Country music shows are everywhere in Branson, and especially classic country. That suits me just fine.
Here are the shows we have seen so far:
Shoji Tabuchi is an incredible success story. When he was a freshman in college in Japan, he saw Roy Acuff perform. Shoji developed a deep appreciation for classic country and bluegrass music. The fiddle hall of fame member plays all kinds of music, but the country element is especially strong. He covered Roy Acuff, Hank Williams, and Bob Wills. Shoji’s stepdaughter Christina produces the show and also performs. She is a talented country singer. Shoji’s own theater burned in 2017, so this year’s show is in the Little Opry Theater. This is a small, cozy venue that holds 200+, rather than 1000+ like the larger Branson theaters, so you’re very close to the action.
The Nashville music industry barks loudly about “diversity,” which to modern Nashville means paving over country music entirely and replacing it with any random urban blacks they can find, whether they like or respect country music or not, which is a slap in the face to anyone of any color who is into country music. If you want a much more positive example of real, organic diversity in country music, Shoji Tabuchi is from all the way on the other side of the world and fell in love with country music and has honored his country music influences throughout his career. He is a great fiddle player and everyone should see him if they get the chance.
The Sons of Britches play an afternoon show at the Little Opry Theater. The three man group is known for classic country and comedy. One unusual feature among Branson shows is that the Sons of Britches encourage video recording. Their show is largely built around audience requests. They’ll attempt anything they know, but they’re most likely to know your request if it is classic country. For instance, my request was the Little Jimmy Dickens hit, “May The Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose.” Since video was allowed and encouraged, I took a phone video of this one and uploaded it to my YouTube channel. The guys talked to everyone before and after their show.
I won tickets to see Nashville Roadhouse Live at the Star Theater. The main man here is Stevie Lee Woods, who had some country success in the 90s. He recently received a Telly Award for a music video collaboration with Elton John. The show is billed as “where country meets rock and roll.” This is a good description. There are bright lights and dancing girls. Stevie talked to fans before and after the show and during intermission. The last weekend of every month features the Grand Ladies of Country. It was great to see Leona Williams, Mary Lou Turner, and Barbara Fairchild. Leona had to leave for another show afterwards, but we got to talk to Barbara and Mary Lou after the show. That’s a lot of country music history on the stage!
Last night, we saw Texas legend Augie Meyers at the Devil’s Backbone Tavern, which has been on quite a roll booking great acts. “Texas music” is really the best way to describe Augie’s music. There’s some classic country like the opening song “Is Anybody Going To San Antone,” a couple of Bob Wills songs, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” and “Crazy Arms,” but also some blues, rock and roll, and some Texas Tornadoes Tex Mex.
There were six band members on stage, including Augie, but he mentioned that he often tours with two more, a trumpet player who had another show, and western swing great Bobby Flores, who is battling cancer. If you’re into classic country and western swing, you’ll definitely want to look up his music.
Augie is also very funny! He tells great stories and jokes between songs. He was also generous with his time with fans, and we got to talk to him before the show. He and Flaco Jimenez have been working on a new album. We saw Flaco last year, who is also very entertaining.
On Thursday, we saw David Beck’s Tejano Weekend at San Marcos Summer In The Park. David is based in San Marcos, as is his father, whom we’ve seen playing bass for a few acts. A decade or so back, David was in a country duo with Paul Cauthen, who might be more familiar to some of you outside the San Marcos area. The last time we saw David was at Krause’s in New Braunfels with Alex Meixner. At Summer In The Park, David Beck’s Tejano Weekend did cover a few classic country songs during their set (Willie Nelson, George Strait, Billy Joe Shaver, etc) in addition to the more Tex Mex sounding material. It’s very common in this part of Texas to hear bands play a variety of styles, but classic country is usually in the mix.
I think of “Texas music” as a category that overlaps other genres to some degree. Louisiana is much the same way. Bands are labelled every sort of genre, but they all seem to draw from everything. To be certain, you can find Texas acts and Louisiana acts who are straight up country all the time, but there are also many acts who hit you with classic country one minute and something different the next.
