Author Archives: Reid Thompson

About Reid Thompson

Reid Thompson is a sophomore at The University of Texas at Austin. He is an economics major with a business foundations certificate. Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Reid has been around country music his entire life. While he listens to the newer music out of Nashville, he prefers authentic Texas country. reidthompson@utexas.edu

Reid’s Lessons Learned through Country Music

While country music has always been a part of my life, the Rhetoric of Country Music class pushed me to learn and experience more country music than I would have by myself. I took a road trip to San Antonio to experience the Livestock Show and Rodeo, I sang along with the Turnpike Troubadours, I ate breakfast with my parents at historic Threadgill’s, and I watched Walk the Line. All of these experiences opened my eyes and educated me in the field of country music.

Prior to enrolling in Rhetoric of Country Music, I would have considered myself an active member of the country music community. I went to concerts, discovered new artists, listened to country radio, and visited historic country music venues. However, since being a part of this class, I have engaged the country music world with a whole new perspective, which has allowed me to learn plenty of lessons along the way.

The reason my involvement in the country music community changed was not because of the things I did or the music I listened to, but rather the way in which I went about these activities. Although my first experience with the San Antonio Rodeo was this spring, it is definitely something I would have attended in the past regardless of my enrollment in a class. What made this trip different though, was how I treated the experience and truly learned from what I observed.

While in the past I probably would have casually walked past the small pop-up tent boasting the John Christopher Way Band, this class encouraged me to stop and listen. I heard the steel guitar, an instrument we had recently discussed in class, and immediately began to draw connections and build an analysis of what I was hearing.

In a similar fashion, when The Turnpike Troubadours came to perform at my fraternity’s party, it would have been natural for me to tune out the opening act. But because I was more engaged with the music itself, I was able to not only notice Shane Smith and the Saints, but also to compare and contrast their style with the main act.

When my parents took me to Threadgill’s for breakfast earlier this semester, country music was everywhere. The old me probably would have recognized the history, but the new, more engaged me was able to really appreciate the incredible moments that the building had played host to throughout it’s history. To be in the same building as some of the music world’s greatest acts, surrounded by decades of memorabilia, was a cool experience.

Finally, this past weekend I re-watched one of my favorite movies: Walk the Line. I have always known who Johnny Cash is, but this class gave me insight that allowed me to change how I watched the movie. While the movie depicts his time spent in jail and his relationship with June, listening to a portion of his album recorded in a prison in class as well as learning from fellow students helped me to understand the life of Johnny Cash even more.

Regardless of your enrollment in a class, I would encourage everyone to get out and learn more about what you are passionate about. I have always been a country music fan, but this project and class pushed me to discover new facts and experiences that surround me every day. Next time you have an open afternoon, instead of opening your computer and letting Netflix consume the rest of your day, research your favorite genre of music, hobby, or anything else and go check it out. You never know what you might learn.

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Filed under Austin, Live Music, Movies and TV, Music Videos, Reflection, Storify, Texas

Discovering Texas Country’s Roots

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 4.53.34 PMWhen it came time to head home to Dallas for the Easter weekend, I made the easy decision to take scenic Highway 281 instead of dreaded I-35. For me, trading in concrete and construction for bluebonnets and an open road was a no-brainer, even if it meant adding thirty minutes to my drive.

As I drove through the hill country, the images of so many of my favorite “Texas Country” songs filled the windshield: ranches, back roads, and a Texas-sized sunset. Seeing all of this made me wonder if any of the great Texas artists got their start along this stretch of highway, or if they just used the popular hill country scenery as inspiration for their songs.

Once I got home, I researched each town along the route, including those on connecting Highway 67, to see if any notable country music stars had their roots planted there. After striking out in Lampasas, Hamilton, Glen Rose, and other towns along the way, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that one of my favorite country artists was born and raised in Cleburne, TX. Randy Rogers, lead vocalist and namesake for the Randy Rogers Band, built his musical foundation in the town of about 20,000 people.

Even though the Randy Rogers Band has been a favorite of mine for a few years now, I knew little about the background of the band and how their life stories helped develop the songs they sang. Growing up, Rogers said he took the country music direction simply because the lyrics he wrote and the twang in his voice fit best in the genre. Combined with his guitar playing, which he started at the age of 11 or 12, Randy Rogers and his music encompass the true definition of Texas Country.

