be less so like “One Night Taco Stand,” which made me think of Austin and the numerous food trucks and taco joints in the city. And while you’re not likely to ever find me including a Blake Shelton song on a playlist, this may be the one exception, as this playlist wouldn’t be complete without “Austin.” I’ve compiled all of the top Texas songs in a Spotify playlist that you can find here.

This playlist came to life on several occasions throughout this trip. While in Dallas I played two of my favorite songs about The Big D as I walked around- Mark Chesnutt‘s “Goin’ Through the Big D” and George Strait’s “Run.” And while in Luckenbach, Texas, singing this song together with other visitors, I wasn’t feeling no pain.

The Prophets of Country Music

If the biblical holy land produced prophets known for the messages that they delivered to the masses then the same can be said of Texas producing country music prophets. Whether you credit it to divine intervention or something in the water, there’s bound to be a reason why so many musical greats hail from this state (the sheer size of it doesn’t hurt in this regard). I’m talking about people like Willie Nelson, Townes Van Zandt, Waylon Jennings, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Kris Kristofferson, Billy Joe Shaver, Robert Earl Keen, Lee Ann Womack, George Strait, Rodney Crowell, Guy Clark, Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, Rhett Miller, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. There are modern day prophets coming out of this state as well like Cody Jinks, Kacey Musgraves, Josh Abbott, Amanda Shires, Shane Smith, Miranda Lambert, Hayes Carll, Flatland Calvary, Shakey Graves, Ryan Bingham, and Sunny Sweeney. And it’s not just country artists that are coming out of Texas as it’s also the home of musicians like Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, and Don Henley as well. That’s a whole lot of messengers all coming from one place! As Little Texas sings, “God Blessed Texas.”

Stevie Ray Vaughn State in Austin, Texas

A Country Music Pilgrimage

“Now I love the USA
And the other states
Ahh, they’re OK
Texas is the place I wanna be
And I don’t care if I ever go to Delaware anyway
‘Cause we got Stubbs, and Gruene Hall and Antone’s, and John T’s
Country Store
We’ve got Willie and Jacky Jack, Robert Earl, Pat, Cory, Charlie and me
And so many more”
-Ray Wylie Hubbard- “Screw You, We’re From Texas”

While you may not think “holy land” when you think of Texas, the amount of pilgrimage stops available to a country fan there may make you change your mind. There were several places that I put on my itinerary for this trip because of their significance in country music. Those places were John T. Floore Country Store, Gruene Hall, Antone’s, and Stubb’s. If you’re familiar with Ray Wylie Hubbard‘s song “Screw You, We’re From Texas,” then you know that he references all of these places. John T. Floore Country Store is the musical birthplace of Willie Nelson and John T. Floore (the man) is name dropped in Willie Nelson’s song “Shotgun Willie.”

Sign in front of John T. Floore Country Store in Helotes, Texas

While I didn’t stay for the performance at Stubb’s while I was there (I just ate some tasty food), I did catch a performance at Antone’s. There I had the pleasure of watching a performance by Barbara Lynn, a woman I didn’t know until that night but she’s actually a big deal having written songs recorded by both Freddy Fender and The Rolling Stones. At Gruene Hall, I listened to Bo Porter play a few songs including one about the great state of Texas called “She Likes Livin’ in Texas.”

Clockwise from the top left: Stubb’s BBQ (Austin), Gruene Hall (New Braunfels), John T. Floore Country Store (Helotes), Antone’s Nightclub (Austin)

“Let’s go to Luckenbach, Texas
With Waylon and Willie and the boys
This successful life we’re livin’
Got us feuding like the Hatfields and McCoys”
-Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings- “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)”

While it was nice to check these places off my Texas bucket list, the most meaningful experience I had in Texas was in Luckenbach. As the song says, “out in Luckenbach, Texas ain’t nobody feeling no pain,” and that was definitely the case for me and everyone in the the post office/general store/bar that afternoon. With all of the singing, drinking, and joking that was taking place it was easy to forget about the real world for a couple of hours. The man performing that afternoon was Jimmy Lee Jones, a songwriter in his own right, who played some of his own songs for us and also took requests. One of his songs that he played was called “Quit Your Bitchin’,” which he got everyone to sing along to.  Jimmy Lee Jones has a reputation of his own in the music community, he was honored by the Texas Heritage Music Foundation, he’s opened for Willie’s picnics and shows on numerous occasions, and Willie Nelson has even said that “Jimmy Lee Jones is one of the best kept secrets in Texas.” Well, the secret is out now!

The artists that I requested Jimmy Lee Jones play that afternoon were Townes Van Zandt (he played “Poncho and Lefty“), Billy Joe Shaver (he played “The Devil Made Me Do It the First Time“), Roger Miller (he played “King of the Road“), and Robert Earl Keen (he played “Feeling Good Again” –  a song about the Mr. Blues bar in Bandera, TX which I had walked past earlier that same day not knowing its connection to the song!) He was accompanied on all of these songs by Dino, who played both banjo and dobro and at times the bartender Ricky even jumped in on harmonica. Together, Jimmy  Lee Jones and Dino make up his band, “Jimmy Lee Jones and A Creep at the Steel.” Some other songs that he played that afternoon included “Highwayman,” “Silver Wings,” and of course, “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love).” When I asked him if he ever covered songs by female artists and he then played a song by The Judds titled “Flies On The Butter (You Can’t Go Home Again).” Turns out he does. And would you believe me if I told you that he also played the theme song to Spongebob Squarepants?! Well, he did! This man kept all of us in stitches with his jokes including the one about how he got his football injury (the punch line: he fell off a cheerleader!) An added touch to that lovely afternoon in the back of the Luckenbach Post Office were the roosters walking around the store and bar.

Me in Luckenbach, Texas…feeling no pain. This picture was taken by Dino from “Jimmy Lee Jones and A Creep at the Steel.” (July 2018)

Here’s a video of Jimmy Lee, Dino, and a rooster singing “Whiskey River.”

Of course, my trip to the Texas did not cover all of the holy cities. Texas is a big state and I didn’t have time to cover it all. While I did see Austin, San Antonio, Fort Worth, Dallas, and some smaller towns like Fredericksburg and Bandera (The Cowboy Capital of the World), I was unable to see places like Lubbock (home of the West Texas Walk of Fame), Amarillo, Houston, La Grange (as in the ZZ Top Song), El Paso, Laredo, Galveston, Corpus Christi, and many others.

Holy Communion

“I wish I was in Austin 
In a chilly parlor bar 
Drinkin’ Mad Dog Margaritas 
And not carin’ where you are”
-Guy Clark- “Dublin Blues”

On my first day in Austin, I made my way out to the Texas Chili Parlor bar to have a holy communion of sorts. No, I didn’t have a wafer and wine, I had a Mad Dog Margarita, a place and a drink referenced by Guy Clark in his song “Dublin Blues.” This place is the definition of a “dive bar.” And while the Mad Dog Margarita wasn’t really my style (I’m not really a margarita girl anyway), I still enjoyed the experience of living out the dream Guy Clark once had while in Dublin.

A Mad Dog Margarita at the Texas Chili Parlor

Getting the Jinks Out

“I’ve been standing on the outside for all of my life
But I like the view, I’m not gonna lie”
-Cody Jinks- “Hippies and Cowboys”

One of the things I was most looking forward to on my trip was finally getting the chance to see Cody Jinks in concert. Of all the amazing artists I’ve discovered in the past year or so, this man ranks pretty high up there. I also may have planned my trip around getting to see him in concert (I did). The concert was held at Whitewater Amphitheater in New Braunfels, which is a short drive from Austin. The openers were Ward Davis and Colter Wall. I saw Colter Wall in DC back in April at a sold out show at U Street Music Hall and was surprised that the crowd didn’t really seem to be that into him in Texas. Obviously Cody was the main attraction but I consider Colter Wall to be pretty big in the country music world right now too and thought he would have gotten more love. Maybe it was just the area where I was standing and perhaps there were some die hard Colter fans out there that night in New Braunfels after all.

