Last week the two hottest tickets in this scene were Sean McConnell and Koe Wetzel. Two acts as divergent as salt and pepper. Yet, like those handy seasonings…they both go well over the same morsels. McConnell has been mining the soulful singer/songwriter folk path without peer for over a decade now. He first rose to fame in this scene via co-writes with Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen prior to clamining his rightful headlining spot on the strength of his own songwriting. The fact that he was selling out venues with zero pandering material, musical compromise, minimal radio support, adult themed music and a base of serious minded music fans is a testament to all that we hope this scene is and believe it could be. On the other hand, Wetzel has tapped into the drunken college revelry previously tread by so many artists whose wake he walks in. That doesn’t make it bad. It’s catchy, rowdy, ballsy, silly, disposable, enjoyable and contemporary. This is not new. Guy and Townes won the long game, but certainly weren’t selling out venues at the rate of Rusty Wier and BW Stevenson back in the day. The good thing about each of these examples is that there is room for both under our musical umbrella. You may not like one or the other, but the tapestry that has been woven over the past 40 years means they both get a seat at the table. There have always been those who produce simplistic music that may not be your cup of tea that generate crowds of rabble-rousing no gooders. Most of us do some significant time in that no good crowd and use it as a gateway to find the stuff with more depth. Very few young folks are jamming out to John Moreland and Slaid Cleaves…and that’s okay.
It’s all part of the same group. “Texas Country” “Red Dirt” Americana” “Roots” “Folk” “OKOM” “Texas Music” “Singer/Songwriter”…each of those labels mean something…and they may mean something different to each person that reads them. Whatever you decide to call it is irrelevant. Music that moves, music that stirs, music that makes you want to get to the show. I like everything from honky-tonk to hip-hop, metal to folk, pop to punk, bluegrass to R&B and then some. And I know I’m not alone. Since the breakdown of the monoculture and the rise of things like Spotify/iTunes/YouTube there are no genres and labels…just songs. It’s up to the artists to brand themselves, not the industry. Sean and Koe have done that. Sean’s got much more skin in the game and who knows if Koe lasts beyond 2018, but they’re both smartly playing the game. By being themselves. People identify with that. Fans crave that. And smart music fans are able to spot and ignore posers. When you’re 30 and married with kids, you identify with Sean. When you’re 19 and sneaking booze on a backroad, you identify with Koe. When you’re 30 and married with kids, you remember when you were 19 and sneaking booze on a backroad and identify with Koe.
The true test of greatness is being uniquely talented. Sean McConnell could do what Koe does if he wanted to, but it couldn’t work the same way in reverse. I’m reminded of Texas Radio Hall of Famer Mike Rhyner’s quote regarding the best sports talk station in the country 1310 The Ticket when he said in reference to their competition (many times), “We can do what they do, but they can’t do what we do.” That’s very succinctly the truth. That doesn’t make the other stations bad and it doesn’t make Koe Wetzel bad either. It just means they’re different…and that’s good. We can love all of it. We can listen to all of it. Scan the dial. Skip the song. Search for that next album. Cross genres. Push markets. Drive. Play. Grind. Repeat.
This dichotomy is one of the reasons we have designed River Jam as a multi-faceted event. Equal parts listening room and rock show. The ability to showcase music, bands, and songwriters of all stripes. We love the sit down and shut up as much as the slosh beer on your neighbor scream along. There’s a place for both and there’s a home for both in Texas. I once had an older, respected musician tell me regarding this, “Look, I love Townes as much as the next guy…hell we even raised some good hell together…but sometimes you just need a g**damn good melody and get out of the way.” Point taken.
Lyrics are important. So is melody.
Sometimes you want to think. Sometimes you want to rage.
None of us should begrudge anyone that chooses the opposite side we’re feeling at the moment. There’s shitty music and then there’s music you just don’t like. There’s a difference. Hard to define, but it’s there.
If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. If there were a formula, every promoter, agent, owner would apply it. It comes down to being real…in whatever respect that may be. The good news for us as fans is that we get to sit back and watch all of it unfold. The good and bad. Both sides of the coin. All styles.
-River Jam 1 aka Greenfest umpteen was a success. Already planning the next one.
-It’s finally football season. Perhaps the only thing I’ve seen engender such passion as much is the following: Politics, college football and the best diesel engine.
-I think Mike Judge should be the next governor of Texas. Nobody has documented the failings and wastes of modern life quite as supremely. But, he’s probably too smart for the job…and King of the Hill is returning.
-Curbside pickup and Shipt are the best things to happen to grocery shopping since refrigeration.
-Summer is probably my favorite season, but I’m more than ready for fall.
-“The world could use a lot less strife and a little more love.” -MAA
-Sports is the only thing I still watch live and even that’s dependent on the event.
-I may be in the minority, but I’m enjoying Game of Thrones newly found frenetic pacing.
-This Rangers season reminds me of 95% of the ones I’ve experience in my lifetime.
-This month’s recommended album: Tyler Childers – Purgatory. Been unable to get this out of the main rotation. Co-produced by Sturgill, this Kentucky kid has something real to say and we’re eager to listen. This is for you if you dig the aforementioned co-producer, Chris Knight, Red Shahan and the more rocking side of Jason Isbell. Dive in.
-“Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” – Mark Twain