Hold My Beer and Watch This
Randy Rogers, Wade Bowen
14492 Old Bandera Rd.
Helotes, TX, 78023
Doors 7:00 PM / Show 9:00 PM
This event is all ages
When the Randy Rogers Band’s last project debuted as the most-downloaded country album on iTunes, plenty of the industry “insiders” on Music Row were left scratching their heads: Who are these guys?
The Nashville elite may not have known about the five-piece band, but much of America already did. Rolling Stone magazine ranked them alongside such artists as U2 and the Stones in its list of Top 10 Must-See Artists in the summer of 2007. They earned $2.5 million—a staggering total for a still-developing act—on the tour circuit in a single year. Willie Nelson, the Eagles, Gary Allan and Dierks Bentley all picked them as opening acts for their concerts. And more than 2,200 people showed up and bought the bands album at an appearance at Wherehouse Music.
The fans’ exuberance was shared by USA Today, which praised the band for having “loads of grit, swagger and heart.”
The Randy Rogers Band built its audience by combining forces: It’s a dynamic live act centered around songs that fit the rowdy, party vibe of the concert circuit, but their songs also say something.
That’s particularly true in the new album, The Randy Rogers Band, in which a dozen persuasive tracks give the listener plenty of reasons to want to down a celebratory brewski. But the songs also maintain a depth that makes them powerful and provocative even beyond their edgy arrangements and tough-guy sound.
Invariably, the songs are about people making choices and dealing with the consequences they bring. That’s the case in the opening “Wicked Ways,” in which a string of wild endeavors leaves an out-of-control adult in need of redemption. It’s true in “When The Circus Leaves Town,” where a performer comes to terms with the emotional crash that accompanies the conclusion of a pumped-up show. It’s even a tenet in “One Woman,” a ballad that finds a former playboy recognizing his old choices and behaviors were a shallow pursuit next to the promise and solidity that stand before him.
“These songs are definitely true, and they’re relatable to many different life situations that I’ve either gone through in the past or will go through in the future,” Rogers, the lead singer and primary songwriter, says. “I just tried to create believable characters and relatable characters. I hear from fans that we really have helped them in real-life situations when they’ve applied the songs to their everyday life. That’s what I strive for in the songs that I write.”
“We’re not old, but we are getting a little bit more mature,” bass player Jon Richardson asserts, drawing laughter from the rest of the band. “We’re trying to be more mature, anyway. And that’s something that we can write about a little more naturally now instead of ‘Here’s a song about how much fun I had’ or ‘Here’s a song about a girl.’ That’s probably just a natural progression of our own lives being reflected in our songs.”
Indeed, the Randy Rogers Band is confronting the same questions about relationships and identity that face many of the college students and young adults that form the centerpiece of the group’s audience. The balancing act between work, home and recreation is a difficult one—even tougher for an ensemble that spends more than 200 days annually on the road.
“All the guys, except for Jon, are married or soon to be married,” guitarist Geoffrey Hill observes. “Les [drummer] and I both have kids. So sometimes it feels like you’ve really gotta struggle to fit all that into your life, I guess, but it’s kinda part of the game. I always said that I play music for free, and I get paid to leave the family behind and go on the road.”
That requires a constant rededication to the group, a commitment the five members have repeatedly made since the current lineup coalesced in 2003.
In the fall of 2010, thirteen years to the day after launching his career at Stubb's Barbecue in Lubbock, Texas, Wade Bowen started recording this self-titled album, his first for a major country label. Those years had seen Bowen rise from collegiate greenhorn to the top of the Texas music and Red Dirt circuit. His colleagues and friends the Randy Rogers Band, Pat Green, Jack Ingram, Eli Young Band, Cross Canadian Ragweed and others had already made the major label leap, helping to take a vibrant regional sound to the rest of America. Now it's Wade Bowen's turn to bring some Red Dirt and independent spirit to country music at large.
This isn't a debut, more like a fresh start on a bigger stage. Working with Justin Niebank, a master mixing engineer and Vince Gill's producer of recent years, Bowen cut new versions of four of his most popular songs along with seven new tunes that reflect his evolving vision as a songwriter. Longtime fans (and there are quite a few of them) will hear the Bowen they've known and the next steps on his journey. They'll get better acquainted with the ballad singer who doesn't often get a chance to show himself in honky tonks. Newcomers will hear a head-turning country artist with range, road-tested hits and one of the best male voices in the business.
That voice truly jumps out of these 11 tracks. Wade's baritone is dense and concentrated, with traces of whisky and smoke and an autumnal warmth. Bowen takes command of his songs, cutting over the top of Niebank's sculpted guitar-scapes. The sound is one hundred percent country, rife with pedal steel and vivid emotion, but it's also music could easily find a home with fans of Bowen's non-country idols - folks like Bruce Springsteen and Jackson Browne. Take a few passes through this project and you'll hearing a singer's singer and a focused songwriter who's adding layers to his music all the time.
"All this work and the care we've taken with this album just falls in the category of trying to get better," says Bowen. "When it comes to my intent as a musician, I've not changed anything since day one. I've only tried to mature and tried to get better, and I think this record is representative of that." On a live circuit where the overwhelming mandate is to stir up a party, Bowen has aimed to leave folks with a memory. As a writer, even one from a state with some tall literary traditions, he's not trying to earn a PhD in poetry; he's trying to communicate. "My style," he says, "is more to try to evoke an emotion. I'm more about trying to leave a mark on people."
