Randy Rogers Band, Turnpike Troubadours

Randy Rogers Band

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 outof-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. The Randy Rogers Band's status as a group has occasionally confused its audience, which sometimes assumes Rogers is simply a solo artist. It's the same issue that acts such as Huey Lewis & The News and Edwin McCain have battled, though one that doesn't concern RRB all that much.
"I don't think it's an issue at all," fiddler Brady Black asserts. "I think when we got together, Randy had already had a band, and his name had been out a little bit, and so we just kind of went with it."
"That," Black smirks, "and he owned the van…"
Actually, the name came rather innocently. Rogers had developed a following, he played open mic nights, impressing club owner Kent Finlay enough to offer Rogers his own regular night, as long as he found a band to back him. That group might have taken his name, but Rogers—who'd had previous experiences as a guitar player in another band—had no interest in being just a one-man show. "I always wanted everybody to be equal, not only financially but also input-wise and creatively," he says. "When we started the band, I pledged to them that I would work every day as hard as I could and try to get us down the highway a little further if they would sign up with me and share in some of those sacrifices, and I think from that day on, everybody pretty much quit their alternative jobs, and kinda gave 110 percent to the band."
The Randy Rogers Band took the same slot that George Strait and the Ace In The Hole band had once occupied at Cheatham Street, appropriate since the band used the same sort of inner motivation in building its sound as Strait did a generation ago.
Their music is hardly the same. In contrast to Strait's pure-country aesthetics, RRB combines that traditional country sound with a rollicking, swagger influenced by rugged sounds from such diverse sources as Waylon Jennings and Stone Temple Pilots. But, as Finlay recognized, there's an authenticity and honesty to the band that parallels Strait's personal manifesto.
"In a way, George was a little bit out of the box for Nashville when he debuted," Rogers notes, "I think George Strait, when he first hit town, he knew who he was, and I think that's partly why he has been so successful throughout his career. If there's a correlation between the two of us, I think that we definitely have a sound and we know who we are."
The Randy Rogers Band further distinguishes that identity in its self-titled album, the band's second release since signing with Mercury Nashville. Produced by longtime admirer Radney Foster, who's successfully maintained alt country integrity while writing mainstream hits for the likes of Sara Evans and Keith Urban, sessions for The Randy Rogers Band took place at Dockside Studios, a bayou location in Maurice, Louisiana, that's also been the breeding ground for projects by B.B. King, Mavis Staples, Keb' Mo', Levon Helm and Mark Knopfler.
"We shut ourselves up for 10 days and had a band-camp set up," Richardson observes. "There weren't any distractions. It wasn't like we were all goin' home every night and comin' back the next day. We were just living and breathing it for 10 days or so. We were just completely absorbed by it." The consequences of that choice are just as absorbing for the listener. The album ranges from the hypnotic country of "Buy Myself A Chance" and the first single, "In My Arms Instead," to the propulsive buzz of "Never Be That High" to the painful conclusion, "This Is Goodbye."
Rogers' various performances reflect the wide-ranging influences that snapped together in the process, evoking at times the sneer of Steve Earle, the soul of Bakersfield's Monty Byrom (formerly of Big House) and the vulnerability of Keith Urban. With its infectious hooks and daring attitude, the album underscores the iTunes popularity of the Randy Rogers Band, its critical appeal and its significance on the nation's concert circuit, where they've broken attendance records at numerous clubs across the heartland. Even Kenny Chesney, who consistently places among the top-selling tours, saw the group's blue-collar connection when he covered Rogers' "Somebody Take Me Home" for the album The Road And The Radio.
Each of the five members recognizes his contribution to the Randy Rogers Band's overall unity, and they repeatedly make choices—creatively and personally—that keep that all-for-one-and-one-for-all solidarity intact.