While a lot of artists claim to be Texas country, Rogers’ small town Texas roots give him the authenticity to back up his claim. In a 2010 interview, he touched on some of the topics that are most debated in this class, especially the tension between Nashville and Texas Country. In this interview, I believe Rogers explains the divide clearer than anyone else I have heard. While he argues that Texans are proud and admittedly cocky, he says this really does not factor into the standoff with Nashville. And while Texas country bands might tour more days out of the year than those from Nashville, he says this does not affect the divide too much either. According to Rogers, people make blind generalizations that blow the split out of proportion and stray from the truth.

While many artists that associate themselves with the Texas Country movement might have similarities including lyrical topics, instrumental accompaniments, or even merely large levels of Texas pride, Rogers argues that for these similarities, there are just as many differences. He believes that there is great and equally as varying music coming from Texas and Nashville. Some artists in Texas are adopting more of a Nashville feel and vice versa. For Rogers, he is proud to be a Texan for whatever people decide that means. In addition, this simple feature of variety within the genre is why he believes country music is so great. According to him, country music has always rocked from its balancing point thanks to people that push the boundary, but somehow it always finds its way back onto it’s path.

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Filed under New Country, Texas

Crawfish and Country Music

Thanks to cold temperatures, rain, and “ice”, the last few weeks in Austin have felt more like Seattle than Texas. Because of this, the 60-degree forecast full of sun and devoid of precipitation for this past Saturday had me excited. While the weather alone could have brightened my mood, my enthusiasm was heightened because Mother Nature was cooperating for my favorite party of the year.

turnpike-truEvery March, my fraternity puts on our “Ranch” party. Good friends, crawfish, and most importantly live country music highlight the event. While past years have boasted big name artists such as Pat Green, I was ecstatic when I heard this year’s party would be featuring one of my favorite country artists, Turnpike Troubadours. While they are still a relatively small group, they have gained momentum in the last several years, even playing the ACL Music Festival this past October. Regardless of this being the third time I would be seeing them perform in the last year, I was still looking forward to the concert.

As people flocked to the crawfish tables, Shane Smith & the Saints took the stage as the warm-up act. Although I was not familiar with their music, I was quickly impressed by their sound. Lead vocalist Shane Smith had a great voice and was accompanied by a classic Texas country sound featuring a fiddle, guitar, drums, and bass. The band recently released their first album, a feat that was over two years in the making. The album, Coast, reflects the relationships and memories made while on the road in the years leading up to the release. They have a great sound and the album is definitely worth checking out.

While I was impressed with Shane Smith & the Saints, Turnpike Troubadours finally took the stage and stole the show like they have done every time I have seen them perform. All hailing from southeastern Oklahoma, the members of Turnpike Troubadours clearly enjoy performing. Lead vocalist Evan Felker truly knows how to take over a stage and engage an audience. He writes almost all of their songs and his passion is clearly evident when he performs. Aside from turning the microphone to the crowd or joking around with other band members on stage, they sounded just like they do in recordings and delivered a great show.

FullSizeRender (1)I chose their most recent album Goodbye Normal Street as my album to analyze for the current class project. My research really allowed me to see their performance in a new light compared to past shows. While songs like “Good Lord Lorrie” and “Gin, Smoke, Lies” have been some of my favorites since they were released in 2012, my research allowed me to listen to them differently this time. For example, I read in an interview with Felker that he writes almost all of his songs about authentic life experiences and real people that have crossed his path. Knowing that Lorrie is a real person with a real story helps explain the passion Felker sings with when performing the song.

Whether at historic Gruene Hall singing on the same stage as many of country music’s biggest names, at Zilker Park for ACL, or in the front yard of a college party, every time I have heard Turnpike Troubadours perform they have delivered the same genuine and authentic performance. They are bonded by their rural roots and sincerely enjoy performing their life experiences to a crowd, regardless of who it might be.

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Filed under Americana, Austin, Live Music, Texas

Hunter Hayes Overshadowed by Authenticty

Hunter Hayesanans may win over seventeen-year-old girls with his undersized shirts and oversized concert experience, but not me. Over the weekend, I headed south on I-35 to the San Antonio Rodeo. Friday night, the PRCA Rodeo was followed by a performance from Hunter Hayes. I knew I was going to write about this experience for my post, I just didn’t know exactly how. Would I compare his performing style to that of Elvis? Would I try to explain why his songs do not strike me as country? Thankfully, I found my answer hours before Hunter Hayes even took the stage in the form of the John Christopher Way Band.