At this show, I managed to work my way all the way down to the front right behind the fence. While I wasn’t front and center, I was still front, which was pretty dang cool. The best part of the night was Cody playing my favorite song of his, “Somewhere in the Middle.” A song that serves as a reminder that if you happen to find yourself in the middle- be it the middle of life, in the middle of a tough situation, or heck, even in the middle of Texas- that’s just fine! He also played his new songs “Must Be the Whiskey,” which kicked off his set, “Lifers,” and “Somewhere Between I Love You and I’m Leavin’,” which are all featured on his upcoming album Lifers, which comes out July 27th. And of course he played his classics like “I’m Not the Devil,” “David,” and “Hippies and Cowboys,” which he ended the night with.

Cody Jinks at Whitewater Amphitheater, New Braunfels, TX (July 2018)

While Cody put on a great show, some of the audience members were annoying. While I won’t go off on a tangent about that here, I do just want to ask- what is with the whistling?! My ears aren’t pierced but after that concert they might be! Geezus!

Me, at a Cody Jinks concert, wearing a Cody Jinks t-shirt, drinking Lone Star beer with a Cody Jinks koozie (July 2018)

Having A Willie Good Time

I’ll wrap this post up by saying how much I loved all of the Willie Nelson tributes found throughout Austin. From his statue downtown to the “Willie for President” mural off South Congress Avenue, this city willie loves this Red Headed Stranger. It’s almost as though he’s the patron saint of Austin. He is surely the patron saint of Outlaw Country. One mural that was really cool was outside of a dentist’s office in Austin and featured Willie, Janis Joplin, and Stevie Ray Vaughn all taking care of their teeth in the bathroom mirror. Pictures of these murals can be found below.

I also made this trip a little more Willie-centric by visiting places like Luckenbach and John T. Floore Country Store. And while John T. Floore’s may be his “musical birthplace,” I made a short detour to Abbott, Texas on my drive from Austin to Fort Worth to see his actual birthplace. There wasn’t really that much to see there but it was just a quick stop off of I-35 so I figured I might as well check it out. There doesn’t seem like much to do in Abbott but if this place gave us Willie Nelson then it’s good in my book!

A water tower in Abbott, Texas- the birthplace of Willie Nelson

Lydian Dental in Austin, Texas

“If I could I’d vote for Willie to run our government
“Good mornin’ America, how are you?” He’d say with his pigtails and a grin
He would unite the whole nation with his guitar and his song
It’s the only thing that makes perfect sense
Willie Nelson for President”
-Peter Dawson- “Willie Nelson for President”

#Nelson2020

If you read my last blog post then you already know that I’m not opposed to a Willie Nelson presidency.

Willie Nelson Statue in Austin, Texas (July 2018)

Some other cool things that happened on my trip were two-stepping at the Broken Spoke, eating a waffle shaped like Texas, and watching the Cattle Drive in Forth Worth. After all of this, I feel like a real Texan. And as a real Texan I can say, “Screw you, we’re from Texas!” and mean it! So, screw you!

Before the cows came home in Fort Worth, Texas (July 2018)

Currently listening to: Eric Church– “Desperate Man.” While Eric is not a Texan and this song is not about Texas, there is a Texas connection found in this song- it was co-written with Ray Wylie Hubbard! Ray Wylie is also found in the music video for this song, which just came out today on Amazon. Eric also released this song and announced his upcoming album of the same name while I was in Austin so this song will forever remind me of my Texas trip. I also want to take this moment to say that I will be seeing Ray Wylie Hubbard in concert on Saturday at City Winery DC and I’ll be crossing my fingers in hopes that he plays “Screw You, We’re From Texas.”

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The Tracks I’ve Been Playing So Far in 2018 (Second Quarter)

What I’m Listening To

This past quarter (April-June), I’ve been getting deep into certain artists/groups. Groups like the Turnpike Troubadours and Arctic Monkeys and artists like Cody Jinks and Nikki Lane. One group that’s made a big impression on me are the Turnpike Troubadours. I’ve fallen hard for this sexy sextet. While their latest album (mentioned below), is first-rate, their old stuff is just as amazing. With songs like “Time of Day,” “Long Hot Summer Day,” and “Gin, Smoke, Lies” these guys are definitely gonna go down as one of my favorite bands and Evan Felker‘s name will forever have a place on my list of favorite songwriters. AND I’ll be seeing these guys tonight in concert at the 9:30 Club along with Charley Crockett.

Albums I’m Loving  

Before getting into the singles, I’ll start off with albums that I’m loving. While most of these albums were released in 2018 there are a few from 2017 listed below as well.

2018
Brandi Carlile
By the Way, I Forgive You (Top songs: “Every Time I Hear That Song,” “Sugartooth,” “Hold Out Your Hand,” “The Joke“- basically the entire album) (You can read about me seeing Brandi perform all of the songs off her new album in concert here)
John PrineThe Tree of Forgiveness (Top songs: “Egg & Daughter Nite, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1967,” “Summer’s End“)
Kacey MusgravesGolden Hour (Top songs: “Oh, What a World,” “High Horse,” “Happy & Sad” (Read my album review of Golden Hour here)
American Aquarium– Things Change (Top songs: “The World Is On Fire,” “Crooked+Straight“)
Dierks Bentley– The Mountain (Top songs: “The Mountain“, “Woman, Amen,” “My Religion“) (Brandi Carlile also makes an appearance on the album in the song “Travelin’ Light.”)
Sarah Shook & The Disarmers– Years (Top songs: “Good as Gold,” “Parting Words”) (I saw Sarah and her band back in April and I’ve already got tickets to see them again in October when they roll back through DC!)
Mary GauthierRifles and Rosary Beads (Top songs: “Brothers” and “Bullet Holes in the Sky“)
2017
Turnpike Troubadours– A Long Way from Your Heart (Top songs: “The Housefire,” “Something to Hold On To“)
Lilly HiattTrinity Lane (Top songs: “The Night David Bowie Died,” “So Much You Don’t Know“) (I got to see Lilly Hiatt in concet in May- read about it here!)
Nikki Lane– Highway Queen (Top songs: “Foolish Heart,” “Lay You Down“)
Dan Auerbach– Waiting on a Song (Top songs: “Never In My Wildest Dreams,” “Stand by My Girl“)
Sarah Shook & The Disarmers- Sidelong (Top songs: “Dwight Yoakam,” “Fuck Up“) (Yeah, I know she’s got two albums listed here but she released two great albums in back to back years, what can I say?)

The Tracks I’ve Been Playing (from 2018)

*in alphabetical order  

And now, for the singles. As you’ll notice, I’ve stayed true to my pattern of including both brand new songs and songs that are several years (or more) old.  I’ve put all of the songs from 2018 together and then broken up the older stuff below. I’ve also decided to just list these out without my usual commentary on each song (with a few exceptions) because 1) I figure most of you don’t care and 2) this list is pretty long and ain’t nobody got time for that!