Turnpike Troubadours

Times are tough for just about everyone these days, especially for those who live in what is often referred to as the "flyover states," in the heart of the country. People have become tougher, their skins have grown thicker and they have become much harder to win over. That especially holds true when it comes to the music that rolls into the bars, music halls and honky tonks of their towns. The overwhelming success that Turnpike Troubadours have had on the so-called Red Dirt circuit of those states says a lot about the quintet's authenticity and fire, particularly because their music is not exactly what that scene in known for producing.
"When we first started playing, people couldn't have cared less that we were there," recalls Troubadours' frontman Evan Felker. "They were there to drink beer and raise hell and they didn't really care what music was playing while they did it. But as we went on and as we got better, they started to listen. I mean, they were still drinkin' plenty of beer, but before too long, they were actually coming to hear us and asking us to play our songs, and not just covers of traditional favorites and all the other stuff we'd been doing."
Not only did the crowds get more attentive, they kept getting bigger. As time went on, and the Troubadours broadened their touring circle, they moved on from tiny clubs in the more obscure corners of the Sooner state and started hitting – and selling out – prestigious venues like Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa, the Firehouse Saloon in Houston and Antone's in Austin.
Over the course of the past five years, Felker, bassist RC Edwards, fiddle player Kyle Nix, guitarist Ryan Engleman and drummer Gabe Pearson, have honed the rowdy, quick-witted sound that's brought folks of all stripes together in front of those stages. And on Goodbye Normal Street, the Troubadours' third full-length album, the band takes that blend of nice and easy and nice and rough and distills it into a 43-minute ride that takes in the scenery of America's Heartland and the inner workings of a group of 20-somethings on a quest for something better.
"This time around, we tried to balance things out," says bassist Edwards, who shelved a steady gig as a pharmacist in late 2011 to concentrate on the band. "We wanted to combine the idea of getting something perfect, the way you can only do in a proper studio, with the energy of playing in front of a thousand people jumping around and screaming."
They attack that goal with gusto on Goodbye Normal Street, putting the pedal to the metal on "Before the Devil Knows We're Dead" (a breakneck romp about regular folks who lived hard and died in a blaze of glory) and dialing back to a sensual closing-time waltz on "Call a Spade a Spade" (a cheater's lament on which Felker duets with Jamie Wilson of the Trishas).
Felker, who writes the majority of the lyrics – with an assist from Edwards, who penned the semi-autobiographical "Morgan Street," about the band's hardscrabble early days – has a knack for capturing slices of life in vivid detail. He can hit hard emotionally with a song like "Blue Star" (a bittersweet tale of a veteran returning from war) or tweak the listener with something like "Gin, Smoke and Lies" (on which he contrasts his own romantic plight with that of a rooster who manages to satisfy 20 partners, and not just one).
"All the songs are about people we know," he says. "And yeah, some of them are probably about me to some degree – the guy who ticks off the wrong girl from Arkansas, and the guy who doesn't always like what he sees himself becoming. Mostly though, I think they're just honest."
The band – which took its name from the Indian Nation Turnpike that connected so many of the smaller towns where they cut their teeth – gradually evolved from offering acoustic explorations of tunes by Townes Van Zandt and Jerry Jeff Walker to kicking out three or four sets a night of full-throttle roadhouse country – tinged with the punk rock attitude that was in the air during the members' teen years.
"We all pretty much grew up with hardcore country music around us," says Felker. "I mean, sure, there was rock stuff in there, but the real old-school stuff, plus exposure to folks like Jason Boland and Cross Canadian Ragweed, really affected what we were playing. We're really a product of both our influences and our environment. It wasn't something that we sat in a room and dreamed up in one day."
That's clear. The raw-boned energy of their 2007 debut, Bossier City, cut on a shoestring budget and aimed squarely at getting boots on the dance floor earned raves from many corners, including No Depression, which dubbed it "a testament to the small towns in which they were raised ... with stories of longing, humor, tragedy and general life in rural America." The quintet broadened its horizons on its sophomore outing, Diamonds and Gasoline, which spawned the Americana favorite "Every Girl" and brought them to the attention of folks throughout the country, and overseas.
And with Goodbye Normal Street – the name a reference to another longtime band residence as well as a state of mind that they left behind long ago – they set their sights on conquering even more expansive territories. With songs like the blue-collar anthem "Southeastern Son" and the universally understandable breakup plaint "Wrecked," they look pretty likely to conquer them.
"This music, at its best, can put into words what we have been thinking for our entire lives," says Felker, "and even at its worst, it gets people drinking beer and makes people happy. Either of those is fine with me."

