Bruce Robison has been making music professionally for decades. He still discusses his craft with so much enthusiasm he sounds almost like a kid raving about superheroes. That infectious energy is evident in every note of his new album, Bruce Robison & the Back Porch Band, as well as his new project, The Next Waltz, a blossoming community of artists, fans and friends gathering both virtually and at his recording studio in Lockhart, just outside of Austin.

In both cases, the point is to celebrate country music’s rich traditions while giving creativity free rein to go where it might, as long as it’s somewhere worth traveling. It’s also about celebrating Robison’s “love of the craft of song.”

“Writing is where it all starts for me,” he explains. “Whether it’s my writing, or songs I want to do with somebody else. I love the mechanics of it; how simple it can be.”

Keeping it simple — and organic — was the guiding principle behind the latest album, a collection of Robison originals, co-writes and covers that capture country’s most beloved stylistic elements: good-time, lighthearted romps (“Rock and Roll Honky Tonk Ramblin’ Man”; “Paid My Dues”) and wistful, sometimes bittersweet ballads (“Long Time Coming”; “Still Doin’ Time”). But even the Who’s “Squeezebox” — which Robison calls “a great country song by some English dudes” — shows up, in a lively version dressed with cajun fiddle by Warren Hood and acoustic guitar and harmonies by Robison’s wife, Kelly Willis.

Hood is one of a hand-picked crew of regulars tapped for Next Waltz recording sessions with Jerry Jeff Walker, Randy Rogers, Jack Ingram, Rodney Crowell, Willis, Hayes Carll, Turnpike Troubadours, Sunny Sweeney, Reckless Kelly and others. They’ve re-imagined favorites, reinvigorated covers and even crafted new works, which Robison shares with audiences on the Next Waltz website and other platforms. Meanwhile, he’s cultivating a house band he hopes might one day be as revered as Stax Records’ Booker T. & the M.G.’s or Muscle Shoals’ Swampers. The Back Porch Band does it old-school, all analog, cutting songs together in one paneled room where “happy accidents and all kinds of things that just feel real,” including sound bleed, are allowed to occur.

Hard-working, creative, and possessed of admirable humility and good humor, John Baumann likely would have seen success in whatever field he chose to ply his talents. Fortunately for listeners who love country music graced with a literary eye for detail and poetic charm, he made the bold choice to try his hand at singing and songwriting.

A San Antonio native who has also called Amarillo, Lubbock, Fort Worth, and now Austin his home at some point or another in his young life, Baumann tinkered with the mechanics of songwriting in between college and day jobs for several years before making the leap of faith to record a debut EP West Texas Vernacular in 2012. Released with little fanfare, it still emboldened him to piece together a band and hit whatever stages would give him the chance. The personable young musician honed his craft on the way up, making connections within the business (not to mention with thousands of fans) en route to releasing his full-length 2014 album High Plains Alchemy and landing coveted opening slots at some of the state’s most revered venues. At Gruene Hall, Floore’s Country Store, and the Nutty Brown Amphitheater, among many others, he has shared the stage with red-hot headliners like the Turnpike Troubadours and the Randy Rogers Band.

As Baumann’s music came into its own – a follow-up 2015 EP, Departures, garnered him some radio play for new signature songs like “Bay City Blues” and “Vices” – a clearer picture of what he is going for has emerged. Like his heroes including Texas songwriters Robert Earl Keen, James McMurtry, and Adam Carroll, he has cultivated a gift for near-journalistic lyrical detail, leavened with humor and spiked with heartache. His songwriting talents have garnered co-writes with artists including Pat Green, Cory Morrow and Wade Bowen that he was once content to just enjoy on a fan level: not insignificantly, Morrow included three co-writes with Baumann on his recent album The Good Fight. Even the country music mainstream took notice: Baumann’s poetic “Gulf Moon” was on hold for a platinum-selling country artist for several years before a last-minute change of direction handed him a rare disappointment in a still-new career that has otherwise been steadily on the rise.

Still, 2016 was overall a solid year, including a run of shows opening for Texas music’s ultimate hero Willie Nelson and laying the groundwork for what should be a much-anticipated 2017 full-length album. With his growing crowd of fans, peers, and even a few musical forefathers rooting for him, John Baumann has become one of the newest worthy links in the long chain of ambitious, progressive, and relatable artists that plays the singer-songwriter-performer game by their own rules.

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