May 24, 2022 Current Thoughts

The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum posted the only known photo of country pioneers Fiddlin’ John Carson and Eck Robertson together in 1919. I’ve mentioned often that it is a shame that the country pioneers such as these are not in the hall of fame. The CMHOF post says to “stay tuned for more about events to mark the anniversaries of their recordings,” so that’s worth keeping an eye on.

Eck Robertson made his first records in 1922 and Fiddlin’ John Carson sang on radio in 1922. Here we are a hundred years later and these artists still aren’t in the hall of fame. I have all sorts of oddball playlists, but I also have some very straightforward lists of early recordings: Robert’s Music Playlists. I have lists for pre-1920 and 1920-1922 “pre-country,” plus lists for 1923 and 1924 early country.

There are many Texas festivals going on in the next couple of weeks, but I have seen many of these acts already and I don’t want to shell out much $$$ if I can help it. I looked into the Kerrville Folk Festival and tickets for the whole 18-day festival are $710 plus taxes and fees! There is no way I will pay that. I have seen some of those acts for free.

In two weeks, I’m going to Nashville for CMA Fest. The lack of legends is really disappointing. Alan Jackson is the only hall of famer scheduled so far. CMA Fest has always featured a lot of “today’s country radio artists” that I mostly don’t care about, but there was usually at least one stage dedicated to the legends, and that was my main place to hang out. I’ll still find a way to have a good time, because I do that anywhere I go, but why are they excluding the legends this year? I’m planning to see the Grand Ole Opry that Tuesday and Marty Stuart at the Ryman Wednesday, and I’ll see hall of famers at those shows. I considered adding a day to the trip to see Dean Dillon at the Bluebird Cafe on Monday, but the Bluebird is still recommending masks and I refuse to go along with that at this point.

San Marcos Summer In The Park posted its lineup of free shows, and as usual, there’s a good variety. Dale Watson and Brave Combo are acts I saw there last year who are back this year. I’ve seen The Georges and Two Tons of Steel a few times. Summer In The Park has been around since 1987 and it’s always enjoyable, as long as the weather cooperates. Ticket prices have skyrocketed many places, so I appreciate these free local events all the more.

May 19, 2022 Cajun, Tejano, and other regional styles

Country music comes in many forms and hybridizes with every other sort of music. Since I am typing this particular post from Lafayette, Louisiana, let’s start with Cajun music. The Early Cajun Music blog is your best resource for learning about the history of Cajun music. The first Cajun records were made in the 1920s and there has been cross-pollination with country music ever since, but there are no Cajun musicians in the CMHOF. I have seen Cajun greats like Doug Kershaw and Jo-El Sonnier in recent years. Jimmy C. Newman was a member of the Grand Ole Opry from 1956 until his death in 2014, one of the longest memberships in Opry history.

Louisiana has many regional musical styles and they often overlap. For instance, I went to the 50th annual Frog Festival in Rayne, Louisiana a few days ago. Mathew Ewing is billed as country, Sharona Thomas as soul, and Ryan Foret as swamp pop, but they all had similar instrumentation (keyboard, electric guitar and/or bass, drums, saxophone) and covered a variety of styles.

Tejano and related styles of music also frequently overlap with country. I live in central Texas, where there is a sizable Latino population. Covers of Freddy Fender and Johnny Rodriguez show up in every sort of music in Texas, from mariachi to polka. You’ll hear Tejano musicians cover Hank Williams and Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson and other classic country artists, too. If Texans had a vote, Freddy Fender would have been in the CMHOF long ago.

There are natural crossovers among all types of accordion music, too. Polka, cajun, zydeco, Tejano, and NorteƱo bands will throw in bits of the other styles. Josh Baca and the Hot Tamales often cross zydeco with conjunto. The accordion used to be much more common in mainstream country music than it is now. Look back at old clips from the fifties and you’ll see everyone from Roy Acuff’s band to the Carter Sisters with accordions.

May 18, 2022 Current Happenings

Yesterday, the CMHOF announced that Jerry Lee Lewis, Keith Whitley, and Joe Galante are the newest inductees. Congratulations to them. My position remains that the biggest shortcoming of the hall is the lack of recognition for the earliest stars. Those who made the earliest country records aren’t in. The earliest country artists on radio aren’t in, either. The artists who made the first number one hits when the country charts began aren’t in, either. It’s beyond embarrassing at this point. “Honor thy music” and “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” are hard to take seriously when the earliest stars are so grossly neglected. The hall needs a pioneer category to address this issue.