My brother and I just spent a week in Nashville and heard music all day long every day. The weather was great.
We got in town Tuesday afternoon and headed over to the Music Valley area near the Opry. When we were young, the Opryland area was the happening part of Nashville and downtown Nashville was about dead. The few venues remaining in the Music Valley area tend to be much more traditional country than most of the downtown bars. We saw Anita Stapleton play a solo show at the Music City Bar and Grill. Her comfort zone is classic country covers. She covered such artists as Connie Smith, Tammy Wynette, Ricky Van Shelton, Janie Fricke, Loretta Lynn, and George Jones. Diane Berry was in the audience and sang a couple of songs, too. Anita and Diane often sing together on the Merlin Gene Show on RFD-TV.
Next, we went to the Bavarian Bierhaus. There was an excellent polka band playing called Toby’s House. One of the musicians used to be in Frankie Yankovic’s band and another had a Grammy, so these were top quality musicians. Be sure to check them out if you’re in the area. My experience is that many country fans don’t know polka, but a lot of polka fans know country. Then, there are people in my age bracket who grew up when the whole family gathered around the one TV in the house to watch Hee Haw and Lawrence Welk the same evening.
We finished Tuesday at the Grand Ole Opry. This was my brother’s first visit to the Opry in over forty years ago when we were kids, and we picked a great night, with legends Jeannie Seely, The Oak Ridge Boys, and Riders In The Sky, comedian Henry Cho, young artist Hannah Ellis (who was a last minute addition to the lineup after Morgan Wade cancelled), mainstream country neotraditionalist Jon Pardi, and superstar Carrie Underwood. The Opry is the best place to see Carrie, because she “countrifies” when she plays the Opry. She had two fiddles on the first song.
We began Wednesday at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. We always enjoy visiting whenever we’re in Nashville, which isn’t often. It is over 900 miles from our home in Texas to Nashville, and we drive, rather than fly. Screw Biden for making gas so damn expensive. I hate that stupid, smug, evil, demented sack of shit. Anyway, the CMHOF has two floors, and the upper half with the older country is in good shape. There is currently a large Bill Anderson display. Downstairs was an unholy mess. Two of the largest seasonal exhibit spaces were empty. One had been the home of the Outlaws and Armadillos exhibit and the other a Kacey Musgraves exhibit. I understand that there will be some “down time” between exhibits, but why schedule it during CMA week? You’d think they could have either waited until after the festival or pushed ahead and gotten the next exhibits open. As it is, there was a whole lot of dead space. The American Currents section featured some good artists, but some of the picks seemed as random as someone throwing a dart at a wall of names to decide whom to feature. Nevertheless, I enjoyed my visit and look forward to visiting again the next time I get to town.
We spent nearly the whole day at Robert’s Western World, which has a well-earned reputation as a classic country venue. I had seen Pork McElhinny before and knew he’d put on a good show. The solo artist played a lot of classic country covers, including audience requests, and truly excels at playing guitar. He sounds like he has some Jerry Reed in his musical DNA.
Next up was Wendy Newcomer, who also played a bevy of classic country covers. She walked around with the tip jar at the top of the hour and I mentioned to her that I had seen her accordion player Rory Hoffman (who plays all sorts of instruments and styles) in polka legend Alex Meixner’s band at Wurstfest in Texas a few months ago. A few minutes later, she had Rory play a polka medley for us, and I posted a phone video on my YouTube channel. I really appreciate this very classic country band at a very traditional country venue giving me that bit. We enjoyed the famous “Recession Special” fried bologna sandwich dinner.
Kelley’s Heroes was up next, and they brought fiery, fast-picking rockabilly. They were very high energy. We had to leave during their set to head over to the Ryman for Marty Stuart, but we tipped every band we saw at Robert’s and our excellent waitress.
