August 13, 2022 Concerts Last Week

My YouTube channel just passed 100 subscribers. I’m glad people are enjoying it. I’ve had the channel for over seven years, so it’s been a slow climb.

Last Sunday, we saw Rye Mountain Revelry at Gruene Hall. This Austin-based act combines bluegrass, country, and rock. Their first full length album is forthcoming. The five piece band is fronted by the husband-and-wife team of Eric and Anna Madden. Eric is originally from eastern Kentucky. He plays acoustic guitar and sings lead. Anna plays fiddle and sings harmony vocals. The other members of the band play drums, electric bass, and one musician splits time between mandolin and electric guitar. In addition to their original songs, they covered classic country like Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, and Johnny Cash and classic rock like the Rolling Stones and Grateful Dead. They even did a bluegrassy cover of Bob Marley.

On Wednesday, we saw Der Klein Steins at Krause’s in New Braunfels. This band has been a fixture in central Texas for decades at Oktoberfests. The Swingin’ Dutchmen formed in 1965. Der Klein Steins are a subset of that larger group, formed in 1989 to play smaller shows than the full group. The five-piece band specializes in the music of central Europe: Germany, Austria, Czech Republic,etc. They do a good job introducing and explaining the songs in English before singing in German or Czech. As is most often the case with American polka bands, a few American country songs also show up in the set, such as “Crazy,” “Fraulein,” and “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You).”

On Thursday, we saw Jake Shimabukuro and Andrea Magee at the 04 Center in Austin. The venue is an old Methodist church with a very high ceiling. This was our first time to visit this venue, but it was very nice. It was weird to see so many of the people in the audience in Austin still wearing masks, because thirty miles away in San Marcos, most everyone was done with that crap a long time ago.

Anyway, the opening act was Andrea Magee, who was accompanied by guitar player Dave Scher. We had seen her a couple of times with Beat Root Revival, but she is currently working on her solo career. She is best described as an “Irish singer-songwriter,” as her music doesn’t neatly fit in any popular American genre. She played guitar, bodhrán, flute, and tin whistle and all of the songs she performed were originals. She will have an album release concert at the 04 Center next month and Dave Scher will also release an EP the same date. Andrea Magee frequently plays shows in the Austin area as a solo artist, but also with groups Beat Root Revival, Ulla (group of Irish artists in the Austin area), and PAACK (group of Austin-area women songwriters).

Jake Shimabukuro is a true master of the ukulele. The Hawaiian has collaborated with top artists from every genre over the years, and the album he released last year, “Jake and Friends” is definitely worth your time. Although it’s not a “country” album, it does feature Willie Nelson, Lukas Nelson, Asleep At The Wheel, Billy Strings, and Vince Gill. Jake’s music feels young and fresh, so it might come as a surprise when digging into his musical catalog to find out how long he has been doing this. Although Jake is especially known for his rock influences, he has toured and collaborated with such artists as Bela Fleck and Jimmy Buffett, so you get a bit of everything. “Orange World” is his bluegrass-inspired tribute to Bela Fleck. He recorded the song in 2003 and it is still a fixture in his set. If you’re a fan of great musicianship, regardless of genre, be sure to see Jake Shimabukuro in concert. It was just him and an electric bass player, but they brought it. I’ll also mention that I saw Jake talking to fans outside the venue an hour or so before the show and he patiently waited for a little boy and his mother to go back to their car to bring back the child’s ukulele to sign. There was no “VIP level-only meet and greet” business like you see with so many of today’s country and pop music stars. It was just an artist being a good guy and appreciating every fan, without regard for what “level” they paid for tickets. Both Jake Shimabukuro and Andrea Magee stayed after the show to talk to fans, too.

August 4, 2022 What CMA Fest Didn’t Show On TV

Although my musical tastes are mostly more old fashioned, I did go to Nashville for CMA week. Last night, ABC aired a three hour CMA Fest show. Of course, the three hours that they chose to show is generally the “poppiest” material from the stadium. There are multiple stages during the day all four days. Including the many “unofficial” stages during the week, there are literally hundreds of artists to choose from.

The television show featured 25 artists, now listed on the CMA Fest app and web site. I planned to compare the list of 25 to the full list of stadium performers, but very curiously, the CMA erased the full list from both the app and web site.

