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”
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 1980s through the 2010s, 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.”
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
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.”
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.”
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
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!
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!
“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”
If you read my last blog post then you already know that I’m not opposed to a Willie Nelson presidency.
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!
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.”