CMA Fest announced the lineups for Fan Fair X today. The first thing that stands out is that there are just two stages, instead of three like the last few years. The Spotlight Stage features mostly unknowns, but that’s the whole point of that stage. The Close Up Stage features interviews and other special features. In previous years, this was the stage where I saw Bill Anderson, Bobby Bare, Garth Brooks, Dierks Bentley, Ray Stevens, Ricky Skaggs, and Charley Pride. There are few big names this year and a lot of worthless filler. I realize there’s still some time left to add performers, but the whole festival looks like a step down from previous years. If you like far left activists and vapid pop wannabes, you’re in luck, but long time country fans have to be disappointed. Why are there so few older and traditional country artists on the lineup compared to previous years?

I realize this is a very short post, but it’s what I have for now. It looks like my schedule is pretty open this summer, so I should be able to see a lot of live music in Texas and elsewhere.

May 4, 2022 My Country Slideshow

Over the last six years, I have taken thousands of pictures on my phone. You can see many of my concert photos on the Facebook page for Robert’s Country Blog. Over the weekend, I sorted through some of the photos and made my Country Slideshow.

This is a much more convenient way to see the pictures than digging through the full albums. There are some independent artists who are unfamiliar of most, but also some huge stars and legends.

For the background music, I found public domain audio files for a couple of scratchy old records from over a century ago, William McEwan singing “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” and Bentley Ball singing “Dying Cowboy.”

In other news, Live Nation’s $25 Concert Week begins today. I mostly go to smaller shows, rather than the huge venues, but I enjoyed some very nice deals in years past, back when it was $20.

CMA Fest is just over a month out, and they still have just three acts listed for Sunday at Nissan Stadium and very few older acts at any of the stages, compared to previous years. Are they even trying?

Speaking of the Nashville industry elite and their disregard for long time country fans, the CMHOF inducted its recent class, but as usual, made the ceremony unavailable for country fans to attend or view.

May 1, 2022 Grand Opening of Moody Center, A Logistical Nightmare

Friday was the grand opening of the Moody Center in Austin, on the University of Texas campus. The facility is pretty typical of a basketball arena with a capacity of 15,000. The Moody Center is not next to either the Moody Theater or the Moody Amphitheater, so it might get a bit confusing if you’re unfamiliar with Austin. These three venues all carry the name of the Moody Foundation of Galveston, which donates generously all over Texas.

Friday’s show featured George Strait, Willie Nelson, and Randy Rogers. Getting there was a nightmare! I live 30 miles away and left at 4:30. I finally got to my seat at 7:28, just before the show began at 7:30. I got to downtown Austin fairly quickly, but the exit that I planned to take was blocked, so I took the next one and tried to loop back. Well, that road was also blocked, so I took the detour. The road from there to the arena was also blocked, so I continued to work my way around on the detour. The way back up was also blocked, then I couldn’t get over a lane when needed, and ended up wandering east of the interstate until I could get turned around at a gas station. I stopped long enough to check the map on my phone again, and it looked like all I needed to do was cross back over the interstate and turn right. Well, guess what? After I crossed the interstate, the road to the right was also blocked. I started back up the same detour as before, but from this direction, I found a cut through (after yet another was blocked).

I finally saw an intersection with traffic cops and tell them we’re looking for the ADA access. Well, they pointed us to what turned out to be a “drop off” lane. We had to get turned around from that and finally spotted the Manor Garage, where my brother had pre-bought a parking place for an exorbitant $65. He did that because our wheelchair van is over seven feet tall and the stated clearance was sufficient to accommodate us. Well, imagine our surprise when we get there and see a posted clearance of 6’11” on the entrance on the second level. They had BLOCKED THE OVERSIZED VEHICLE PARKING entrance on the first level. We had to drive around until we could find a paid surface lot blocks away, then called the parking service to get a refund for the $65 prepaid place that we couldn’t use. The company refunded most of it, but kept a few dollars as a service fee, which is disgusting.