The one omission that jumps out the most is Keith Urban, who was the closing act on Thursday. The television show ignored him completely, but aired multiple songs from several artists like Thomas Rhett (who did some awful attempt at rapping) and Lady A. Whatever you think of Keith Urban or his music, one must wonder why he was omitted from the ABC presentation.

Here are others who performed at Nissan Stadium who didn’t appear on the TV special: Deana Carter, Sara Evans, Everette, Randy Houser, Angie K, Kylie Morgan, Shenandoah, Priscilla Block, Madeline Edwards, Kat + Alex, Maddie & Tae, Frank Ray, Lily Rose, Dylan Scott, Brittney Spencer, Gabby Barrett, and Mitchell Tenpenny. Additionally, Zac Brown featured Marcus King on one song and King Calaway on another. Dierks Bentley featured Charlie Worsham on a song. That’s a whole lot of people we saw at the stadium who weren’t on the TV show.

I realize coverage of “pop country” isn’t likely to be very interesting to most who read my site, but I also believe that someone somewhere needed to write this article and I didn’t see anyone else doing so.

August 2, 2022 Early August Update

The Academy of Western Artists awards will be October 13. Here’s the list of nominees.

The Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame will have its 52nd annual induction October 30. This year’s inductees are Shania Twain, Hillary Lindsey, Steve Wariner, Gary Nicholson, and David Malloy.

Marty Stuart posted a recap video today of his annual late night jam at the Ryman Auditorium in June, which I enjoyed attending: Marty Stuart’s 19th Late Night Jam .

Here’s a bit of history from The Tractors: “It was on this day in 1994 The Tractors released their debut album “The Tractors.” It sold over 2 million copies and received two Grammy nominations, won CMT Video of the Year for the hit single “Baby Likes to Rock It” and remains the top-selling record of all time recorded in Oklahoma! It was also the fastest-selling country group debut in music history.”

Here’s a video from 1995 of Vince Gill and The Tractors at the ACM Awards . Steve Ripley of The Tractors is credited for the naming “red dirt” music in the 1970s.

Last week, I saw the Eurofest Trio at Krause’s in New Braunfels, Texas. The group specializes in music from central and eastern Europe, but it’s worth noting that the leader of the group plays autoharp and won a national yodeling championship in 1976. I think Patsy Montana was one of the judges? Members of the group used to be in a group called The Sauerkrauts. It’s not “country music” as such, but there’s one guy yodeling and playing autoharp, one guy playing accordion, and one guy playing bass fiddle (though they often have a tuba player, instead). When’s the last time you heard an autoharp at a country concert? Yodeling?

I also saw Del Castillo last week at San Marcos Summer In The Park, a free concert series. Most of their music is in Spanish and I guess I’d call it Latin Rock. This band has been around since 2000, and they once did a collaboration with Willie Nelson. What stands out the most about this band is the rapid fire guitar picking by two very skilled players trading leads.

July 31, 2022 Garth at AT&T

I had never been to a concert in a domed stadium, so yesterday, I saw Garth Brooks at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Tickets were just under $100, which is a lot more reasonable than some of the young hot shots who haven’t accomplished nearly as much.

There were no opening acts announced ahead of time, but songwriter Matt Rossi was the opener. He sang one of his songs, plus a George Strait song, a David Allan Coe song, and closed with Alabama’s “Dixieland Delight.”

Trisha Yearwood was the second opener, and her hits were very well received by the stadium full of fans. Many fans sang along to every word.

Garth Brooks put on quite the show, with his early hits featured most prominently. He had a huge number of band members on stage (I didn’t count, but he introduced probably twenty or so), some of whom have been part of his touring band since the very beginning of his career. Additionally, there were several members of the “G Men,” studio musicians who played on his classic albums, but were not on the road with him then. Garth performed several audience requests. Trisha came back out and sang some duets with Garth. Garth said his performance was being taped for a live album. Garth also spoke highly of legends who influenced him, such as George Strait, Randy Travis, and Keith Whitley.

Mini keytar?

July 29, 2022 1947: Invasion of the Hillbillies

2022 is the 100th anniversary of the Robertson and Gilliland fiddle recordings, but today, we look back 75 years to 1947. There’s no hard line that separates the “hillbilly era” from the “Nashville country music era,” but 1947 was a particularly strong year for country music impacting popular culture.

