I had just landed at LAX last week and turned on my phone; expecting to be inundated by the usual few texts and emails. 7-10 maybe. Nope. Try 53. As my feeble iPhone attempted to connect to wifi or a tower, my heart raced. Had there been an emergency back home? Abroad? What was going on? In the seconds it took to ascertain that all was relatively well, the reason for the influx of data became clear. Jeff Prince had published a clickbait-hit piece on the current status of Texas Music. I skimmed it, didn’t think much about it and thought it would go away. Then it went Texas-viral. My phone continued to blow up. I had a busy itinerary and didn’t intend to make comment on it or let it interfere with my vacation. So, I didn’t.
Upon boarding my flight home, I opened up the article. Read it in full. Then found the fury online all over social media. It was as if sour grapes was the latest Facebook photo profile picture filter. People were arguing and the vitriol was near political levels. Jeff Prince is a fine journalist, his piece on Waylon Payne from a decade ago is perhaps the best profile feature this music scene has ever had. Amos Staggs is a respected artist. Joey Green has written some good songs. The information they unfurled is nothing anyone around this scene hasn’t heard before. The joke of radio play, the cost of doing business, the movement that became an industry…I, along with many others, have written and spoken about that for many, many years.
Texas Music has been pronounced dead many times. But, it’s more alive than ever. It’s just not in the form many of us fell in love with in the first place. It’s like a marriage or relationship. It evolves. The passion of the honeymoon phases dissipates and you find yourself peeling back the onion for more depth. We can debate the virtues of the music of each period. The Jerry Jeff era. The REK era. The Pat Green era. The RRB era. The JAB era. The era of now. The common thread you’ll find: songs.
Willis Alan Ramsey’s “Northeast Texas Women” could come out fresh in 2017 and be a smash. Josh Abbott’s “She’s Like Texas” could have hit in 1975 and been just as big. “Carry On”, “Tonight’s Not the Night”, “Corpus Christi Bay” and so on. In a crowded field, it’s always the songs that rise. No matter the quality in the eyes of critics such as myself. Is Casey Donahew’s “White Trash Story” at the level of anything Guy Clark would write? No, but the fans love it. “She’s Like the Beatles”, “Wear My Ring”, “Feb 28, 2016”, “Beer, Bait and Ammo” and so on.
(ed. note–last year we compiled the ‘best’ songs from A-Z by artist— http://galleywinter.com/texas-best-americana-reds-volume-4/)
The songs remain. Opinions change.
Texas Music isn’t dead. Just because it’s not what you once fell in love with doesn’t make it any less alive. Feel free to leave it, divorce it like Hogleg did. Very few people still listen to the same music/bands for their entire existence. If it’s something you’re not digging anymore, then move on.
Social media is a blessing and a curse. It’s given us all a megaphone to shout our thoughts into the universe. Good and bad.
Saturday night, Cody Johnson put on a show in Fort Worth and had Mike Ryan, Tracy Byrd and Koe Wetzel on the bill with him. They had a crowd of 10,000 people. It seems as though Texas Music is very much alive, just not in the way some would like it to be. That’s okay. There are always alternatives. If you don’t jive with this latest incarnation, there are still folks from each previous era out there grinding the highways, listening rooms and bars for your concert pleasure. They’re still making new music. You know who else is making music? The next generation. Yes, the one in a garage or bedroom right now listening to Koe Wetzel and Kody West nonstop. Someday soon, the guys on top now will fade and a new crop will take their place. Many things will be blamed. Paper spins, farce charts, bad promoters, crappy venues, poor songwriting, daddy’s money, Nashville level pandering…but it won’t matter. What matters are the songs. Good songs have a way of finding their place.
Blake Myers from Texas High Life and Rosehill fame commented on the FW Weekly article with this, “My 2 cents from a guy who tried for 12 years and failed. We did almost everything written about in that article. I’ve been out for awhile now, so I feel I can look back with fresh eyes. We didn’t fail because of those things. We simply weren’t good enough at our craft and weren’t fully committed. Plain and simple. No excuses. Write the best you can. Perform the best you can. Commit yourself completely.” When paired with Austin Mayse’s take, “Whether you think the industry sucks or not, just make good music,” you kind of get my point. Blame can be shifted, but the truth is usually found in the mirror.
It’s both as simple and hard as that. Make “good” music. What “good” is depends on the listeners. But, they’ll find it. And if they don’t find yours en masse, it doesn’t mean it’s dead.
At this point, bemoaning the death of Texas Music is akin to proclaiming the death of Saturday Night Live. Each season, SNL deals with a barrage of hot takes forecasting its impending cancellation and loss of cultural relevance. Then, it bounces out of the gate with new cast members, new social happenings to comment on and new content. It evolves. Monoculture is a term thrown around by critics and sociologists to describe our modern life, and I would venture to say it’s not accurate. If anything, we live in a subset of cultures where we specialize in what we like. We are able to stream, click, share, listen, view, like only the stuff we want and avoid the stuff we don’t. It’s unhealthy to not confront cultural differences and educate oneself, but it is where we are at. Don’t like the news on this site or station, there’s one that will cater to you. Don’t like the music on the radio, you’ve got Spotify. Can’t find anything to watch, there’s Netflix. Each specifically programmed by you.
Texas Music isn’t dead. You just access it differently now. Some adapt. Some complain. I suggest we all just shut up and enjoy it.
What happened to FW Weekly is a microcosm of what has happened to all of us. Shreds of truth mixed with opinion and hearsay form a warped worldview that is unique to ourselves yet we lull ourselves into believing everyone believes the same way. We don’t all think or believe the same…and thank God for that.
Texas Music isn’t going anywhere, but you’re welcome to do so.