Before the doors to the AT&T Center opened for the main event, I was walking through the fair grounds taking in the atmosphere of fried foods and carnival rides. No offense to anyone from the San Antonio area, but as a Dallas native, I was naturally comparing the scene to the State Fair of Texas in my hometown, and I was somewhat disappointed by the undersized rides and pop-up carnival feel. As I walked past a covered tent, however, the sound of live music in the form of Randy Rogers Bands’ “In My Arms Instead” filled the air and piqued my interest.

Even though I knew Randy Rogers Band was too big of a name to be playing on a small stage under a tent in the fair grounds, the sound was still plenty good enough for me to want to check it out. As I sat at the picnic tables right in front of the stage, I quickly learned that I was listening to a small band named the John Christopher Way Band. While their sound was not the best, as they transitioned from cover songs to their own originals, their performance was as authentic as the couples two-stepping in front of the stage. The traditional steel guitar was accompanied by lyrics that sang of mud, second chances, and a girl that got away.FullSizeRender

After listening for about an hour, it was time to head into the arena for the main event. The actual rodeo was great entertainment full of bucking broncos and comical rodeo clowns, but once Hunter Hayes took the stage, things went downhill. As much as I tried to listen to the actual lyrical performance, the over-powering band and deafening screams of high school girls made the experience far from enjoyable. While sitting there surrounded by my 10,000 closest friends, I found a new clarity for why I love “Texas Country.”

hunterhayesThe entire time Hunter Hayes was on stage, I couldn’t help but wish I were back in that carnival tent listening to The John Christopher Way Band or any other authentic country group. I realized that it wasn’t the incredible vocal skills, the breath taking performance, or the bright lights that attracted me to a performance. While all of these are great, I decided that the authenticity of the artists, lyrics, and venue were what drew me in. Hunter Hayes might sound great on the radio, but for me, I would choose watching couples two-step to the sound of a small country band over watching a big name artist jump on stage from afar to the screams of thousands of people. I used to think it was the sappy lyrics, Hollywood looks, and pop sound of the new country sub-genre that drove me away, and while I still think these are factors, the John Christopher Way Band/Hunter Hayes experience proved to me that it is about the authentic live experience as much as any of these.

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Filed under Country Pop, Live Music, Texas

Tailgates, Beer, Women, and the Bro-Country Takeover

While I love it just as much as the next person when there is “nowhere to go, nowhere to be,” and while I found myself in this situation more times than not over the winter break, I never once chose to roll into town and “ take another lap around.” These lyrics, from Cole Swindell and Florida Georgia Line respectively, seem to summarize the recent level of song writing that has taken over the country music world. Although many country music fans have voiced their negative opinions about this new “bro-country” style, and how originality and creativity has all but slipped away from the genre, do they have any substantial argument for their case? An article that I saw repeatedly posted to my Facebook newsfeed while not having my “bed backed up to the water” over the break might have the answer to this question (Parmalee).

FGLrealI will be the first to admit that I have been known to drive around on a nice day with the windows down listening to the bro-country anthems that sing of this very thing. And while in this post I voice my negative opinions towards this new style of country, I cannot deny that the tunes being put on the radio recently are catchy and easy to sing along to. However, what I can defend, with the help of savingcountrymusic.com, is that when these songs come on the radio, I can never tell who they are. Whether it is Florida Georgia Line, Blake Shelton, or Luke Bryan, they are all singing about warm summer days, hitting on women, and back country roads.

The similarities within this new style do not stop with just the words but continue even further with the music that accompanies the lyrics. A DJ known as Sir Mashalot, and an accompanying article by savingcountrymusic.com, shows the truth behind these comparisons. By combining the top hits of six different artists of today’s bro-country movement, Sir Mashalot was able to show the scary resemblances that exist. You can listen for yourself, but combined together, the six songs flow together almost as well as any other bro-country song.

As I have mentioned before, I believe this new style of country music has its appropriate time and place. However, I worry where the future of country music as a whole is headed. What happened to the country music songs that carried with them real life lessons? What happened to the clever lines that the listener can only help but tip their hat and grin to? I fear that classic, meaningful lines like “Daddies don’t love their children every now and then. It’s a love without end, amen” and “to the world, you may just be another girl, but to me, baby, you are the world” are quickly being replaced with butchery of the English language like “keeping it real like chill like only have a drink or two” and “A little something bumping, thump, thumping on the wheel ride” (Strait, Paisley, Shelton, Florida Georgia Line). I can only hope that creativity and originality can resurface within the country music genre.

Parmalee

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Filed under Bro Country, Uncategorized