Blackberry Smoke- “I’ll Keep Rambin‘”
Leon Bridges- “
Beyond
Brothers Osborne- “
Pushing Up Daisies (Love Alive),” “I Don’t Remember Me (Before You),” “Slow Your Roll (all from their new album Port Saint Joe)
The Brummies (feat. Kacey Musgraves)- “
Drive Away
Paul Cauthen-
Everybody Walkin’ This Land,” “Resignation” (both from his new EP Have Mercy)
Childish Gambino– “This Is America” (watch the video!)
Charley Crockett– “Ain’t Gotta Worry Child
Brent Cobb– “King of Alabama
Dawes- Living in the Future
Jade Bird– “Lottery
Jeff Hyde– “Old Hat
Jewel– “Body On Body” (from Johnny Cash: Forever Words, an album based off of the poetry of Johnny Cash.)
Ruston Kelly– “Asshole
Ruston Kelly (feat. Kacey Musgraves)- “To June This Morning” (also from Johnny Cash: Forever Words, an album based off of the poetry of Johnny Cash. You can learn more about this song from husband and wife Ruston and Kacey here.) 
Shooter Jennings- “
Rhinestone Eyes
Cody Jinks
– “Must be The Whiskey” (from his upcoming album Lifers, which will be released July 27th)
Ashley Monroe– “Hands on You,” “Rita,” “Paying Attention” (Her new album Sparrow is pretty great- and it was produced by none other than Dave Cobb!)
Kacey Musgraves– “Roy Rogers” (Elton John cover from Restoration: The Songs Of Elton John and Bernie Taupin)
Willie Nelson– “Last Man Standing
Old Crow Medicine Show– “Look Away
Lindi Ortega– “The Comeback Kid” (read about the Lindi Ortega concert I attended in April here)
Erin Rae– “Putting on Airs
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats– “You Worry Me
Amanda Shires– “Leave It Alone
Caitlyn Smith– “St. Paul,” “Do You Think About Me” (both from her album Starfire)
Justin Timberlake feat. Chris Stapleton– “Say Something
Sadler Vaden– “Monster” (can’t seem to find this on YouTube but it’s on my Spotify playlist)
Shakey Graves– “My Neighbor
Western Centuries– “Own Private Honky Tonk,” “Wild You Run
The Wild Feathers– “Big Sky

The Tracks I’ve Been Playing (not from 2018)

*in alphabetical order

American Aquarium- Wolves” (2015)
Ryan Bingham-
Bread & Water,” “Sunrise” (2007)
The Black Keys– “Little Black Submarine,” “Gold on the Ceiling” (2011) (Yeah, I know I’m late to The Black Keys party. Sorry, my invitation got lost in the mail!)
Leon Bridges– “Twistin’ & Groovin’” (2015)
Tyler Childers– “Play Me a Hank Song,” “Bottles And Bibles” (2011)
Slaid Cleaves-
God’s Own Yodeler,” “Texas Love Song” (2013)
Charley Crockett-
Jamestown Ferry” (2017)
Ward Davis
(feat. Jamey Johnson and Willie Nelson)Old Wore out Cowboys,” “I Got You” (reminds me of a modern day version of Waylon and Willie’s “I Can Get off on You“) (2015)
Dave Rawlings Machine– “The Weekend” (2015)
Dawes– “A Little Bit Of Everything” (2011) (this song get me misty-eyed!) 
The Dead South- “
In Hell I’ll Be In Good Company(watch the video!) (2014)
The Devil Makes Three– “All Hail” (2009)
Dispatch– “Curse + Crush,” “Midnight Lorry” (2017)
Justin Townes Earle– “Harlem River Blues,” “One More Night In Brooklyn” (2010) (Read about me seeing him in concert in May here)
Dom Flemons– “Too Long I’ve Been Gone” (2014)
Shakey Graves– “Dearly Departed (with Esmé Patterson),” “Roll the Bones” (I’ve included live versions of these songs since this is the way they were introduced to me and it’s the only version of “Roll the Bones” that I listen to)
William Clark Green– “Ringling Road” (2015)
Patty Griffin– “Making Pies” (2002)
Cris Jacobs– “Jack the Whistle and the Hammer,” “Hallelujah Hustler” (2016)
Jamestown Revival- Midnight Hour” (2016)
Shooter Jennings
– “I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone” (2016)
Reckless Kelly– “Wicked Twisted Road” (2005)
The Head and the Heart– “Shake” (2013)
Natalie Hemby– “Cairo, IL” (2017) (I kinda wanna go here now)
Zephaniah OHora– “High Class City Girl from the Country” (2017)
Hurray For the Riff Raff– “Rican Beach” (2017)
Lucero– “Went Looking for Warren Zevon’s Los Angeles” (2015)
Lillie Mae- Honest and True” (2017)
James McMurty
– “Long Island Sound,” “You Got to Me” (2015) (He was the opening act for Jason Isbell when I saw him back in February. Apparently he’s Jason’s favorite songwriter. And Jason is one of my favorite songwriters. So I guess this guy is partially to thank for that.)
Nikki Lane– “Gone, Gone, Gone” (2011), “All or Nothin’” (2014)
Parker Milsap– “Wherever You Are” (2016)
John Moreland– “Hang Me in the Tulsa County Stars” (2015) “Love Is Not an Answer” (2017)
Esmé Patterson– “No River,” (2016) “Tumbleweed” (2014) (from her album Woman to Woman, which is a concept album written as a response to famous songs about women. This one is about Townes Van Zandt’s “Loretta.” Other songs include “Never Chase A Man” about Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and “Bluebird” about The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.”)
Chris Stapleton– “Scarecrow in the Garden,” “Hard Livin’” (2017) (I prefer the version of “Hard Livin'” with Sturgill Simpson from SNL, but hey, that might just be me!)
The Steel Woods– “Let the Rain Come Down,” “Better in the Fall,” “If We Never Go” (2017) (So I will add some quick commentary on this band because I saw them in concert earlier in June. These guys have a great Southern rock sound and I enjoyed hearing them play their own stuff along with some covers including “Yesterday’s Wine,” “Whipping Post,” and “Lonesome, On’ry, and Mean” at Jammin’ Java in Vienna, VA.)
Twin Forks– “Can’t Be Broken” (the Audiotree Live Version) , “Cross My Mind,” “Back to You” (2014) (Late to the game in finding this group but after seeing Dashboard Confessional in concert back in March it was brought to my attention that Chris Carrabba (swoon!) has a folk band and they’re pretty good!)
Uncle Lucius– “Keep the Wolves Away” (2013)
Colter Wall– “Sleeping on the Blacktop,” “The Devil Wears a Suit and Tie,” (2015) “Thirteen Silver Dollars” (2017) (Read about my experience seeing Colter Wall in concert here)
Willie Watson– “Gallows Pole” (2017)
Whiskey Myers– “Stone” (2016)
The Wild Feathers– “The Ceiling” (2013)
Jack White– “Honey, We Can’t Afford to Look This Cheap” (2007)
Wrinkle Neck Mules– “Whistlers & Sparklers” (2015)
Yellow Feather– “If You Ain’t Cheatin’” (2017)

The Tracks I’ve Been Playing (from WAY before 2018)

*in alphabetical order

The Allman Brothers Band- Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More” (1972)
Guy Clark-
Anyhow, I Love You” (1976), “Dublin Blues” (1995)
Dramarama- Anything, Anything [I’ll Give You]” (1990)
Tom T. Hall- Faster Horses” (1976) (this song makes a great addition to any Kentucky Derby playlist!) 
Elton John-
Honky Cat” (1972) “The Bitch Is Back” (1974) (I’ve always loved Elton John but with the recent release of Restoration: The Songs Of Elton John and Bernie Taupin, which features artists like Kacey Musgraves (see above), Lee Ann Womack, and Miley Cyrus, I was reminded of how many songs this man has gifted to us.) 
Robert Earl Keen-
Feeling Good Again” (1998)
Kris Kristofferson– “The Taker” (1971)
Lyle Lovett– “If I Had A Boat” (1987) (Lovett or leave it, you gotta admire this man. I mainly just wanted an excuse to say “Lovett or Leave It”)
James McMurty– “Every Little Bit Counts” (1998)
Old 97’s– “Barrier Reef” (1997), “Champaign, Illinois” (2010)
John Prine– “Ain’t Hurtin’ Nobody” (1995), “Please Don’t Bury Me” (1973)
Willis Alan Ramsey– “Northeast Texas Women,” “Geraldine And the Honeybee” (1972) (These songs are from the only album that Willis Alan Ramsey ever released, a self-titled album. Ramsey is a cult legend among fans of Americana and Texas country. Apparently he will be releasing his second album (46 years later!) at some point in the near future.)
Billy Joe Shaver– “Live Forever” (1993)
Townes Van Zandt– “I’ll Be Here in the Morning” (1968), “If I Needed You” (1972- that’s the fourth song from 1972 in this itty bitty section- must’ve been a good year for music!)
Whiskeytown– “16 Days” (1997)
Lucinda Williams– “Joy” (1998) (her album Car Wheels On A Gravel Road just celebrated its 20th Anniversary. I’ve enjoyed listening to this album and can see why it’s been so influential in Americana/country music.)

