Turnpike Troubadours

Roughly 3,300 people live in Okemah, Oklahoma, a town with vintage redbrick storefronts, a dive bar called the Rocky Road Tavern, a name that means “things up high” in Kickapoo, and a strange track record of birthing great American songwriters: Woody Guthrie is from Okemah. Grammy-nominee John Fullbright is, too. Evan Felker belongs on that list.

“I was born in Okemah but was raised in Wright City, a town in southeastern Oklahoma,” Felker says. “Now I live in Okemah again. The characters I write about are living in that world I grew up in––a bucolic, dirt-underneath-your-fingernails sort of world. People where I grew up are tough. It’s nice to be able to represent them in art.”

Felker is the frontman, cofounder, and primary songwriter for Turnpike Troubadours, a virtuosic band of country-rock road dogs who, on any given night of the week, will play for a much bigger crowd than the populations of Okemah and Wright City combined. Singer/guitarist Felker, fiddler Kyle Nix, steel and electric guitarist Ryan Engleman, bassist RC Edwards, drummer Gabe Pearson, and steel and accordion player Hank Early deliver punch after punch of smart rock-and-roll that sells out huge venues throughout the Midwest and South and packs legendary haunts like the Troubadour in Los Angeles.

With their highly anticipated fourth album A Long Way from Your Heart, the sextet is poised for even bigger breakthroughs. Narratives put to music are nothing new, but Felker and his bandmates have upped the ante, creating a web of unforgettable characters that show up on album after album in songs that are both catchy and musically complex: men and women with their backs against their wall, represented realistically but also imbued with dignity. “It feels like going home to see that those characters are still alive in a way that movies and literary writers have always done,” Felker says of the recurring favorites. “It feels good. There they are, all based on people that I know and love. They’re composite characters based on real people.”

A Long Way from Your Heart was produced by Grammy winner Ryan Hewitt (The Avett Brothers, Flogging Molly, Red Hot Chili Peppers). The result is a rare triumph––an album that hooks immediately but then rewards listeners willing to dig deeper. “I love what we as a band have turned into and how we treat songs,” Felker says. “That’s something we’ve grown into––adding some sort of oddly theatrical element to the musicianship to help the story along, to sum up where or who the character is to give him a little bit of landscape. It’s not just an acoustic guitar and a guy telling you what somebody’s doing.”

The band’s impressive musicianship is multifaceted: fun with time signatures via lapses into double or half time; clean, abrupt stops; stealthy fingerpicking; unassailable grooves. Felker’s warm vocals invite both closer listening and dancing––a tricky mix that he exudes naturally. Unconventional mash-ups work for Felker, who shrugs off attempts to label what
he does. “I find art in a lot of places,” he says. “I find things that aren’t considered art in a lot of people’s views of the world artful.”

A Long Way from Your Heart kicks off with a fine example of art in the unexpected. Based on the experience of folks Felker knew back home, “The Housefire” captures the devastation and hope that follows losing just about everything. Cushioned by Irish-inspired strings, the narrator’s gentleness as he loses all he’s built stands tallest. Rolling singalong “Something to Hold On To” begs for one last chance, while the sweetly sad “Old Time Feeling (Like Before)”––which Felker co-wrote with Edwards and friend Jonny Burke––fights falling back into old patterns over a lush chorus of strings led by winsome dobro.
Album standout “Pay No Rent” is an ode to Felker’s aunt Lou, who lived and owned a beloved local bar in Okemah, the Rocky Road Tavern. “She was about the only person I could go drinking with at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday,” Felker says, then laughs. “We got to be really good friends. We’d hang out a lot, fish together, cook together, drink tequila, and build a big-ass fire at her place out on Buckeye Creek. She loved that song ‘Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.’ She said, ‘If I ever die––I hope I never do, but if I do––you gotta play ‘Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain’ at my funeral.’” Lou passed away last year, and when Felker got the news, he called good friend John Fullbright, and the two got to work learning the song. Then, the day before the funeral, the two realized Lou had asked about five other people to sing “Blue Eyes,” too. “So between noon and three in the morning, we wrote ‘Pay No Rent’ for her instead and played that,” Felker explains, laughing again. Based on an old Irish saying, the song is a gorgeous tribute.

Felker’s favorite album track, “Unrung” is a winning amble through warnings, praise, and a tinge of jealousy, all written about a good friend. “A Tornado Warning”––Felker’s other favorite––is a love song brimming with detail. Frenetic story song “The Winding Star Mountain Blues” traces the strained friendship between a stand-up guy and his wayward childhood friend to immortalize a different kind of heartbreak. Electric shuffler “The Hard Way” is a wry send-up of trying to relive youth when it’s a little too late.

Featuring nimble piano and Haggard-worthy jazz guitar licks, album closer “Sunday Morning Paper” is a nugget of hero-worshipping wit. Felker was inspired to write the song by his uncle, Ervin Felker. “He gave me my first guitar. He played in bands and was a Marine–– he’s the guy from ‘Blue Star,’” Felker says, referencing a track from the band’s 2012 release Goodbye Normal Street. Felker took the first line from one of his uncle’s songs then penned the rest to create a celebration of the giants of 70s country-rock––the elder Felker included.

