When I first moved to Texas in 2004, I arrived with the hope that I would be welcomed into a tightly knitted community of like-minded artists, the idea of which I had admired for quite some time from afar. It was the inspiration for, and the premise behind, my self-imposed uprooting.
Mutual support would abound, and kinship would light my way.
Thanks to people like Peter Dawson, that was true. He was (and continues to be) a great friend to me when I first arrived in New Braunfels. If he had a show on the books, I could open it. If I needed a band to back me up, he talked his talented group of guys into playing with me, often times pulling double duty if we were on the same bill.
To a wider extent, the kinship I sought was somewhat of a blue heron. Sure, at one point the fabled Compound existed behind River Road Ice House, but I was a little late to that party, and most of the guys who were a part of that nightly ritual of campfire-and-song had successfully moved on to other things.
At first, I was a little hurt by the notion that, with the exception of Peter, it seemed like it was every man for himself… at least from my outsider point of view.
In retrospect, having one loyal ally was all I could have ever asked for. In many ways, it was all I needed to get things off the ground. A younger me labored with a bit of a chip on his shoulder because of the absence of this widespread kinship, the fable of which had drawn me some 1,600 miles from my hometown. I know now that my chipped shoulder was the embodiment of immaturity in its purest form, and I’m glad that none of my resulting “forget these guys, I don’t need them” bravado didn’t do any long-lasting harm to my ability to work within the amazing structure of artistic freedom and monetary potential that fans and musicians alike had created long before I arrived in this wonderful state.
It took me a good seven years to realize it, but I’m proud to say that the aforementioned fable of kinship ended up to be no kind of fable at all. It’s real.
Two weeks ago I played a few shows with some of my closest musical friends– friends who, because of shared artistic struggles, and likewise, shared artistic appreciation, have become the closest thing to family for me that the absence of a shared bloodline can allow. I’m humbled to think that I am accepted among such a group of astoundingly talented people.
And they’re not just talented. They’re going places.
Josh Grider‘s name is now officially secured among the list of legends and workhorses alike who have recorded a set as a part of the Live At Billy Bob’s brand of releases. I was honored when he asked me to sing on a song that we wrote together at the show, and that honor strikes deeper still as the resulting album has now seen the light of day. He deserves the recognition that this will bring him to the fullest extent.
Jason Eady is a few months away from releasing his stellar AM Country Heaven, which I fully expect will land him the widespread acclaim that a person with his talent deserves. He’s quiet, introspective, and sharply intelligent in person. The latter two qualities remain the focal points of his music, but he’s anything but quiet on stage. His voice is one that is impossible to ignore.
Jamie Wilson and Kelley Mickwee, one half of The Trishas, are as talented as they come– writers and songbirds both. With an album in the can and its release on the not-too-distant horizon, it’ll be a point of immense pride and pleasure to show my grandchildren pictures of me on stage with them in our younger days.
Walt Wilkins, who influenced my writing going back to my days as a big-dreaming college kid with his unmatched sense of poetic melody, has become a trusted friend while managing to maintain an influential role in my continuing development as a writer. Trust me on this: that doesn’t usually happen. Elevating someone to the ranks of a hero almost certainly means that, should the two of you ever get the chance to meet, disappointment will be close at hand. It’s tough for a human being to live up to the lofty standards you’ve crafted for them when you’ve not yet actually met– you see it all the time in the shape of professional athletes, political figures, and adults in general– but that’s never been the case with Walt. He’s actually a better person, and continues to become a better songwriter with each new and finely-crafted tune he writes, than I ever imagined that he would be. He has a new album on the way as well.
Susan Gibson is perhaps one of the most gracious people I’ve ever met. She has every right to rest on the laurels of her accomplishments, casting someone like me off with a smile and a handshake should she have other things on her mind, yet she’s more humble and more caring than a lot of people I know who have experienced one tenth of her success. She logs as many miles as anyone I know out there on the road, and I can’t tell you how much I respect her for that.
The sound of Rodney Hayden‘s voice when you finally get to hear it in person is one of the most miraculous things on the planet. How something so big, so righteously country, can emanate from a person of his size remains a mystery to me. If vocal prowess equaled physical size, he should be ten feet tall. He’s an intense songwriter, too. Prior to working with him on his stellar Tavern of Poets album, he rattled off four incredible songs in the two days leading up to its recording. It would have taken me at least four months to do what he did in all of 48 hours. He has a new live album out– just him on his guitar and David Beck on upright bass– and the songs sound as big and alive as if it were a full production.
And there are a bunch of other people with whom I’ve been able to share the road and the stage– people whom it would take me all day to mention. They’re all immensely talented, but moreover, they’re all wonderful people.
I can’t tell you how lucky I am.
Some of the people I mentioned above will be joining me in Red River, New Mexico at the beginning of March for a few days of fellowship and song. Some of the people I’ll see in the next couple of weeks, some of them perhaps not at all for quite some time. All of them, though, have become one thing to me:
So, that notion of the music community down here in Texas being one big, happy family? It ended up being spot on. It just didn’t end up involving the people that I thought it would.
And I am so, so, SO thankful for that.
You don’t get to pick your family.
I didn’t know most of the members of this, my musical family, before I moved here nearly eight years ago, and that was for the absolute best. We each found our way into this loose group by sharing a few common bonds– it means something when you let mutual admiration and the organic nature of discovery take the helm.
And those bonds?
They ended up being a lot stronger– and more important– than the ones I imagined some 1,600 miles ago could have ever been.