The Cadillac Three

While The Cadillac Three might be a brand new band – a little over a year old as of this writing – native Nashvillians Jaren Johnston, Neil Mason and Kelby Ray have been friends and musical co-conspirators for as long as anyone can remember. They've weathered their wild teenage years and even wilder tours, weathered major label letdowns and major league triumphs, conquered Music Row – Johnston co-wrote Keith Urban's #1 single "You Gonna Fly" – and crashed on the couches of strangers in far flung cities. These boys have seen more ups and downs than a Smoky Mountain tour guide.

Jaida Dreyer

Jaida Dreyer didn't grow up intending to become a country music artist, but to hear the story of her crooked road to Nashville, it's clear she was meant to be here all along. Her unmistakable voice, bubbly personality, and eclectic, insightful songwriting scored her a publishing deal with Grammy Award-winning producer Byron Gallimore (Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Sugarland) at the precocious age of 19; this February, Gallimore announced the creation of his own label, Streamsound Records, and threw his full support behind Dreyer's career. "I'm proud for her to be our flagship artist," says Gallimore. "She's the real deal. I couldn't feel stronger about anybody." Building on the success of Dreyer's spunky, self-reliant debut, "Guy's Girl," her second single, "Confessions," goes to radio this month.

Dreyer was born in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and raised in Latimer, Iowa, where the population sign still reads 303. "We didn't have a stoplight, we had one stop sign," she says. "Literally." Her dad worked the family grain elevator, and her mom was a horse trainer; naturally, young Jaida gravitated towards the latter. She was a "horse-crazy" little girl who grew up showing competitively and won her first of many world championships at 5, getting an early education in the sort of work ethic required to reach success. And although her family wasn't musical, per se, music was always a part of Dreyer's life. "Early as I can remember," she says, "from church to school honor choirs to singing along with the radio at three in the morning trying to stay awake on long-haul drives cross-country to horse shows, it was always just there."

She credits her eclectic taste in music to her mother, who introduced her to classic artists like Kitty Wells and Hank Williams, Sr., as well as then-current hitmakers like Tanya Tucker, Keith Whitley, and Patty Loveless. As a pre-teen, Dreyer also found herself drawn to a variety of singer-songwriters like Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard, Lyle Lovett, and Steve Earle. For her twelfth birthday, Dreyer's parents gave her a guitar. "It was the last birthday present they bought me together," she remembers. "I messed around on it a little bit. But my parents got divorced, and I grew to hate that guitar." The divorce also led to Dreyer putting on her "gypsy boots," as she calls them, as she and her mother set out across the country, moving wherever their equine work took them.

Before she turned 18, Dreyer had lived in seven states, including Iowa, Florida, Wisconsin, and Tennessee, with the bulk of her time spent between Texas and Georgia. During those gypsy years, Dreyer says, music remained a constant, and when she hit California, 14 year old Jaida finally found a reason to pick up her abandoned guitar: She and her mother were between jobs and briefly living out of their car when they were taken in by a rock band. "The lead singer taught me my first few chords on the guitar: C, D, and G," Dreyer says. "That's when I officially learned to play." She'd also been keeping a journal on the road, writing stories and poems about the "vast array of dysfunctional characters" she and her mother met on their journey. As she grew more comfortable on the guitar, Dreyer began crafting melodies, and upon settling in southern Georgia, she decided it was time to try the songwriting thing for real. A local singer-songwriter friend helped Dreyer record her first song, a one-take guitar vocal they recorded together.

No matter how crooked the road, fate has a funny way of pointing us in the direction we're supposed to go: Just as Dreyer began to take her music seriously, her career as a horse-show champion came to an end. At 17, at the top of her game, she was forced to retire by an injury that would only worsen by further submitting her body to the wear and tear involved in training horses. It was the biggest risk of her life. "The only other thing I knew how to do was write songs," Dreyer says. "I looked back at all the songs I had written on the road, and I didn't know if they were any good, or if anybody wanted to hear what I had to say. But I wasn't scared of moving, obviously. I decided to make a couple trips to Nashville and just check it out." Shortly thereafter, Dreyer's mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, which resulted in her decision to leave their horse-breeding business in Georgia. The two moved to Music City. Dreyer was 18.