Marty Stuart’s Late Night Jam is a two-decade tradition. Marty and his guests performed at the Ryman for fully three hours. As with the Opry House the night before, we had great seats. Marty’s show is structured a lot like an Opry show. He even had the Opry square dancers. Williams and Ree were hilarious. Marty used several rare instruments during the evening. There were guitars that had been owned by Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, Merle Haggard, etc. Hall of fame legends Marty Stuart, Connie Smith, and Emmylou Harris performed, but so did many young artists. Billy Strings and Marcus King are two of the most elite young pickers anywhere. I first saw Lainey Wilson at a crappy venue in my hometown in 2016, so it is really cool to see how hot her career is now. The Opry House and Ryman both allow photography, but request no audio or video recording, so I honored their request. Some others did take some nice video clips and I’m glad they went ahead and did so.
Thursday through Sunday were the official four days of CMA Fest itself. Doors open at 10AM and the stadium shows ended after midnight, and we were there from pillar to post every day. We heard a tremendous number of artists. Our usual daytime hangout was the Spotlight Stage inside Fan Fair X. This is the smallest of all of the official CMA Fest stages, but it is inside and comfortable. Acts play 20 minute sets, and most are lesser known artists, though a few of them also appeared on larger stages during the week, even the stadium. The Spotlight Stage is also where they put songwriter rounds and international artists. We saw acts from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, El Salvador, and Canada. We spent a lot of time at the Spotlight Stage at the last CMA Fest we attended, also. I went to CMA Fest in 2017-2019.
There are some good, young acts on the smaller stage who are much more traditional than most of the acts on the bigger stages. You could drop someone like Kimberly Kelly in the middle of Ameripolitan and she’d fit right in. Paige King Johnson is as country as it gets, too. Brit Taylor has a new album on the way that’s produced by Sturgill Simpson. Her set was right after Jenny Tolman, who is another good young country artist. The songwriter round with Brett Sheroky, Marla, and Joe Fox was really funny. I’d be typing all day if I tried to mention everyone I saw.
We did a meet and greet with Catie Offerman from New Braunfels, Texas (20 miles from where I live), and saw her at the Reverb Stage in front of Bridgestone Arena. She had steel guitar on every song, and some harmonica and other country goodness. She has some background in polka, but she’s very much a country artist.
We saw Andy Griggs at the Vibes Stage and he closed his set with a great rendition of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.” I thought I had it on my phone, but somehow, it didn’t take.
I posted dozens of phone videos from the last four days on my YouTube channel, so please enjoy. I posted a clip from Carly Pearce and Wynonna, and it was taken down by YouTube for a “copyright strike” with a warning that if they decide to take down anything else they’ll kill my channel, which I’ve worked on for seven years. I’m not trying to monetize anything. I’m just trying to share some music at a festival that exists supposedly for the express purposes of fan access. One of the acts I saw on a small stage even asked the audience to take video, so that her family and friends could see her. To be on the safe side, I removed several of the stadium videos, since those might be more likely to have copyright strike issues. People were really enjoying those videos, so I hated to take them down, but I have spent seven years building up my channel and I’d hate to lose everything because of some stupid copyright thing.
The evening shows featured mostly big, current names, but the first act each evening was a bit older (which I generally prefer). For the most part, the small, indoor stage full of unknowns during the day is more my speed than the huge arena rock spectacle in the evening, but there were moments there, too. The crowd was very into the surprise appearance of Wynonna in a duet with Carly Pearce. Carrie Underwood sang a bit of “How Great Thou Art” in one of the best vocal moments of the festival. Old Dominion played “Chattahoochee” because Alan Jackson was originally scheduled to be and cancelled, and they wanted to honor him and give something to his fans in the audience. I just got to Corky’s BBQ in Memphis and ordered my lunch, so I’ll wrap this up.
In general, this year’s festival needed more of the older stars, as they inexplicably got rid of the dedicated classic country stage this year. Many of the hottest current artists were also absent from the festival, like Chris Stapleton, Morgan Wallen, Blake Shelton, and Miranda Lambert.