The Grand Ole Opry performed at Carnegie Hall. Ernest Tubb starred in the movie “Hollywood Barn Dance,” which advertised “Hep Hillbillies! Rural Rhythms! Slick Chicks!” Hank Williams made his first appearance on the country chart in 1947 and Eddy Arnold was the dominant artist on the country chart from 1947-1949. Please do take a look at the country charts before this. Before this, most of the people on the country charts were not based in Nashville. You don’t have to take my word for it. Look at the earliest Billboard country charts, both the well-known “folk chart” that began in 1944 that is widely accepted as the beginning of the Billboard weekly chart, and the intermittent publication of Billboard’s hillbilly hits from 1939-1942. There’s not a whole lot of Nashville on those lists. Yet, from 1947 on, Nashville has dominated the country charts.

Speaking of country charts, too little attention is paid to the Cashbox charts of the 1940s. As a fun fact, Esmereldy released the song “Slap Her Down Again Paw” in 1947 and it was a five-week number one on the Cashbox country chart in 1948. Many credit Kitty Wells with the first country number one by a solo female artist for “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” which topped the Billboard country chart in 1952. Esmereldy’s Cashbox number one is largely unknown or ignored. Patsy Montana’s “I Wanna Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart” in 1935 probably would have been a number one, but the charts didn’t exist back then.

We should also look at the pop charts, because there are some really interesting dynamics in 1947. Red Ingle and the Natural Seven with Cinderella G. Stump had a number one pop hit with “Temptation (Tim-Tayshun).” Red Ingle was especially known for his work with Spike Jones. Cinderella G. Stump was the hillbilly alter-ego of pop singer Jo Stafford.

An even bigger pop hit was “Smoke!Smoke!Smoke! (That Cigarette) by Tex Williams and His Western Caravan. This was a multi-week number one on both the pop chart and the country chart, the most dominant song of the year. As a fun fact, the B-side was the “Round Up Polka.” Tex Williams had a number 4 hit on the 1946 Billboard country chart with “The California Polka.” Western swing always had a strong polka connection (acknowledged by Milton Brown and other western swing pioneers), but in modern times, this often gets overlooked. Tex Williams mostly charted in country music over the course of his career.

Dorothy Shay made history in 1947 as the first woman with a number one album. “The Park Avenue Hillbillie” topped the Billboard pop album chart for weeks. Some individual songs also charted in country, most notably “Feudin’ and Fightin,'” a number 4 hit on the country chart. Later country artists such as George Jones covered this song. Dorothy Shay was also a regular on the Spike Jones radio show, which was very popular at the time. One might recall that Spike Jones had also worked with Cindy Walker and other artists of interest to western swing and country. Dorothy Shay is largely unknown to country fans today. As with Esmereldy, she was popular and made history, but they’re mostly forgotten because Nashville historians pretend they never existed, because they weren’t part of Nashville.

Hopefully, today’s post shines some light on the history of country music 75 years ago.

July 26, 2022 Yodelblitz and Off The Grid

I recently saw a couple of “Oktoberfest” bands in Texas.

Yodelblitz is a trio of yodelers who play multiple instruments. The two ladies have performed in groups together since 1993. You can find some videos of “Schatzi und Lorelei” from over a decade ago. The third member of the trio is Schatzi’s brother Gary, who was in groups such as The Sauerkrauts for years and worked at the German section of EPCOT. At the Yodelblitz show at Krause’s in New Braunfels, Texas, Gary played flugelhorn, mellophone, baritone horn, tuba, alphorn, cowbells, electric guitar, upright bass, and a homemade instrument with a hose and funnel. Schatzi played mostly clarinet and saxophone and did much of the speaking and joke telling, and Lorelei mostly played accordion and sang lead on many songs (though all three took the lead on different songs). The two ladies also played a set of cowbells. Why am I covering this group on a country music blog? Well, Lorelei also has a solo career as western artist Lori Beth Brooke. She won the IWMA (International Western Music Association) yodeling award in 2016 and the cowboy and western swing album of the year in 2020. She is also scheduled to perform at this year’s IWMA awards in Albuquerque in November.

