One of the many significant crimes committed by the year from hell has been the postponement of one of the most feel-good events in this scene, the debut of The Pandhandlers. The flatland super group of Josh Abbott, Cleto Cordero, John Baumann, and William Clark Green dropped their first record at the beginning of the year, about the same time the pandemic hit its stride. Touring plans were squashed, and like everything else, the record took a back seat to lock downs, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer.
While mainstream country is all about radio play to move its fan base, this scene’s lifeblood flows through live shows. The enthusiasm, the loyalty, merch sales, and record sales; it’s all driven by seeing our favorite artists light it up on stage. The Year of the Pandemic has made this more obvious than ever, and The Panhandlers were denied their opportunity to start the engine to what could be one of the biggest ongoing collaborations this region has seen. That finally got rectified on Thursday night when the boys from Lubbock took the main stage at Billy Bob’s Texas.
The group opened with “The Panhandler,” a clear stand out in the band’s newly minted catalog. Penned by Cordero, it’s arguably the best song on the record, and offers a glimpse of what’s possible when these four bring their “A” games. The writing, the vibe, and the unique qualities each player brings to this group are all present in that song. Seeing it live for the first time affirmed that belief.
The first cover of the night came a few songs in with the lead track, “West Texas In My Eye.” It’s Charlie Stout’s “West Texas Is The Best Texas” mantra expressed in song and serves as the thematic backdrop for the entire project. He was actually in attendance, but rather than join the band onstage, he took in most of the evening from behind his camera lens. Stout’s contribution to this thing is definitely felt (he also co-wrote “West Texas Girl” with John Baumann), so much so he could be dubbed the unofficial fifth member of the group.
The Panhandlers then took turns trucking through their individual songs on the record with some fan favorites mixed in for good measure. A cool moment in the evening came when you could hear an audible rise, with the crowd singing back to John Baumann as he played “Midland.” Overall, Baumann’s performance was especially notable, as he rose to meet his peers in terms of persona and energy. The usually more reserved, sing-songwriter told jokes and noticeably asserted himself as a co-front man that was deserving of the big stage. It was a great thing to see.
Josh Abbott played the title track off his new record, “The Highway Kind” which drops on November 13th. It’s likely a radio-hit in the making and taken in by a crowd like a Texan takes in comfort food.
Cleto Cordero was joined by his new bride Kaitlin Butts-Cordero, to perform “War With My Mind.” Then rowdiest part of the evening ensued when the group busted out into The Hag’s “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here And Drink” with Butts stealing the show with her attitude laced third verse.
The band closed the night with the high energy “No Handle” and encored with two tributes – “Life On The Road” by the late Jerry Jeff Walker and “Amarillo Highway” by Terry Allen.
After seeing The Panhandlers in action, it’s clear that this has the potential to grow into something special. While the record has it’s bright spots, I think the best is yet to come from this formidable foursome, especially if Bruce Robison and The Next Waltz crew continue at the production helm. Again, live music feeds the fire, so let’s hope that The Pandhandlers shows are more numerous in 2021 than Yeti sightings. Texans need some feel good about now and The Panhandlers can deliver the goods.
A Final Note: We had chance to talk to the guys backstage before the show and will be posting the audio shortly.
- The Panhandler
- Flatland Life
- Pandhandle Slim
- West Texas In My Eye (Charlie Stout cover)
- Lonesome Heart
- West Texas Waltz (Joe Ely cover)
- West Texas Girl
- Cactus Flower
- This Is My Life
- Creek Don’t Rise
- Highway Kind
- War With My Mind
- I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink (Merle Haggard cover)
- No Handle
- Life On The Road (Jerry Jeff Walker cover)
- Amarillo Highway (Terry Allen cover)