If you’re a “real country” fan, you’re likely turned off by a lot of the non-country crap on various stages during the week, but if you do your homework, you’ll find that there are also still many country singers, even if they’re toiling away on the smallest stages for years and have been told they’re “too country” by the “industry.” Meanwhile, there’s a huge banner for Breland hanging over the front of the country hall of fame and Breland has a display in the country hall of fame and Breland had a guest appearance on the largest stage at CMA Fest, Nissan Stadium. His debut album doesn’t come out until September, and he has already been handed all of that over everyone else. I hear many stories of talented country artists who have been in Nashville (and elsewhere) for a decade or more who work lousy day jobs just to be able to keep making the country music they love, who never receive a tiny fraction of the recognition and opportunities as this Breland guy.
Anyway, I had a whole lot of fun this week and I posted a lot of video clips on my YouTube channel and some photos of the Opry and Marty on the Facebook page. As always, thanks for reading my page.
Today, it was announced that Alan Jackson would not be performing at CMA Fest next week. No reason was given. He’s the only CMHOF member who was scheduled to perform. Whispering Bill Anderson is still scheduled to do a meet and greet session.
How is it possible for CMA Fest, with its vast resources, to have zero CMHOF members perform? I know there are some acts in town. On Wednesday, the day before CMA Fest, I will see CMHOF members Marty Stuart, Connie Smith, and Emmylou Harris at the Ryman and on Tuesday, I’ll see CMHOF members The Oak Ridge Boys at the Grand Ole Opry. Why did the CMA completely fail in scheduling even one hall of famer at CMA Fest this year?
Here are the living members of the CMHOF with year of induction:
Loretta Lynn (1988) – retired from performing
Willie Nelson (1993) – still actively touring
Brenda Lee (1997) – hosting her 40th annual Sunday Mornin’ Country at the Ryman during CMA Fest (but not an official CMA Fest event)
Bud Wendell (1998) – retired music executive and oldest living CMHOF member at 94
Dolly Parton (1999) – still active
Bill Anderson (2001) – scheduled for official CMA meet and greet, but not scheduled to perform at CMA Fest, even though he will perform on the Opry during CMA Fest
The Jordanaires (2001) – Ray Walker is the only one still living.
Kris Kristofferson (2004) – retired
Alabama (2005) – still touring (and note that Mark Herndon was part of the group when they were inducted, and as far as I know, he is still drumming somewhere)
George Strait (2006) – still touring
Vince Gill (2007) – performing on the Opry during CMA Fest
Emmylou Harris (2008) – performing at Marty Stuart’s Late Night Jam on Wednesday
The Statler Brothers (2008) – Jimmy Fortune is still actively touring
Barbara Mandrell (2009) – retired
Charlie McCoy (2009) – performing on the Opry during CMA Fest
Bobby Braddock (2011) – songwriter
Reba McEntire (2011) – still touring
Garth Brooks (2012) – still touring
Connie Smith (2012) – performing at Marty Stuart’s Late Night Jam on Wednesday
Bobby Bare (2013) – retired ?
Ronnie Milsap (2014) – still touring
The Oak Ridge Boys (2015) – still touring
Randy Travis (2016) – retired
Alan Jackson (2017) – was scheduled to perform at CMA Fest, but cancelled
Don Schlitz (2017) – performing on the Opry during CMA Fest
Ricky Skaggs (2018) – still touring
Brooks and Dunn (2019) – still touring
Ray Stevens (2019) – frequently performs at his own venue CabaRay
Jerry Bradley (2020) – music executive
Dean Dillon (2020) – performing at the Bluebird Cafe on Monday
Marty Stuart (2020) – still touring and will host his 21st annual Late Night Jam at the Ryman Wednesday
Hank Williams, Jr (2020) – still touring
Eddie Bayers (2021) – drummer for the Opry house band
The Judds (2021) – Wynonna is still touring
Joe Galante (2022) – music executive
Jerry Lee Lewis (2022) – no longer touring
Let me know if I’m missing anyone. It appears there are two dozen or so living CMHOF members who are still actively performing, and about half of those are performing somewhere in Nashville during CMA week. What possible excuse does the CMA have for not having any of them on official CMA Fest stages this year? Why is the CMA excluding the country hall of fame legends from CMA Fest?!?