Then, the sidewalks between where we parked and the Moody Center were blocked, and my brother had to maneuver his chair briefly through vehicular traffic to get into the parking garage that we couldn’t use that was between us and the Moody Center. Guess what? There is no level that you can access by elevator that gets you to anything but stairs. We ended up going back to the entrance of the parking deck where a helpful worker told us what we needed to do was take the elevator down to the second level, then maneuver our way down the vehicle ramp to the first floor, where we could exit at ground level. Why doesn’t the elevator go to the first floor? This is a brand new, high dollar facility. It is a laughably stupid design to have the elevator not go to ground level. Keep in mind that this was the parking deck entrance that was blocked off that was supposed to be where vehicles over seven feet could park. What about potential ADA liability of a parking deck with an elevator that not go down to the level that doesn’t have stairs? Come on, folks! This should be common sense.

So, after all of that, we were finally in line outside Moody Center. Bonnie Montgomery played a free show on the plaza stage. We finally got through security. I brought up the tickets on my phone, which I had purchased directly from Ticketmaster when they first went on sale. Imagine my surprise when the ticket scanner didn’t accept that. The arena employee kept saying we couldn’t get in because they don’t accept screenshots. It wasn’t a damn screenshot. It was on the Ticketmaster app where I had paid a hell of a lot for those tickets on the first day they went on sale. They told us we had to go to the box office to get it straightened out, so we had to go through that line. The worker there was helpful. When we tried to go back, it looked like we’d have to go to the back of the line to go through security again, which at that point probably would have been another hour. Thankfully, the security worker remembered us who let us out to get to the box office had mercy on us. My nerves had just about had it. This was the most expensive ticket I had ever bought for a single event (even though it’s for the nosebleed section), but I did it because I wanted to do something special with my brother. Thankfully, the ticket scanner worked correctly this time. We were finally in the building!

We got situated just in time to see Randy Rogers’ set. A lot of fans weren’t so lucky. The lines were so long that many missed all or part of his set. Randy’s set was pretty short, but enjoyable. The Randy Rogers Band has been one of the most consistent acts in the Texas scene for over two decades.

Next up was the inimitable Willie Nelson on his 89th birthday. Willie is Willie. I mean, what else can anyone really say about such a legend? He played many familiar songs, but also some of his new material. He mentioned that one of the new songs was written by Rodney Crowell and Chris Stapleton.

George Strait has more number ones than anyone in history, and he gave us a full two and a half hours. The stage was shaped like a diamond in the middle of the arena floor. He played a couple of songs at each corner, then change to the next corner, and so on. A particularly rare moment was when Willie Nelson joined George Strait for a pair of songs, “Sing One With Willie” and “Pancho and Lefty.” This was only the second time for these two enormous Texas legends to share a stage. I did take a blurry phone video of Pancho and Lefty. I know that a lot of people don’t like phone videos, but there was literally nobody behind us, so we weren’t bothering anyone or blocking anyone’s view by capturing this special experience. For George’s encore, he did a song for each corner of the four-sided stage.

Despite all of the issues we had getting into the arena, we really enjoyed the music. I’m writing about my experience in hopes that this brand new venue can learn from and correct issues in the future. At the very least, do not sell tickets to those parking spaces for oversized vehicle parking when you know you are going to block off that entrance.

On Saturday night, I saw Doug Kershaw and Jesse Daniel at the Devil’s Backbone Tavern. Traffic was very light, so we got there early. Robyn Ludwick, one of the venue owners, found us a nice place to sit. This venue works well for us. We’ve seen several shows there. Jesse Daniel played for the first hour and Doug Kershaw for the second hour.

Jesse Daniel is in the traditional country lane. In addition to the honky tonk style, he introduced a cowboy song and a trucker song and a bluegrass-inspired song. Country music has always come in a lot of forms, and it’s good to see a young artist recognize that and draw inspiration from the varieties. The California native is now based in San Marcos, Texas, which is also where I live, where some of George Strait’s band members live, and where Cheatham Street Warehouse is, which Randy Rogers owns. A trivia bit that might be less familiar is that Willie Nelson used to own a home in San Marcos. It was auctioned off as part of his IRS settlement many years ago.

Doug Kershaw is one of the all-time legends of Cajun country music. He’s 86 now, but still full of life and humor. He very recently played Jazzfest in New Orleans, and the last time I saw him was a few years ago at Red Rocks as a surprise guest of Old Crow Medicine Show. One amazing fact is that Doug Kershaw became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1957! He stayed a member for just a few years, but has made Opry appearances as a guest since, including earlier this year. The Ragin’ Cajun played fiddle, guitar, and accordion during his set. The fiddle was a bit ornery, but he still had fun with it. Here’s my phone video of Cajun Stripper.

As always, enjoy the music!