You can find all of the songs referenced above (unless they’re not on Spotify) on my second quarter of 2018 Spotify playlist here. Hopefully I managed to get all of these on there. If you missed my first quarter roundup, you can find that post here.

It Ain’t All Country, All of the Time

As I mentioned above, I’ve gotten into Arctic Monkeys here lately. I first learned about them when I was living in London in 2014 when “Do I Wanna Know?” was a big hit. I hadn’t really listened to them much since that chapter in my life but have recently gotten back into them and found so many more songs I like. Songs like the following:

One For The Road
From the Ritz To The Rubble
Piledriver Waltz
Fluorescent Adolescent
I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor
Arabella
Stop The World I Wanna Get Off With You
Bigger Boys and Stolen Sweethearts
Four Out of Five
Old Yellow Bricks

You can find all of the Arctic Monkeys songs referenced above along with some others on my “Arctic Monkeying Around” Spotify playlist here.

Albums I’m Waiting For

Some albums that will be coming out soon that I’m looking forward to are Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit‘s Live from the Ryman, Cody Jinks‘ Lifers, Amanda Shires’ To the Sunset, and King of the Road, a Roger Miller tribute album featuring Eric Church, Kacey Musgraves, Dolly Parton, and more- well, dang me!

Currently listening to:  Tyler Childers- Live On Red Barn Radio I & II. This vinyl was waiting for me when I got home last night! “Charleston Girl” and “Dead Man’s Curve” are two Tyler classics and are both featured on this album. Here’s to hoping the that the album gets put back up on Spotify so that I can add these songs to my playlists.

My copy of Tyler Childers’ Live On Red Barn Radio I & II  (released June 29, 2018)

May/Early June Concert Roundup

Another month (and some change) have passed which means it’s time for another concert roundup. While I’m always happy that my favorite artists come through DC, my wallet is not. This year I’ve definitely traded in travel (especially international travel) for music. Though I am traveling to Texas this summer, that trip is highly centered around country music. In fact, I’ll be going to a concert while I’m there- Cody Jinks at Whitewater Amphitheater in New Braunfels, Texas. Cody hasn’t come through DC since I’ve had the great fortune of discovering him so if Cody won’t come to me, I’ll go to him! You can find a full list of upcoming shows that I’ll be attending at the end of this post.

Brandi Carlile- The Anthem (May 20th) 

Brandi Carlile‘s concert on May 20th at The Anthem is one I’ll always remember. It was the last night of her tour (and second night in a row at The Anthem) and she went out with a bang! Her new album By the Way, I Forgive You came out earlier this year and is truly a masterpiece. There are certain songs on this album, like the featured song below, that really resonated with me. This album was co-produced by Shooter Jennings and Dave Cobb so you know it’s good. Seriously, Dave Cobb is the King Midas of music- everything this guy touches turns to gold! Seeing her perform these songs live was an emotional experience to say the least. She started the night with the song on the album that hit me the hardest, “Every Time I Hear That Song,” which really choked me up. The struggle to hold back my waterworks also happened during “The Mother” and “The Joke,” both of which are off her latest album (the line in “The Joke” about carrying your baby on your back through the desert got me good!) And of course she played her most famous song, “The Story,” which would make even a statue get a little emotional. She performed every song from By the Way, I Forgive You and that was just fine by me because it meant I got to hear all of my favorite songs off the album like “Sugartooth” and “Hold Out Your Hand.” And as a new Brandi Carlile fan, this album helped launch me into full throttle fandom!

Some highlights from the night included Pete Souza (former Chief Official White House photographer for Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama) joining her and Darlingside, the opening act, on stage to perform during the encore. Together, they ended the night with “Hold Out Your Hand.” Pete is a big fan, which I already knew from following him on Instagram. Before calling him up on stage, Brandi called Pete “the shadiest mother fucker in DC.” That he is. Also, while singing “Hold Out Your Hand,” the lights came on and you could see everyone in the audience clapping their hands and singing along. One of my favorite things about concerts is when the artists talk with the audience in between songs- I feel like it really gives you a glimpse into their personality. Brandi talked a lot at her show, which I loved. She’s funny and smart and talked about the things that matter most to her like being a mother and her family’s right to exist in this country. She also provided the stories behind some of the songs, like “Fulton County Jane Doe” (that’s an interesting story so look it up if you’ve got the time/inclination). Getting to know Brandi a little better in between her songs was a major highlight of the night!

This past month, the nominees for the Americana Music Honors and Awards were announced and of course Brandi was included in several categories. When the nominees first came out and I saw that Margo Price, Jason Isbell, John Prine, and Brandi Carlile were all nominated for “Artist of the Year,” my first thought was “can there be a four way tie??” Her album is also up for “Album of the Year” and despite being up against The Nashville Sound and All American Made, I can say that Brandi (and this album) deserves this. That’s saying a lot because if you know me you know that Margo Price is my idol and that I absolutely adore Jason Isbell. But guys, her album was THAT good! You can find the full list of nominees here.

Featured song: Brandi Carlisle- “Every Time I Hear That Song”

Willie Nelson and Sturgill Simpson with Cris Jacobs- The Anthem (May 27th) 

I was a little apprehensive going into Sunday night’s show. Willie Nelson was supposed to have performed the night before in Charlotte, NC but instead, after two attempts, he tossed his hat out into the audience, never actually performing. This was apparently due to a stomach bug. Thankfully, Willie had recovered enough by the next night to make it out on stage and play a full set. While I do love me some Willie, the main attraction that night was Sturgill Simpson. It was my second time seeing both Willie and Sturgill as I saw both of them back in September (though they weren’t together, I saw them within two days of each other). Unlike the last time I saw Sturgill, the audience was standing during this show, which I thought made the overall experience a lot better. Who can sit still and listen to Sturgill?! I was also five rows back from the stage (shout out to me for always being early and getting to take advantage of that GA seating!) which meant that I really got to see what was happening on stage (well, aside from the annoying couple in front of me who insisted on holding onto each other the entire set and forming one big person instead of two separate people. Y’all suck!) I also got several compliments on my “Who the Fuck is Sturgill Simpson?” t-shirt! I’m thinking that most people there knew who the fuck he was!

I will say that I was a little disappointed that Sturgill and Willie didn’t play a song together. That would have been such a cool performance to witness. Especially since Sturgill covers a song made famous by Willie on his first album- “I’d Have to Be Crazy.” I’m just happy that Willie, at the ripe old age of 85,  is still willing and able to keep performing. As he sings on his latest album Last Man Standing, “I don’t wanna be the last man standin‘, or wait a minute maybe I do.” We’re happy to have you as the last man, Willie!

The opening act that night, Cris Jacobs, was from Baltimore (though two members of the group were from Richmond, VA). I had listened to them a little bit in preparation for that night and really like their sound. A couple songs of theirs worth checking out are “Jack the Whistle and the Hammer” and “The Devil or Jesse James.”

Now that I’ve attended two shows at The Anthem (within a week of each other), I want to say a quick word about this venue because it’s pretty dang cool! I like that the concession stands are in the same room as the performance so you don’t have to worry about missing your favorite song if you get up to grab a drink. I only stayed on the first level though so next time I’m there I’ll be sure to check out the upper levels and give you all a full report.