Growing up in Waco, Bowen's exposure to the music of Texas was limited to whatever made it on FM country radio. George Strait was king. Guy Clark was a name he'd not have recognized before getting to college. There, in Lubbock, he discovered the iceberg below the surface, starting with Robert Earl Keen. "He was a big changing point in my life," says Wade. "I realized by listening to him that there was way more out there than I ever knew. So I started getting into Guy Clark and other great Texas music. But I was obsessed with Robert Earl. When we started the band we were sort of a Robert Earl cover band."
That band was called West 84, and they found that with their large posse of friends who'd always show up for a good time, it was easy to land gigs. Bowen meanwhile began to channel a life-long love of writing into songs, and when college ended he made two major decisions. He took on the role of solo artist under his own name, and he moved to Austin. By then, about 2001, fellow Waco native Pat Green had busted out to national prominence and the Texas music phenomenon was the buzz of Nashville. It was part of Wade Bowen's inspiration to charge ahead.
Try Not To Listen is the album Wade regards as his true debut, the project that kicked off a life and living made of 200-plus nights a year on the road and patient grassroots fan development. Then with Lost Hotel in 2006, things really began to click. The opening track "God Bless This Town" reached No. 1 on the bellwether Texas Music Chart, and over the next six years, he released six more chart-toppers and three additional top fives. He achieved another landmark when he was invited to add his name to the roster of great artists who've made a Live At Billy Bob's CD/DVD combo at the iconic club in Fort Worth. With a decade that good, it was inevitable that Music Row would become interested.
The origins of Bowen's new record deal can be traced to his music publisher, Sea Gayle Music. It's where Brad Paisley, Radney Foster, Jerrod Niemann, Chris Stapleton and other do their songwriting, and in 2010, it was the first indie company to be named ASCAP Country Publisher of the Year since 1982. Sea Gayle has a track record of investing in artists and helping them reach their potential, and that's how they've worked with Bowen, ultimately backing this album and introducing its independently made sound to Sony Music. Step one in that process was to find a producer who could preserve Wade's vision yet find the sweet spot that would help his music have its best chance at country radio. "Of all the producers we talked to, Justin Niebank was the only one who said 'I need to come down and see you live,'" says Bowen. "Well after 13 years of doing this I'd hope someone would want to see what we do, why we have fans. He totally got it and based the whole sound of this record around that."
That live immediacy certainly throbs on "Saturday Night," which tracks the internal monologue of a lonesome hombre sitting on his stool, nursing his drink and thinking about "that sad goodbye." As the album's first single, its chiming descending guitar riff will be the first thing many audiences will hear from Wade, his calling card. Also likely to grab listeners early is "Patch Of Bad Weather," a brisk, rocking take-down of a treacherous lover. It paints dramatic pictures of a stormy Texas landscape and it kicks like a gun.
Bowen has also taken advantage of his recent songwriting sessions and the comfortable studio environment fostered by Niebank to develop his love of ballad singing and the emotional side of country music. "All That's Left" brings strings into the mix, and it works. Bowen sounds at home. In "Say Anything," a guy can't think of a thing to say to a girl he's just met except gush on about the one he let get away, so he shuts up and listens. Its chorus will surely make some leading male country singers wish they'd been given a shot at the song. "I love those songs like that. Sad ballads," says Bowen with an apologetic shrug. "That's where my passion is. 'Say Anything' is one of my favorite tracks on the record."
Bowen was extremely pleased that the offer of a deal from Sony's BNA Records included an invitation to re-work his best material. "It was a huge opportunity to make these four songs a little better," he says. "We've played them lives for a long time, and we learned from that. We changed some tempos and tried to animate them a little bit. We created more dynamics and more signature hooks. That's stuff Justin has taught me as a producer."
Among these, "God Bless This Town" is probably the closest Bowen has so far to a greatest hit. A Texas No. 1 in 2006 and a popular music video with tons of CMT and GAC play, it's got stories layered in its stories and its characters feel familiar and alive. The narrator is torn between cynicism and attachment, and the song is all the more affecting because of it. The new version has a clean, coiled energy that ought to propel it into the hearts of a new wave of fans. Also re-worked is the smoldering "Trouble" and a breezy song written by Paul Thorn called "Mood Ring" that uses a dime-store novelty as a device to get the narrator to reveal his conflicted feelings.
Now one last note, because Bowen knows it's going to be interesting to roll out a "Nashville" album to his fans. A contingent of them have preemptively made it known that they live in mortal fear of Bowen being eaten by the Music Row machine. Yes, Wade did record this project in Nashville, with Nashville session players. But study those previous albums, and you'll see that's exactly where and how he's made them all. Bowen's been making regular writing trips for years as well, working with an expanding circle of masters and taking advantage of the town's expertise and experience. Wade will tell anyone who has a low opinion of Music City that for him, it's the home of Guy Clark and Todd Snider and Rodney Crowell, of the greatest guitarists on Earth, the finest studios and producers.
And of course Nashville was the origin of those radio dreams instilled when Wade was growing up in Texas and hearing country legends on his FM radio. The calling he felt was toward authentic music that reaches people, and that's not unique to Austin, Lubbock, Waco or Nashville for that matter. It lives in the heart and the work of the artist, and those who've believed in Wade Bowen all along will find in this album and the many albums and tours to follow, plenty more reasons to keep the faith.