When news broke recently that Casey Monahan had been forced out as the director of the Texas Music Office, a swift and massive outrcry began among those of us who support, create and cherish the arts in this state. For good reason. Monahan has overseen an explosion of musical innovation in the 25 years he has been at his post. Since the inception of such an office. The reason for his ouster is hard to ascertain despite shake-ups being rather common post election cycle. He has faithfully served administrations of both major parties and withstood wide-ranging budget cuts and office demands over his three decades in state office leadership. This non-partisan position is responsible for a great deal of revenue within our borders. The promotion of our music both contemporarily and historically is of great visage and importance. Nobody has had a bigger hand in shaping the Texas Music business model into the behemoth it has become.
News on a successor has been hard to come by. Political rumblings have thrown out rumors but no viable names as of yet. Whoever takes on this role will be held to a high standard. He or she will be facing a mountain of work greater than he/she most likely anticipates. This positions requires a person that can be patient with all audiences but push the right buttons when need be. It’s a behind the scenes job with top-line billing pressure. The music industry at large is in a very precarious stage. The spotlight in Texas is even brighter due to our outstanding financial successes as an industry unto ourselves. Here’s to hoping whoever takes Casey Monahan’s place does half as good of a job as he’s done the past quarter century.
Anticipation can hinder a concert in a heartbeat. Waiting too long can create an unreal expectation of an event that can only falter under the weight of reality. Luckily that was not the case on Saturday night at the Winstar Casino. Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell both played terrific sets, each about an hour, which was not near enough time for either; however, all said and done, it was a remarkable show.
There is no doubt that Sturgill Simpson’s voice is able to attract a great number of fans who do not follow whatever-music-scene you would categorize Simpson into. But on Saturday night, the man behind the voice showed he was much more than just a voice. He entered the stage in blue jeans and a plain grey sweatshirt and played at a rapid pace, one song after the next, but still managed to connect with the crowd on several different occasions. The most poignant statement of the night was almost a side comment to himself. He said if you are going to gamble after the show, hit the wheel of fortune slot machine. Followed by “if you are going to play, play to win…or at least that is what I found out last year.” And play he did.
His guitar playing skills were on display as was his love of bluegrass, as he wove in and out of his own songs and old bluegrass standards. Sometimes mention of the word bluegrass was off-putting to the crowd, but it was played at such a rapid pace, it sounded almost like any number of rock songs. Early in the set, he asked for requests, which surprised the crowd, and after they responded, he shook his head and murmured to himself with a smile, “How do y’all even know that song?” And commenced to playing it. He closed out the set with “The Promise” and “Turtles All the Way Down” which were crowd favorites and sent Sturgill off the stage leaving the crowd begging for more.
After a quick break, Jason Isbell took the stage. He briefly talked about new music he was in the process of writing and hopefully putting out this year and then he tore into his set. Again, like Sturgill, he played one song after the next at a rapid pace, hopefully trying to get as much in as he could before his hour was up. Whereas Sturgill is deep rooted in country and bluegrass, Jason Isbell roots are firmly planted in the Mobile, Alabama sound that can encompass all genres. And although Jason is definitely known for his guitar playing skills, his voice is what stood out the most. The power of his voice and the emotion of the songs together with the band took over the crowd, many of them lost in song themselves. When Jason finished singing “Cover Me Up” in the middle of the set, most of the crowd up front rose to their feet in the first quasi-standing ovation of the night and the whole place should have if they didn’t. It was by far the highlight of the night. For an hour and ten minutes, Isbell’s performance put on display not only his songs and his musicianship, but the power what great music is. It was over in the blink-of-an-eye.
Before the show, there was a lot of discussion about the two artists. Who was opening? Who were more people there to see? Who was better? Sturgill Simpson seemed to have the buzz of the mainly Texan crowd (even in Oklahoma) before the show, but there were a lot more people singing along with Isbell than with Simpson. Either way, there is no way you walked out of that venue not being a fan of both. If anything, the show made you want to see them again.
Do you know how hard it has been for me to write this?! How do you adequately articulate the feeling you get from people so talented at their craft that their music moves you to tears? ugh. This was supposed to be finished a month ago. Anyway.
If you asked me to choose a favorite singer/songwriter (which is typically pretty difficult…there’s a plethora of talented people that play a variety of different styles, how can you pick just one?), it would be Walt Wilkins. Regardless of circumstances, mood, time of day, etc., his music hits the spot…even if it’s a spot I didn’t know needed to be hit. It’s like getting wrapped up in the warmest, fuzziest of blankets, or as a few other people have described it before, putting on your favorite pair of well-worn blue jeans – comfortable & familiar. It soothes my soul in such a way that I just sit in awe of his gift. His wife Tina said “it’s like he has this direct line…” and gestured upward.
Walt has this quality about him that makes you feel like you’ve known him forever. He’s humble, appreciative, kind, encouraging, and funny (photobombing mine & my girlfriends’ picture will always be my favorite story to tell). He and Tina are two of the most beautiful people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, and it’s an honor to call them friends. He’s played and & co-written with/produced albums for Brandon Rhyder, Pat Green, Josh … Keep Reading
Wade and his band head to LA today to tape the Conan O’Brien show. Anytime a regional artist from our area gets on one of these national platforms is a good thing. Rising tide lifts all boats so to speak. Additionally, he and Randy released a preview track from the forthcoming Hold My Beer and Watch This studio project produced by Lloyd Maines. You can pre-order HEREand check out the preview track “Good Luck With That”.
3 years ago the TX Citizen and myself (Music of New Braunfels) put together a music festival at Freiheit Country Store in New Braunfels. It was a rare, beautiful day in January and the music was phenomenal. When the day was over we scraped up all the proceeds, gave what we could to the musicians and made a donation to a local family that had tragically lost their mother. We decided to do it all over again in January 2014, and this time took all the proceeds and donated them to the leash free dog park that opened later in the year. This time we will be making a donation to Callen’s Castle. They are building a fun park for kids of “all abilities” on a 4 acre plot of land on 1044 that was donated by the City of New Braunfels! Join us, our sponsors and all the wonderful talent we’ll have on hand this Saturday, January 17th at Freihiet County Store from noon to midnight for the 3rd Annual Blowin’ Off Steamboat Music Festival!