Featured song: Sturgill Simpson- “Brace For Impact (Live A Little)”

Justin Townes Earle with Lilly Hiatt- The Birchmere (May 29th) 

When I first bought tickets to this show I must not have realized that Lilly Hiatt was also performing. After realizing it much later, I was pleasantly surprised to see her name on the lineup. With the release of her latest album Trinity Lane, I had gotten into Lilly’s music and really taken a liken to her. Getting to see both her and Justin Townes Earle made for a really special night!

Since this was a solo show, both of them played with just their guitar and microphone alone on stage. There were no bands and no big production, which made for an intimate show. And it was at The Birchmere in Alexandria- a cool venue with posters of past performers, like Waylon Jennings and Steve Earle (Justin’s dad!), decorating the hallway. You can also sit down and eat during the show. Warning: if you get the fish tacos, they are messy!

If we’re being honest, I liked Justin’s stories and commentary more than the music portion of the night. What’s great about small venues like The Birchmere is that artists feel more comfortable talking with the audience. The fact that this was a solo show also helped in that regard. I’m glad Justin felt comfortable enough to talk with us because he shared some crazy stories about his past (and also provided BBQ recommendations if you’re ever in Memphis). Sitting close to the stage at a solo show is also pretty neat because you get to really see the artist as they’re singing their songs. Justin does this thing where he makes little noises between verses sometimes. While I’m not sure why he does that, I like it. He’s also an incredible guitar player- being able to watch his hands on his guitar as he played each song was something to see! In between stories, Justin did manage to play some songs including his own stuff like “One More Night In Brooklyn” in addition to some blues songs.

What’s cool about both Justin and Lilly is that they’re the children of famous musicians- Justin Townes Earle being the son of Steve Earle and Lilly Hiatt being the daughter of John Hiatt. Justin’s namesake is also the late great Townes Van Zandt. But don’t think these two are just riding on their daddys’ names- they’re talented singers, songwriters, and musicians in their own right.

You can’t be the son of Steve Earle without getting political (check out my post on liberal country music featuring Steve Earle here). And that’s not a bad thing, in fact, we need more Steves and Justins in music now more than ever. Justin brought up the opiate crisis on stage and asked why something is only a crisis when white kids start dying from it. He elaborated on this topic and encouraged us to ask the right questions to people who are dealing with addiction. Instead of asking something insensitive like “what’s wrong with you?” or questions like that why not ask “why do you hurt?” Asking the right questions is a step in the right direction to understanding addiction and the crises that come from it. I’m sure someone in the audience needed to hear Justin’s words that night.

A highlight of the night was meeting Lilly. She was very personable and I loved that she came out after her set and after Justin’s set to greet fans and sign merchandise. I told her that I was going to Margo Price’s show on Friday and she told me to say hi to Margo and that Margo would like me. Though, as expected, I didn’t get the chance to meet Margo at her show a couple of nights later. I also think Margo is way too cool for me! I should also take this opportunity to mention that Lilly is a nominee for “Emerging Artist of the Year” for the Americana Music Honors and Awards. If you haven’t checked out her new album Trinity Lane yet, you need to get on that!

One cool piece of merchandise that I picked up at the show was a cassette tape of Justin’s Kids in the Street album. Problem is I don’t have a cassette player. Even still, it makes for a cool addition to my music collection. While vinyl has been back in style for a while now, I don’t actually see cassettes making a return.

Featured songs: Justin Townes Earle- “Harlem River Blues” and Lilly Hiatt “The Night David Bowie Died”


Margo Price and John Prine- Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts (June 1st)

Because this show was so early in June, I decided to include it in this post. What a night- I got to see Margo Price, who I’ve been a big fan of for quite some time, open up for John Prine, one of my songwriting idols. It was also my first time at Wolf Trap, which is a really beautiful venue.

I’ve been wanting to see Miss Margo Price in concert for quite some time and on Friday night that dream finally game true. When she’s not warning you about the “cocaine cowboys” she’s getting real about politics singing about issues like the pay gap and the Iran-Contra Scandal. (Though she didn’t sing any of those songs on Friday night). She also knows how to kick back and have fun as evidenced in songs like “Hurtin’ (On The Bottle).” I was happy that she performed stuff from her first album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter in addition to her new stuff. Her first album really helped make me a fan of Americana music. She was one of the first artists in that genre that really stood out to me and songs like “Hands of Time” and “How the Mighty Have Fallen” really made an impression on me. Getting to hear her perform “Hands of Time” and “Tennessee Song” that night was something special.

Friday night was my second time seeing the incredible (and one of my favorite singer/songwriters) John Prine live and oh boy was he great! His new album, The Tree of Forgiveness, came out on April 13th. Fun fact: I share a birthday with this album! I feel honored to share this day with such a great album. On The Tree of Forgiveness, Prine proves that he’s still got it (as if there was ever any doubt)! There are so many great songs on this album, adding themselves to the catalog of wonderful songs he has amassed in his lifetime. Songs like the summertime anthem, “Knockin’ On Your Screen Door” and a happy perspective on the afterlife, “When I Get To Heaven.”

The brightest highlight of the night included John and Margo singing “In Spite of Ourselves” together. I had hoped that Prine would seize upon the opportunity of having Margo there and decide to do this duet! Another highlight was Prine talking to the audience. This man is hilarious! A memorable quote of his from the night came right before he played “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore.” He said that he wrote that song in 1968 as a political song and it’s still a political song today. But he’ll keep playing it until they get it right! Here’s to hoping that one day John Prine doesn’t have to play this song!

This post is chock full of Americana Music Honors and Awards nominees including both Margo and John. Both are nominated for “Artist of the Year” (along with Brandi Carlile and Jason Isbell). John won last year so I’m not sure what the chances are that he’ll win again, but hey, it’s possible! Margo is also nominated for “Album of the Year” for All American Made and for “Song of the Year” for “A Little Pain.”

Featured songs: John Prine- “Egg and Daughter Nite, Lincoln Nebraska, 1967” and Margo Price- “Hands of Time”

Upcoming Concerts (* means tickets are already purchased)

*6/8- The Steel Woods at Jammin’ Java
*6/29- Turnpike Troubadours and Charley Crockett at Friday Cheers (Richmond, VA)
*6/30– Turnpike Troubadours and Charley Crockett at 9:30 Club (yeah, I’ve got it on here twice. I may skip the Richmond show and go to the DC one but still TBD.)
*7/6- Cody Jinks, Colter Wall, and Ward Davis at Whitewater Amphitheater (New Braunfels, TX)
*7/21– Ray Wylie Hubbard at City Winery DC
7/22– Lori McKenna at City Winery DC
7/24- Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit at Wolf Trap
*7/25- Nikki Lane at Rock & Roll Hotel
7/28– Arctic Monkeys at The Anthem (this show is already sold out but I’m hoping that some cheap ones appear on StubHub)
8/2– Amanda Shires and Sean Rowe at The Birchmere
8/22– Shooter Jennings at City Winery
*9/12– Sarah Shook and the Disarmers at Pearl Street Warehouse
9/28– Jade Bird at Rock & Roll Hotel
10/5– Turnpike Troubadours at Spring Pavilion (Charlottesville, VA)
10/13- Chris Stapleton’s All-American Road Show at Jiffy Lube Live
10/15- Tyler Childers at 9:30 Club

Currently listening to: Dolly Parton- “The Story.” From Cover Stories: Brandi Carlile Celebrates 10 Years of The Story (An Album to Benefit War Child). This album is a charity tribute album featuring various artists like Margo Price, Kris Kristofferson, and of course, Dolly Parton.

New Year, New Music, New Me

Happy Almost 2018, y’all! This post is coming to ya from Nashville where I’ll be celebrating New Year’s Eve!