On Sunday, we drove to Fredericksburg, Texas to see the Off The Grid trio at Altstadt Brewery. Altstadt is a huge, impressive complex. There’s even a tractor museum. Off The Grid is primarily a polka band, but they tinker with every genre, including classic country. Their slogan is “polka roots and scoot the boots.” The trio has an unusual guitar, a Roland combo accordion (one of those fancy deals that doubles as an accordion and a keyboard), and a zendrum. I had never seen anyone play zendrum before this. Their country covers included Ernest Tubb, George Strait, Freddy Fender, Doug Kershaw, Moe Bandy, and The Mavericks. Where else are you going to hear classic country with a zendrum?

In other news, the IBMA award nominations were announced today. The next big bluegrass event I plan to attend is Bloomin’ Bluegrass in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in October. Some of the scheduled performers are among this year’s IBMA nominees.

July 19, 2022 Recent Shows

I’ve enjoyed a good lot of live music lately, so here are some of my observations.

I won free tickets to Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic. It was over 100 degrees, and ten acts played for about an hour each: Asleep At The Wheel, Steve Earle, Particle Kid, Charley Crockett, Midland, Brothers Osborne, Allison Russell, Tyler Childers, Jason Isbell, a fireworks display, then Willie Nelson. Most of these acts are pretty familiar to most, so I won’t bore everyone with a lot of detail. I did notice Jason Roberts playing fiddle with Asleep At The Wheel. Crockett and Midland both featured a good lot of steel guitar. The Particle Kid set was quite odd, as Micah Nelson was wearing a cape and screaming the word “life” repeatedly. Allison Russell’s music is the sort of Americana that the Americana scene likes, but not my thing. One of the biggest crowd reactions of the evening was when Tyler Childers took the stage. I got the sense that his crowd was much more into the idea of seeing a “current indie scene superstar” than the music itself. Some fans bailed after Childers and before Isbell. The extreme heat was a major factor throughout the day.

I saw the Malpass Brothers at the Texas Theatre in Seguin at an afternoon show sponsored by Heart of Texas. The set was 100% classic country covers, and very w well executed. They had a mandolin from the Louvins and a hat from one of Ernest Tubb’s Troubadours. The one big downside is the show was only one hour. They did stick around for meet and greets. I’m spoiled, I suppose, but I can see acts doing classic country covers for three or four hours for just tips any day of the week in this part of Texas. You can do the same at Robert’s Western World in Nashville.

I went to Krause’s in New Braunfels this weekend and saw a couple of acts. Cactus Country is a central Texas act that plays mostly classic country covers, but they also covered some neotraditionalists like Jon Pardi. The four-piece group featured fiddle and steel guitar. Although their set was nearly all covers, they did a nice original song called “Little Country Dance Hall.”

LynnMarie is a five-time Grammy polka nominee based in Nashville, and this was her first time to play Krause’s. LynnMarie and her husband Eddie Rodick III were joined by Craig Ebel from Minnesota and by host Alex Meixner, who moved to New Braunfels a few months ago. Kathy Zamejc Vogt from Ontario also made a surprise appearance for a few songs. All of these people are very well respected in polka. LynnMarie’s “home base” is the Bavarian Bierhaus in Nashville. I saw a polka group called Toby’s House there last month. Some of the members of that group regularly play in country bands, also. The Bavarian Bierhaus is in the Opry Mills shopping complex, so it’s a great choice if you’re going to the Opry. Although polka was the main attraction of LynnMarie’s set at Krause’s, there was also some country mixed in, from Hank Williams to Garth Brooks to Tennessee Whiskey.

The July edition of “Texas Polka News” magazine has a feature on western swing music, and the great influence that polka music had on Milton Brown and other western swing pioneers. Unfortunately, it’s behind a paywall, so I can’t link it.

On Sunday, we saw local western swing act Big Cedar Fever at Devil’s Backbone Tavern. We’ve seen this act several times, from Black’s BBQ in San Marcos to Americanafest in Nashville to Ameripolitan in Memphis. Usually, I’ve seen the group as a trio, with Georgia, Nick, and fiddler Ian. Ian wasn’t with them Sunday, but the two new guys did a fine job. James Gwyn is a drummer and the Greg Harkins is a singer, songwriter, and guitar player. In any configuration, Big Cedar Fever is worth checking out, especially if you like Cindy Walker, Bob Wills, etc. Big Cedar Fever recently opened several shows for the Quebe Sisters.