The album’s sharply drawn characters and the range of challenges they face creates a tapestry that’s compelling and ultimately, inspiring. “This whole record is about resilience in the face of tragedy––tragedies of different sizes,” Felker says. “Just getting your nose down and dealing with it.”

Growing up with a single mother in San Benito, Texas, the hometown of Tejano star Freddy Fender, was not easy for blues singer Charley Crockett. Hitchhiking across the country exposed Crockett to the street life at a young age, following in the footsteps of his relative, American folk hero Davy Crockett, who also lived a wild life on the American frontier. After train hopping across the country, singing on the streets for change in New Orleans French Quarter, playing in New York City subway cars and performing across Texas, California, and everywhere in between, Crockett set off to travel the world and lived on the streets of Paris for a year before wandering in Spain, Morocco, and Northern Africa.

The blues artist returned home to Texas and released his debut solo album titled A Stolen Jewel in 2015, receiving critical acclaim in Dallas and ultimately landing him a Dallas Observer Music Award that year for "Best Blues Act". A record "rich with Southern flavor, a musical gumbo of Delta blues, honky-tonk, gospel and Cajun jazz," Jewel proved that Crockett, born into poverty in the Rio Grande, had come home to make his musical mark on the South. Crockett, who is described as elusive, rebellious and self-taught, has been compared to legends like Bill Withers, Hank Williams, and Gary Clark Jr.

He released his sophomore record In The Night, an admirable nod to his Texas country and Louisiana blues roots, in 2016 and played over 125 shows that year. “In the Night” and Crockett’s song “I Am Not Afraid” received international recognition by NPR Music as one of the "Top 10 Songs Public Radio Can't Stop Playing" and selected by David Dye to be featured on World Cafe in late July. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram called it "an impressive calling card, full of Crockett's plaintive soulfulness and swinging tempos" and others noted the artist as having "the well-rounded songwriting capabilities of Van Morrison and a vocal approach that finds common ground between Bill Withers and early Dr. John." Crockett graced the cover of Buddy Magazine in May 2016, who called him "the archetype of the new American vagabond."

In 2017, he spent the year building a devoted fan base across the country with his much talked about live show while selling out theaters in his native Texas and across the US. He remained on the road most of the year appearing at major festivals and venues.

In all this, he still found time to get back to Austin, Texas to record a collection of his favorite honky tonk songs called Charley Crockett presents Lil G.L.'s Honky Tonk Jubilee . The album features songs originally performed by Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, Loretta Lynn, Tanya Tucker, Roy Acuff, Webb Pierce, and other great heroes of honky tonk. "Playing on the streets of New Orleans I heard traditional music all day long. Young folks were playing it everywhere. Old Time, Jug bands, Brass bands, Spirituals, drinkin ' songs, you name it. All you have to do to learn these songs is stand out in the street all day, but mind the whiskey” Crockett said. “I love this music. It’s the blues and it feels good to sing. A lot of folks are drawn to this sound even if they don't know why. It's the American struggle. It's got the kind of soul that's hard to find nowadays and all I know is you gotta get a lot of mud on you before you can make folks believe you when you sing these songs. There just ain't no fakin' it. I've lived these songs. I want to walk alongside and pay my respects to the artists and songwriters who went through so much to give us this music."


Now in 2018, Crockett releases Lonesome As A Shadow, an album of all original material recorded in Memphis at the legendary Sam Phillip's Recording Service with Producer/Engineer Matt Ross-Spang. Backed by his band of Blue Drifters, this album was recorded live to tape in the middle of a long year of touring. It's a musical gumbo of influences that showcases the various depths of Crockett's sound.

Charley wrote about the album "The idea of making an album in Memphis has been with me a long time so when I got a chance to record at Sam Phillips with Matt Ross-Spang I jumped on it. Memphis has a habit of getting good, soulful music out of folks time and again and Matt came up in that tradition so it was just natural from the jump. I’ve said it before but my influences stretch from Hank Williams to Bill Withers and my first couple a records were really a mix of the sounds that make up Texas & Louisiana music for me. Blues, Country, Soul, Cajun, Tejano and Zydeco. I wanted to keep all that together. Something with that Gulf Coast sound that’s both urban and rural. Turns out, Sam Phillips was just the place to make it happen. Besides, all those amazing Sun and Stax artists were country folks cutting records in the city anyway so it was just natural for me. We were gonna hire a studio band for the session but Matt watched a few videos of my road band “The Blue Drifters” and decided I should bring them with me. Those boys are all so dang good in the studio and on the stage and since we were already really tight, cutting the record was easy and we did it live to tape in 4 days with a handful of overdubs. I feel lucky to be playing with such fine musicians."

"Lonesome As A Shadow is really important for me. I’d been in the shadows and playing out on the streets for years. That kind of living gave people the impression that I was rough around the edges. Just a gentleman Hobo. I learned a million songs standing out in the street but I’ve also written a million too. This record is me laying all that out there. I’ve got more songs than years in this life to cut ‘em all so I’ve got to get busy! It’s a Texas & Louisiana record through and through but it’s a Memphis Soul record too and I really like that."

He's set to tour the US and internationally this year. He's shared the stage with Turnpike Troubadours, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, John Paul White, Justin Townes Earl, Lee Ann Womack, JD McPherson, and many others.

$25.00 - $30.00

Tickets

Upcoming Events
Old National Centre