Be sure to grab your popcorn, hot cocoa, or whiskey (no judgement), and get ready for a long post! Enjoy! 

The Good, The Bad, and the 2017

It’s no secret that 2017 sucked in a lot of ways- Donald Trump was inaugurated and allowed to make decisions that affect our lives, we lost Tom Petty, Don Williams, and Troy Gentry, Donald J. Trump became president, hurricanes devastated Puerto Rico and American cities like Houston, and Donald Trump moved into the White House. BUUTTTTT, this year hasn’t been all bad, especially since this is the year that I really found myself, musically speaking.

When I think about my taste in music and (lack of) knowledge of country music at the beginning of 2017 compared to the end of 2017, it’s like comparing night and day. In the latter half of this year, I really found my musical niche and refined my musical interests. I have this blog to thank for that. Had I not started writing this blog back in June, I’m not sure that I would’ve ever found some of my now favorite artists. I also never knew that I was a fan of Americana music and find myself identifying with the music from this genre more than any other these days. When I finally learned about Americana and all of the artists that are a part of the Americana family, everything clicked into place- this was the musical home I had been searching for. This is where I belonged.

2017 Finds 

While some bloggers have been making their top albums/songs lists for 2017, I didn’t want to do that. Since so much of the music I found this year has been around for a while, only focusing on the stuff from 2017 would be silly. Instead, I’m gonna focus on all of the great artists who came into my life this year.

Have you ever met someone and felt like you’ve known them your entire life? You wonder how you two went so long without meeting and now that you’ve met, you know you’ll be friends for life. Well that’s how I feel about some of the musical artists I discovered this year. I think about how much better my life would’ve been with their songs to guide me through years ago. But instead of dwelling on the past and missed years, I’ll vow to keep playing their music for the rest of my life. This includes artists like Margo Price. She has been one of my greatest finds of 2017. I’ll do an essay on her later (inspired by the book Woman Walk the Line: How the Women in Country Music Changed Our Lives), where I’ll dive deeper into how much of an inspiration she has been to me. Just as I had fallen in love with her first album, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, she released her sophomore album, All American Made in October of this year. What I love about Margo, and her most recent album in particular, is that she sings about political issues like the pay gap and the Iran-Contra Scandal (throwback to the Reagan years!). She’s outspoken about her political views and doesn’t care about losing fans because of it. The world could use more Margos and country music needs more Margos!

Even though I already knew Sturgill Simpson before this year, I didn’t really know him. One day I felt compelled to listen to A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. The rest was history. In just six short months, I managed to fall in love with and immerse myself in Sturgill’s music, see him in concert, and purchase all of his albums on vinyl. In fact, he was my top played artist of 2017, according to Spotify. If you’ve talked to me at all these past few months, I’ve probably manged to name drop him at least once. Hopefully you all were listening to me and then decided to check out “The Sturge” for yourself! What I love about him is that he makes a record when he has something to say, not just to stay relevant. He wants to make records that people will still be playing 30 years from now. You don’t make records that stand the test of time by putting out album after album with nothing of substance on them. And if I have to wait ten years for another Sturgill Simpson record, I’m happy to do it. It’ll probably be the best damn album of all time!

“I’m just trying to constantly improve and become a better artist and then hopefully make records that people—I mean it’s great if they buy them today—but I’m more interested in making records that maybe people will still talk about in 30 years. That’s the goal for me. You can go crazy if you let yourself think, “How do I remain relevant?” or you can just go and try to make great music and the fans will react to it and it takes care of itself.”
-“The Final Interview with Sturgill Simspon, According to Sturgill Simpson,” Noisey, November 30, 2017

I don’t remember what the first Jason Isbell song was that I listened to (maybe “Elephant?” or “Speed Trap Town?”) but I’m eternally grateful that the universe pointed me in his direction and had me press play. In a “Walking the Floor with Chris Shiflett” podcast interview with Jason, Chris brought up the fact that Jason is considered by some to be the “go to reference guy for songwriters in Nashville.” Just listen to one of his songs and it’s easy to see why. Though I’m glad it’s a part of my life now, I think about how useful a song like “Traveling Alone” could have been to me years ago. While Jason’s songs may not have had the opportunity to have been part of my past, they’re very much a part of my present, and I’m already making plans for them to be a part of my future. IF (please note this is both in bold and italics) I ever get married, I already know that “If We Were Vampires” will be on the playlist.

Something that the three artists mentioned above have in common is their politics. If you follow Margo Price and Jason Isbell on Twitter, you know how they feel about current events. And just last month, Sturgill Simpson decided to busk (verb; meaning to play music or otherwise perform for voluntary donations in the street or in subways) outside of the CMA Awards and talked crap about Donald Trump.

Sturgill Simpson busking outside of the CMA Awards on November 7, 2017. All donations went to the ACLU. (Picture from Rolling Stone)

Another artist that I discovered this year is Cody Jinks. According to Spotify’s calculations, Cody’s song “Loud and Heavy” was my most played song this year (Sturgill’s “Sea Stories” was second). Unlike the artists mentioned above, Cody Jinks is less Americana and more actual country. To me, he’s what real country music should sound like. Instead of calling country that ventures from the mainstream terms like “alt-country,” I think we should be calling the mainstream stuff a different name. After all, they’re the ones who have done more to change the music from its original sound, not guys like Cody Jinks who have a more authentic country sound. Some people might call Cody’s Texas county or “Red Dirt” country. While “Loud and Heavy” may have been my most played song this past year, it was “Somewhere in the Middle” and its simple message that being “somewhere in the middle is just fine” that resonated most with me. And if Cody finds himself somewhere in the middle of Texas “Red Dirt” country and alt-country, well, that’s just fine!

John Prine is pretty good!” At least that’s what one of the stickers I purchased at this concert back in November says. But if you ask me, I think John Prine is really good! If writing songs is a craft like woodworking then John makes songs like the best cedar chest you’ve ever laid your eyes on. When I listen to his songs, I’m always impressed at how clever he is. In fact, one of my favorite lyrics of any song ever comes from a John Prine song. The song is “Spanish Pipedream” and the line is “I knew that topless lady had something up her sleeve.” I’ll say that line is pretty good!

While the five artists featured above really won me over this year, there were plenty more that also found their way into my heart. This year’s honorable mentions (who are not all country, not all Americana, but all pretty dang good) include: Dan Auerbach, Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett (wait! Am I also now a fan of Indie music? Who am I even?), Lori McKenna, Tyler Childers, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley, Nikki Lane, Aaron Lee TasjanSam Outlaw, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, and Paul Cauthen.

A New Appreciation for the Old Stuff

It wasn’t just finding new artists that made this past year so exciting but it was also rediscovering artists from my past, learning more about country music legends, and gaining a deeper appreciation for the trailblazers who made all of this possible. One of those people is Jerry Reed. The man is a national treasure we should all be thankful that Jerry Reed songs exist. His songs are a surefire way to put a smile on my face. The Oak Ridge Boys are another example of feel good country music that I got into this year. And don’t forget Bobby Bare too! 2017 is also the year that I fell in love with Emmylou Harris. Her Pieces of the Sky album is the first brand new (not used from a record store) record I ever bought, which also took place this year. Fun fact about this lady is that she was discovered in DC by Gram Parsons- at Clyde’s in Georgetown.

This year also saw my love of Waylon Jennings grow deeper as I explored more of his music. Some other classic artists that I spent time getting to know better this year include Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Dolly Parton. 

I’ve always loved her but this year I seemed to love Kacey Musgraves even more! Maybe it was because I realized how little credit she gets. She sings backup vocals for some of the bigger stars (Zac Brown Band’s “All the Best” and Dierks Bentley’s “Bourbon in Kentucky“) and does duets (Josh Abbot Band’s “Oh Tonight“), which is fine, but I really wish she got more credit for her solo stuff. To celebrate her, I’ve created a “A Very Kacey Playlist” on Spotify for her. She also has an album coming out early next year, Golden Hour, which I am stoked for! My appreciation and respect for Miranda Lambert also grew this year, which can be credited to her album The Weight of These Wings from 2016. There’s also been talk about a new Pistol Annies album, which can’t get here fast enough!