"I originally had no aspirations to be an artist," says Dreyer. "Not because I didn't want to be, I was just a realist. I knew that I didn't sound like the female country singers I was hearing on the radio at the time, and I just figured my place was as a songwriter. I was okay with that. Little did I know that someday people would actually like my voice for the exact reasons that I thought they wouldn't." In fact, it was the worktape she'd recorded back in Georgia that caught the attention of renowned songwriter Robin Lee Bruce, who found it on Dreyer's Myspace page. "She reached out and said she'd never heard anything like me before, and she wanted to help me plug into the scene," Dreyer says. "She introduced me to the songwriting community, who embraced me and welcomed me with open arms. The next thing you know, people were offering me publishing deals." She laughs. "At that point I was so naive I didn't even know you could get paid to write songs full time. I was nannying for a family with five kids, and I was like, 'You can get paid to do that? Sweet!'"

Her first live performance in Nashville was at a Tin Pan South round; she soon moved on to rounds at clubs like the Bluebird and Douglas Corner. For a while, she played down on Broadway, and learned the ever-important skills it takes to impress drunken strangers. Most of all, though, Dreyer wrote. "I would write up to three times a day sometimes, with anybody and everybody that would write with me," she says. "I was trying to learn different tools and put them in my toolbox. Making it up as I went along. I had no formal vocal training. I had no idea what I was doing." Well, she knew one thing: When asked which Nashville producer she'd want to work with, she said Byron Gallimore. "I remember thinking there's no way in hell I'll get to him," Dreyer says. But about a year after moving to Nashville, she got a call from the general manager of Gallimore's then-publishing company. Dreyer had been writing with his wife, and he'd passed along some of their worktapes to Gallimore, who liked what he heard, and set up a meeting. "From the moment I shook Byron's hand and looked him in the eye, I knew I was home," Dreyer says.

Gallimore was equally impressed. "Her voice is unique," he says, "and her songs were just way better than the average bear. She is possibly the most talented female writer in Nashville who's also an artist. I'd put her up with anybody to write. She's young, but she's lived these songs." For her debut album, due later this year, Dreyer and Gallimore have worked hard at honing the honest, authentic sound already apparent on "Guy's Girl," and while Dreyer admits that her lyrics can sometimes be edgy, her songs are firmly rooted in the traditional, whether she's writing with Guy Clark or Kings of Leon producer Angelo Petraglia. Most impressively, she has written or co-written every song on her upcoming record. "I've always found solace in music, whether creating it myself or by being a member in the audience," Dreyer says. "I want people to experience a variety of emotions through the rollercoaster of songs on my record, to immerse themselves in the feelings each song evokes. To find comfort."

Suddenly, the woman who never intended to be an artist is on the verge of breaking into the spotlight in a big way. She's coming to terms with it. "Every little girl wants to be a movie star or a rock star, stuff like that," Dreyer says, "but coming from where I did, it was never tangible. And now that it's all happening, I guess I just proved myself wrong." Naturally, this means more traveling; luckily, Dreyer's a pro. She's already toured with Eric Church and Luke Bryan, and opened for Dierks Bentley in arenas on his Jägermeister tour, taking a title loan out on the truck her late grandfather left her in order to pay her band. "It was really important to me if I was going to do this that I could be the whole package," Dreyer says. "I wanted to be out in front of the fans."

That commitment to doing whatever it takes for the sake of her craft is just another way that Dreyer's work ethic – the one she developed on the back of a horse at 5 years old – has prepared her for this moment. "Growing up on the road, I learned that life isn't a fairy tale," Dreyer says. "It gave me a lot to write about, and a story that most 17 year old girls don't have. I think some people could use the hand that they've been dealt and be bitter and jaded, but I haven't done that.

"I look at it as a blessing," she concludes. "My crooked road has given me a career."

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Whitewater Amphitheater


Randy Rogers Band, Turnpike Troubadours with The Cadillac Three, Jaida Dreyer

Sunday, September 1 · Doors 7:15 PM / Show 7:30 PM at Whitewater Amphitheater

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