July 9, 2022 Regional Scenes Update

Last month, I spent a week in Nashville and a week in Branson, and I live in Texas. Although some acts make the rounds everywhere, many acts spend most of their efforts in one place.

Let’s catch up with some of the regional scenes.

I’ll start with my old hometown of Tuscaloosa, Alabama (though most or all of the people I mention here are actually in the suburb Northport). My cousin Bill and his wife Sharon have a bluegrass band called “Bounds and Determined” and they are featured in this month’s The Bluegrass Standard . Although the group is new and preparing its first record, every member of the group has played bluegrass for decades. Adam Hood’s recent song features Miranda Lambert. You can also find videos of Adam and Miranda collaborating over a decade ago. Adam is probably better known in Texas than in Alabama, since Alabama’s music scene is not well known or promoted. The Tuscaloosa area has a lot of young country singers, too. 15-year old Sadie McClendon recently released the single “Eloise.” I first saw Sadie perform when she was 9 or 10, and she has performed in Nashville, with the Last Honky Tonk Series in Louisiana, and on stage with Jamey Johnson and other major artists. Jackson Chase is another teenage traditionalist from the Tuscaloosa area to put on your radar. Earlier this year, the high school sophomore recorded a duet with John Anderson, and his debut EP will also feature collaborations with John Schneider and Tayla Lynn.

One of the members of Sweet Tea Trio is from Tuscaloosa, though the act is based in Nashville now and managed by Kid Rock. They released the EP “Sugar Rush” last month. One of the members of Restless Road is from Tuscaloosa. The pop-country group is on Kane Brown’s label and is enjoying some mainstream success.

The Heart of Texas folks in Brady are very committed to traditional country music. In addition to the museum, they’re on radio and RFD-TV, and sponsor assorted events. For instance, this week, the Heart of Texas booked the Malpass Brothers in Llano and Seguin. Next week, the Heart of Texas Roadshow will bring ten or more acts to Nashville, and later this month, there will be a Heart of Texas Roadshow event in Ontario.

Bloomin’ Bluegrass is the biggest annual bluegrass festival in Texas and one of the best values anywhere. I’ll be there in October. Check out the stellar lineup!

Experiencing music live is the best. Here are some event calendars of interest:

Western Swing calendar

Western Music Association calendar

Polka Beat calendar

June 30th, 2022 Branson Vacation Part 3

Today is the 100th anniversary of the first recordings by Henry C. Gilliland and Eck Robertson. Some consider this the beginning of the country music industry. In a just country music world, this would be a huge celebration, but I wonder if “New Nashville” (CMA, CMT,etc) too busy pandering to urban leftist special interest groups to notice?

Today also wraps up my week in Branson, Missouri. We had a great time! This is definitely a place where country people feel very welcome.

The Baldknobbers have performed since 1959 and are still one of the most popular shows in Branson. The Mabe family has been doing this thing a long, long time. Cajun comedian Murray Conque entertained the audience for a pre-show. The show was mostly country music, with a smattering of other styles. The main comedian, Hargus, has been with the show for 51 years. His chalkboard routine reminded me of a really old Abbott and Costello skit. From the beginning of the pre show to the end of the main show was about three hours, so they really give you a full evening of entertainment.

We also saw the Ozarks Country show at the Grand Country Music Hall. The main comedian in that show is the son of one of the Mabe patriarchs who created the Baldknobbers, and the father of the current head of the Baldknobbers (and there are some articles online about that whole deal). The Bilyeu sisters, who are cousins of the Mabes, are best known for their time with Mel Tillis as The Stutterettes. Mel’s piano player is band leader. Bassist Todd Brumley is the son of Buck Owens’ famous steel guitar player Tom Brumley, son of legendary songwriter Albert Brumley.

The Blackwoods Quartet was formed in 1934, and the Blackwood Singers carry on the tradition, led by RW (son of one of the original members) and his wife Donna. I realize that gospel music on a weekday morning isn’t everyone’s idea of vacation, but there’s so much history here and so much influence on country music and Elvis and beyond. There weren’t even a dozen people in a theater that holds 700. Y’all are missing out on a legacy of an act that won 8 Grammy awards and influenced practically the who’s who of acts from country music’s golden era.