A Year of Concerts

This year my list of concerts attended grew substantially. Some of these concerts were for artists whose names I didn’t even know at the start of this year. People (who I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know sooner) like Ray Wylie Hubbard, John Prine, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, and Nikki Lane. I even attended my first all-day music festival in Camden, NJ this year when I drove up for the Outlaw Music Festival. It was there that I got to see Willie Nelson for the first time and Eric Church for the seventh time. Other concerts that I attended this year included Sturgill Simpson, two different nights on Eric Church’s “Holdin’ My Own” tour (Pittsburgh and Washington, DC), and Mashrou’ Leila (a Lebanese band that has nothing to do with the rest of this post but they’re amazing and I love them!)

One really cool thing that happened to me this year was that I won free front row seats to a John Prine and Dan Auerbach concert at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, DC. I remember entering the contest for the tickets but I never win anything so I didn’t hold my breath on getting them. Funny thing is that the week leading up to the show I almost bit the bullet and bought a ticket for a nosebleed seat just so I could go. Well, good thing I didn’t, because a couple of days before the show, I got a call letting me know that I had won two tickets for front row seats along with a $50 merchandise voucher. Thanks to that voucher I am now the proud owner of a John Prine poster (painted to look like Ben’s Chili Bowl- a DC landmark) and The Missing Years on vinyl. I didn’t really know Dan Auberbach before that, aside from the fact that he is one half of The Black Keys, but after hearing him perform his solo stuff live, I became a fan. And how was that concert, you ask? “Pretty good, not bad, I can’t complain!” 

John Prine and Dan Auerbach at DAR Constitution Hall on November 10, 2017. (Photo from my crappy iPhone camera)

And since we’re on the topic of cool concert experiences this year, I just want to mention that at Ray Wylie Hubbard‘s concert at Hill Country BBQ in DC this past August, he mentioned the name of this blog while on stage. Now that’s pretty damn cool!

Keeping Up and Catching Up

There are some people out there that listen to every new album that comes out in its entirety and can break down each track while talking about the album as a whole. Many of those people get paid to do just that. I, however, do not. Also, that’s not me. I feel like there’s always new music coming out so I’d just stress myself out trying to do that. It also takes a while for me to really get into songs sometimes. So if it’s two months after an album has come out before I really listen to it, so be it. I’m happy being late to some parties.

With that being said, I do try and listen to some of the new stuff as it comes out when I can. Some great stuff that’s just come out is Neil Young and Promise of the Real‘s The Visitor. This album combines Lukas Nelson’s band Promise of the Real with the iconic Neil Young. The 2016 presidential election is a theme that you can hear on this album in songs like “Already Great.” Why are people trying to make America great again when, as Neil Young says, it’s already great? If I were gonna go back and rewrite my post on liberal country music, this song would definitely be on that list.

Lots of other albums came out this year that I haven’t spent as much time with as I should have- Travis Meadows‘s First Cigarette is one of them. Though I will say that “Long Live Cool” is in fact a cool song. I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for this guy because he’s the incredibly talented songwriter behind one of my all-time favorite songs- Dierks Bentley’s “Riser.” (He’s also mentioned twice in my post about Eric Church’s songwriting, “Eric Church: An Outsider, A Songwriter,” since he was a co-writer on both “Dark Side” and “Knives of New Orleans.”)

I also liked Chris Stapleton’s “From a Room: Volume 1” but admittedly haven’t given “From a Room: Volume 2” as much attention as it probably deserves. Sorry folks! The same goes for Lee Ann Womack‘s new album The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone, whose title track I love but I haven’t really ventured too far past that.

Some artists that I want to spend some more time getting to know better in the coming year are Rhiannon Giddens and Turnpike Troubadours.

Photographs and Memories

If I had to sum up 2017 in one picture, it would be this one:

(Photo from Vinyl Ranch’s Instagram)

I also just wanted an excuse to post this picture!

Looking Ahead to 2018

It’s hard to say what 2018 will hold. Only time will tell what other great artists I’ll find in the coming year. Perhaps I’ll be talking about a completely different genre of music in 365 days. Here’s to hoping that 2018 leads to many new discoveries- both musical and in general!

Here’s to also hoping that Eric Church releases some brand new music next year- that’s not asking for too much, is it?

You can find all of my favorite songs from the artists mentioned in this post on the beltwayboots Spotify account. My “Best of 2017” playlist can be found here.

Currently listening to: All of the great music that I discovered this year!

The Tracks I’m Playing (Week of August 14, 2017)

As Steve Azar (a country artist of Syrian and Lebanese descent!! Say what?!) sings, “I don’t have to be me ’til Monday.” Well, it’s Monday so that means it’s back to the weekly routine. Thankfully, I’ve got the tracks below to keep me going this week.

The Tracks I’m Playing 

Tyler Childers- “Whitehouse Road.” Holy Kentucky Smokes this guy is some kinda good! And when you’ve got Sturgill Simpson producing your record, how could you not be? I’ve included the link above to Tyler’s OurVinyl Session version of his song “Whitehouse Road” but it’s also featured on his newly released album Purgatory. I’m excited to see what the future holds for Tyler- maybe an album with him AND Sturgill?! A girl can dream!

Miranda Lambert- “Sweet By and By and Morgane and Chris Stapleton- “You Are My Sunshine.” If you don’t have a southern family of your own, don’t worry, Miranda Lambert, Morgane and Chris Stapleton, Brent Cobb, Jamey Johnson, and Shooter Jennings will let you be a part of theirs with their compilation album, Southern Family, which features the two songs listed above. Other artists that are a part of this Southern Family include Brandy Clark, Anderson East, and Jason Isbell. Everyone could use a southern family to call their own and I couldn’t think of a better one than this!

Since we’re on the topic of Chris Stapleton, it’d be appropriate now to mention The Steeldrivers and their song If It Hadn’t Been For Love.” The Steeldrivers was Stapleton’s band from 2005-2010. If you’re a big fan of Stapleton, I would recommend checking these guys out, especially the stuff they recorded when he was part of the group.

Cody Jinks- “I’m Not the Devil.” Apparently long bearded men is the theme of today because here comes another one by the name of Cody Jinks. Cody is the real deal and one of the artists out there doing justice for country music with songs like “Loud and Heavy,” “Hippies and Cowboys,” and “I’m Not the Devil.” And for the record Cody, I don’t think you’re the devil!

“I’m not the devil you think that I am
It ain’t no excuse, but I’m just a man
I slipped and I fell, it got outta hand
But I’m not the devil you think that I am”

Jon Pardi- “Heartache On The Dance Floor.” Let’s get this Pardi started! I’ve been head over boots for this California cowboy for quite some time. Not only am I digging the boots and cowboy hat look but I’m also digging the music this guy is putting out. See also: “Head Over Boots” and “Dirt On My Boots.

Brandy Clark- “Daughter.” The ultimate revenge is karma- you get to sit back and let the universe work its magic and that’s just what Brandy Clark plans on doing in this song. She’s just waiting for all the men who have done her wrong to one day have daughters who date guys just like they used to be. Karma is one hell of a b**tch, ain’t she?

“So I hope you have a daughter and I hope that she’s a fox
Daddy’s little girl – just as sweet as she is hot
She can’t help but love them boys
Who love to love and leave them girls just like her father
Yeah, karma’s a bitch – so I hope you have a daughter”

Hayes Carll- “She Left Me For Jesus.” If this song doesn’t make you giggle or at least grin, you should go to the doctor and have your sense of humor examined. Another funny Hayes Carll song to check out is Another Like You featuring Cary Ann Hearst. These songs aren’t new at all but I’m including them anyway, especially since they’ve brought me nothing but joy since discovering them. And since it’s Monday and the start of another work week for many of us, we could all use some laughs!