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.
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 Norteño 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.
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.
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.
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.
Yesterday was the first annual Luckenbach Bluegrass Festival. This was a great experience that I highly recommend. Luckenbach has a lot of character, and the informal feel of the festival is a perfect fit for bluegrass fans. There are chickens strutting around and one fan brought a well-mannered pet goat on a leash.
There were five scheduled acts: Cruz Contreras, SpringStreet, Breaking Grass, Tony Kamel, and Ricky Skaggs. Each act was given a good hour, closing with Ricky, who was scheduled for 90 minutes, but played for two hours.
There was an unannounced preshow from an acoustic duo, Jimmy Lee Jones and Dino. Fittingly, they opened their set with the song “Luckenbach, Texas.” They were a nice bonus to start the day.
Cruz Contreras is best known in the Americana scene for The Black Lillies. His solo career was just getting going when Covid derailed the whole music industry. His brother Billy played fiddle and is also the fiddle player for Ricky Skaggs. The third member of their group couldn’t make the trip from Tennessee, so banjo player George Guthrie filled in. The Contreras brothers grew up in Tennessee and are still based there, but have Texas roots.
Next up was SpringStreet from Oklahoma. If you like traditional bluegrass and also a bit of gospel and classic country, you’ll definitely enjoy these good folks. They posted many videos of their performances yesterday, so you can see them in action. Their performance of “Milk Cow Blues” includes many animal noises. At one point during the their set, a chicken flew over the audience.
Breaking Grass from Mississippi was up next. One thing you immediately notice is the stick bass fiddle. Most of their songs are originals, and one curious exception is a medley of songs from other musical styles from the 1950s-present. The group has been around for 15 years, and they’ve recorded their sixth album. They said they hope to release it in late May. If any of you are near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, be sure to catch their show next weekend as the featured guest of the Southeastern Fiddle Championship, which is free to attend.
Tony Kamel was up next. The last time we saw him was as a solo opener for Ricky Skaggs at Gruene Hall a few months ago, but he brought a band this time. The Texas singer-songwriter has a bluegrass background (Wood and Wire), but this particular band setup was more of a Texas Americana type of situation, with steel guitar, electric bass, and drums. Kamel played acoustic and electric guitars, and picked some fine banjo solo numbers.
Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder put on a generous two hour show. With seven elite pickers on stage, there’s always a lot going on. There’s not much I can say about Ricky Skaggs that hasn’t been said. He’s already in every sort of hall of fame and has done about everything that can be done in bluegrass and country music. After the show, he stuck around to talk to fans and I got to take a picture of him with my brother, who has been a huge fan forever. During the afternoon, I also got to talk briefly to Cruz Contreras and members of SpringStreet and Breaking Grass. The whole atmosphere was so relaxed and informal and enjoyable.
After the bluegrass festival, Lee Mathis played at the indoor dance hall. His style is very much in the honky tonk and outlaw country style. The little dance hall filled up quickly, so we weren’t able to get in, but we enjoyed hearing him while eating dinner at a picnic table outside. We heard covers of Waylon Jennings and David Allan Coe, among others.
I hope this festival catches on as an annual tradition.
On Friday, my brother and I saw Billy Strings at the Moody Amphitheater in Austin. The great-looking venue opened a few months ago, just a couple blocks from the Texas state capitol. Billy Strings sounded great, too. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see him. We were in the handicapped section, which was behind a seated section. That would have been perfectly fine, if the people in the seated section had been seated. They chose to stand the entire time, completely blocking our view. The other wheelchair people on our row got so frustrated that they left very early. I have seen hundreds and hundreds of acts at all sorts of venues and this is the only time I couldn’t see the act at all. We could hear the show great, so we still enjoyed it as best we could.