Hot Rods and High Heels is a show celebrating the rock and roll era, especially from the late 50s. The dozen member cast covered a number of artists who are also of interest to country music fans, like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Brenda Lee, The Everly Brothers, and Wanda Jackson.

The Haygoods are billed as Branson’s most popular show and they usually sell out the large theater. They’ve sold over six million tickets in thirty years. Their show is modern and high energy, but they’re also siblings who grew up playing acoustic instruments. They play over twenty instruments, including a harp and a harp-guitar. You’ll also see crazy things like one of them playing the guitar upside down while sliding down a wire over the audience, upside down tap dancing, and a jet pack. They’re one of the only large productions I’ve seen anywhere that not only allows, but encourages photo and video. I went to shows all week, and this show and Sons of Britches were the only ones that specifically encouraged fans to take video.

The Petersens are a family bluegrass act with a huge following on YouTube. Family acts are very big in Branson, and they deliver plenty of family-friendly humor in addition to good bluegrass . One of the Petersens is married to one of the Haygoods. The Petersens recently completed recording a bluegrass album in Nashville, so you’ll definitely want to check thia group out.

Hamner’s Unbelievable variety show has magic and everything else, but the bit of interest to country fans is Johnny Lonestar, who does a variety of cowboy/wild west show tricks with lassos, whips, and spinning guns.

Smoke on the Mountain is a play set in 1938 in a rural North Carolina church. This is old-fashioned family entertainment, with music and comedy. There were some curiosities among the percussion instruments, most notably the donkey jaw (quijada). I certainly wasn’t expecting that!!! As a fun fact, the singing family is the script is from Siler City, North Carolina and my ancestor was the Siler for whom the town was named.

Buckets and Boards is billed as a comedy percussion duo, but the guys also sing and play a variety of instruments. Most unusual is when one of them played two recorders at once with his nose. They also played teufelsgeigen.

I’ll also mention eating hog jowls at Lambert’s Cafe in Ozark (near Springfield). That’s good country grub. The Bass Pro and aquarium complex in Springfield is huge, so allot plenty of time.

June 26, 2022 Branson Vacation Part 2

There are many, many shows daily in Branson, and the majority of shows have some country music.

Yesterday morning, we went to a very small, low budget show called “Patsy to Patsy.” When I say small, my brother and I were two of the eleven people in the audience. If you’re a fan of yodeling and country music history, check this show out. The show consists of just two people, Dr. Ermal Williamson (as John Wayne) and his wife Paula Erlene (as Patsy Montana and Patsy Cline). Paula is a champion yodeler and Patsy Montana was a judge at her first yodeling contest. You can find videos of Paula yodeling on YouTube as “Paula Erlene” and “Paula Williamson.” Most are somewhat familiar with Patsy Cline, but as far as I’m aware, this is the only show anywhere that really goes in depth to showcase Patsy Montana.

For the afternoon show, we went to the Comedy Jamboree at the Grand Country Music Hall. This is a pretty large theater, and the show featured a mix of comedy and music. The comedians are also singers. There were ten people on stage and they’re all good at music, but I’ll especially highlight the band leader Tracy Heaston. He is an absolute beast on keyboard and has been doing this for decades, playing everything from piano to calliope. He can play the keys ridiculously fast.

We ate at the Uptown Cafe, which features live music. Artists play just for tips. We saw Mike Jackson play solo with backing track. He is mostly country and gospel, but he’s also the drummer for Tony Orlando.

For the evening, we saw the famous Presley’s Country Jubilee, which is every bit as great as expected. When the Presley family opened their own dedicated theater in Branson in 1967, it was the only one. They had already performed for years in area caves and other venues. We often watch the Presley’s weekly show on RFD-TV. This is one of the largest and best known of all Branson shows for good reason. As a fun fact, the theater also hosts Sunday morning church service, as one of the Presley family members is both a musician and a pastor. In the picture below, the fellow in the straw hat is Gary Presley as “Herkimer.” He has performed as this character since 1962!!! His son in the RFD-TV cap has performed as “Cecil” since childhood, and in between them is my brother Bill.