“She left me for Jesus and that just ain’t fair
She says that he’s perfect, how could I compare
She says I should find him and I’ll know peace at last
If I ever find Jesus, I’m kickin’ his ass”

Watch out, Jesus! Hayes is coming for ya!

Mo Pitney- “Everywhere.” That voice tho! This song comes from his 2016 album, Behind This Guitar. If you wanna hear some mo’ music (pun attempt) from this guy, check out his cover of Merle Haggard’s “Farmer’s Daughter.” No doubt The Hag would be proud of Mo!

Miranda Lambert- “To Learn Her.” Y’all really thought I was only gonna put one Miranda song on this list? lol yeah ok. I’m convinced that there are no bad songs on her The Weight of These Wings album. The more I listen to it the stronger I become in this conviction, and with songs like “To Learn Her,” it’s easy to see why.

“Oh, to love her is to learn her
Some things you just can’t learn”

Jason Isbell- “Cumberland Gap.” By now you guys should know that I’m gonna include Jason on pretty much every list I make (along with Miranda). I can’t get enough of this album (The Nashville Sound) or this man. If Jason is out there making music, you can pretty much expect that I’m gonna write about him.

“I ain’t cut out for war, unless I know what I’m fighting for
And there’s nothing here but churches, bars, and grocery stores
Ain’t much money in the old-time mandolin
So I cash my check and I drink ’til I’m on my ass again”

Talking Crap About the Radio (Again) 

I’m gonna take this opportunity to talk some crap about radio again. With the exception of Jon Pardi, Miranda Lambert (though not nearly enough), and sometimes Chris Stapleton, you’ll probably never hear any of these artists on the radio. There’s plenty of airtime for Kelsea Ballerini but none for Brandy Clark? Give me a break! And radios can play the same Jason Aldean song fifty times a day but can’t throw in a Cody Jinks song every once in awhile? Please. This is why I no longer listen to radio and wish I had stopped a long time ago. Mainstream country music needs a revival, however, I don’t see that happening anytime soon. At least that’s not keeping the guys and gals above from doing their thing! And as long as they’re around and putting out music, you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll be listening!

Spotify 

Last week I created a Spotify account (beltwayboots) where all of the music that I write about can be found. Be sure to check it out!

Currently listening to: Tyler Childers- “Universal Sound.” Told  y’all this was some good stuff!

The Soundtrack to My Safari: The Tracks I Played in Kenya

I have this thing where I pretty much have to be listening to music (or Netflix, etc.) at all times. With the exception of being at work, I rarely sit in silence. So of course when I travel, as there is often a lot of time spent waiting for planes, waiting in lines, riding in cars/buses, etc., I spend a lot of time with my headphones in listening to music. In preparation for my trip to Kenya, where I traveled earlier this month, I made sure my Spotify account was loaded up. Let me just say that one does not truly appreciate the download option on Spotify until they’re forced to go days without (or with very limited) Wi-Fi or data. Thankfully, being the planner that I am, I had downloaded plenty of songs beforehand, which was especially useful during my four day safari to Maasai Mara National Reserve and Lake Nakuru. I made sure to include both new music along with old favorites (like Waylon, Merle, and George.) In this post, I will focus on the newer stuff, all of which will forever remain on my playlists. I’m sure I’ll be calling these songs “old favorites” one day!

The Soundtrack to My Safari

Kurt Vile- Pretty Pimpin.” This is probably the song I played the most. I mean you try listening to it without it getting stuck in your head (spoiler: you can’t). It’s the perfect song to play during almost any kind of activity- riding around in a safari van, getting ready in the morning, walking to work, you name it. You can guarantee that anything you do while listening to this song will be pretty pimpin!

Margo Price- How the Mighty Have Fallen” and other songs from her album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter including “Tennessee Song” and “Hands of Time.” What’s cool is that Margo’s commentary on this album is also on Spotify. It’s always nice to get a little background info on a song before you listen to it, especially when the songs are autobiographical and personal, like “Hands of Time.” In the period of time that has passed since I’ve come back from Kenya and writing this post, Margo has released a new EP titled, Weakness, which I’m excited to start exploring.

John Mayer- Never on the Day You Leave.” If there’s one person who understands breakups, it’s John Mayer. And of course he understands that you can still miss lots of things about someone even after you leave them- even their crazy family. Anyone who has ever missed someone after breaking up with them can relate to this song. I’m still not sure if this song is considered “country” but if John Mayer can write a post-breakup song this good, I think there’s a place for him in country music.

“No, it’s never on the day you leave
That you remember Christmas Eve
And all the things you miss about her crazy family
You’ll know how lonely it is to see 
A little drug store Christmas tree
But never, never on the day you leave”

Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit-Last of My Kind.” This song about a country boy feeling misplaced in the city and wondering if he’s the last of his kind completely won me over. It also made me kinda sad because I realized that Jason Isbell is indeed the last of his kind. Sigh.

William Clark Green- Old Fashioned.” While I was listening to Jason Isbell singing about being the last of his kind, William Clark Green was also letting me know that “them good old boys are few and far between.” I’m afraid that the Jason Isbells and the “good old boys” are both dying breeds. If we could get a conservation group going for this endangered species that would be great. Just send me your donation for this great cause!

(In all seriousness, there are many actual endangered animals out there. In Kenya, two of the endangered animals are the Grevy’s Zebra and the Black Rhino, both of which I got to see on my trip. For more information and to donate to African Wildlife Foundation, click here.)

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats- S.O.B.” I looked Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats up when I saw that they were performing at the Outlaw Music Festival with Willie Nelson, Eric Church, Sheryl Crow, and the Avett Brothers in September. I figured if they were in such good company that they too must be good. Finding this fun, toe-tapping song was the result of that search.

Cody Jinks- Loud and Heavy.” I like songs that get straight to the point and this song does just that. Cody doesn’t waste any time once this song starts, jumping straight into that “loud thunder heavy rain” line in the first second. Cody makes great company for long car rides!

Sturgill Simpson- I know this is the first time I’ve mentioned “The Sturge” on this blog (better late than never, right?) but it’s mainly because I was holding out as I felt he deserved his own post. However, as I’ve yet to write that post, I didn’t want to leave Sturgill out too much longer. Some of his songs that I listened to were “Welcome to Earth (Polywog),” “Sea Stories,” and “All Around You.” All of these songs are from his latest Grammy Award Winning album A Sailor’s Guide To Earth. At other points on this trip when I did have Internet, I also listened to stuff from his older albums Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and High Top Mountain which made for a very Sturgill holiday. Trust me when I tell you that a post dedicated to “The Sturge” is coming. Also, how are y’all feeling about the nickname “The Sturge?” I’m kinda digging it.

When I listen to any one of these songs now, I’m reminded of a specific time during my trip when that song was playing in my headphones. I bet Jason Isbell never thought one of his songs would bring to mind a memory of driving around Maasai Mara looking for giraffes and elephants (although one of his best songs is titled, “Elephant,” so maybe? But probably not.)

I did listen to plenty of other songs not listed above, however, most of those songs have already been written about in my past “The Tracks I’m Playing” posts. This includes people like Lori McKenna, Ruston Kelly, and Ashley Monroe.

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Maasai Mara National Reserve (July 2017)

Thanks Kurt, Margo, John, Jason, William, Nathaniel, Cody, and “The Sturge” for coming with me to Kenya! I hope y’all enjoyed the trip!

Currently listening to: Chris Stapleton- “Traveller

“I’m just a traveler on this earth
Sure as my heart’s behind the pocket of my shirt
I’ll just keep rolling till I’m in the dirt
‘Cause I’m a traveler, oh, I’m a traveler”