Conroe Americana Music Festival: Day One

By Paul T. Mueller

The inaugural Conroe Americana Music Festival got off to a promising start on Friday, May 5, in the charmingly restored downtown area of the small city north of Houston. Perfect spring weather and moderate crowds made for an excellent festival experience, and the eclectic mix of musicians matched the fine atmosphere with outstanding performances. The overall vibe was laid back, with flashes of intensity.

The promoters’ decision to hold the festival in four indoor venues – two pubs, an event space and a converted ice plant – and two open-air stages under festival tents worked out well for the event’s first evening. All of the venues are located within a few blocks of each other, making for easy show-hopping. The relatively large number of performers meant that six shows were going on simultaneously pretty much the whole time, causing some frustration for those who wanted to see everybody, but also dispersing the crowd and avoiding big crushes at any one venue.

Some highlights from the first night:

      Quiet folkie fare, accompanied by cello and mandolin, by Shellee Coley, a onetime Nashvillian now back in her native Texas. Coley filled one of the 6 p.m. opening slots, in the beautifully restored Martin’s Hall, with her own songs and also a well-received rendition of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”

          Texas music from Houston-area singer-songwriter Brad Boyer, accompanied by guitarist Chad Ware. Hampered somewhat by subpar acoustics and noisy bar patrons in the Sparkle Ice House, Boyer carried on with a mix of originals (“Five Stones and a Sling,” “Long Cold December”) and covers (Townes Van Zandt’s “Loretta,” Guy Clark’s “Stuff that Works”). There was also a nice rendition of his tribute to Guy, “The Last Folksinger.”

          High-energy takes on introspective songs (“Never the Pretty Girl,” “Whisper My Name”) by Austin artist BettySoo, accompanied by a full band that included Will Sexton on guitar and Bonnie Whitmore on bass, in the Corner Pub.

          Rocking blues from Austin’s Peterson Brothers Band, with brothers Glenn Peterson Jr. on guitar and Alex Peterson on bass, along with two drummers, on an outdoor stage sponsored by Conroe’s Southern Star Brewing Co.

          A diverse mix of originals and interesting covers from Austin-based singer-songwriter-producer Gurf Morlix. The former included “The Best We Can,” which Morlix said is based on a “pretty chord” of the kind he rarely uses. The latter included “The

Peterson Brothers at Conroe Americana Music Festival

Massacre at Glencoe,” a ballad about an 18th century feud between Scottish clans, and Warren Zevon’s “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner.” Morlix closed with the lovely benediction “The Parting Glass.”

          Boogie with a side of spirituality from the seemingly ageless Billy Joe Shaver, who seemed right at home in the cavernous Sparkle venue. Backed by an enthusiastic young band, Shaver cranked through such familiar favorites as “Try and Try Again,” “When the Fallen Angels Fly” and “Live Forever,” plus newer fare such as “Hard to Be an Outlaw.” His brand of rocked-up country appealed to listeners and dancers alike.

The festival continues through the weekend of May 6-7.

Preview: Conroe Americana Music Festival


By Paul T. Mueller

Music gets another festival to call its own this year, with the Conroe Americana Music Festival set to debut May 5-7 in Conroe, Texas. The event, described by the promoters as “a grassroots premier festival featuring a mix of Bluegrass, Rockabilly, Folk, Texas Country, Roots Rock, Blues, and Americana music,” will take place in Conroe’s historic downtown, about 40 miles north of downtown Houston.

The festival’s website,, currently lists more than 50 scheduled performers. They include such well-known names as Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis (aka the First Couple of Texas Americana), John Fullbright, Billy Joe Shaver, The Mastersons, Gurf Morlix, Angaleena Presley, Dale Watson and Ray Benson, and Mike Farris. Of course, there’s a heavy presence of Texas artists, familiar in the Lone Star State but possibly less well known elsewhere, such as bluesman Guy Forsyth; songstress Terri Hendrix, with longtime collaborator Lloyd Maines; rockers Uncle Lucius; former True Believer Jon Dee Graham; veteran folkie Eric Taylor; Houston-based honky-tonkers Mike Stinson and The John Evans Band; Austin-based blues-folkie Ruthie Foster, and Austin blues-rocker Carolyn Wonderland. The complete lineup can be found here and the schedule here.

With free parking and short distances between the festival’s six venues, the weekend’s toughest task figures to be deciding which performer to see at any given time. There are six venues – four indoor spaces and two somewhat larger outdoor stages – with scheduling seemingly set up in hopes of dispersing the crowd. For instance, the Friday lineup includes shows by Gurf Morlix and the Mastersons both at 9 p.m., at pubs located across the street from each other. Those sets will be partially overlapped by four other shows, including Hendrix and Maines and Austin-based bluesmen The Peterson Brothers. Scheduling dilemmas may be eased to some extent by the fact that some performers will play more than once.

As is often the case at the outset of such events, ticket prices are reasonable: $35 for a one-day pass for Friday or Sunday, $50 for a Saturday pass, or $75 for a three-day pass. Parking is free and food will be available from several food trucks.

According to the festival’s website, the event was “(e)stablished through the Conroe Downtown Area Association (501c4) [and] the proceeds of the festival will be used to enhance the Historic Downtown Conroe area with improved signing and beautification projects.”

The Conroe Americana Music Festival gets under way at 6 p.m. on Friday, May 5, and wraps up at 6 p.m. on Sunday, May 7.

Review: Billy Joe Shaver’s “Long in the Tooth”

By Paul T. Mueller

shaverAt 75, Billy Joe Shaver is no longer the young country outlaw he once was. But he’s still around and kicking, and on his latest album, Long in the Tooth, he bares his (figurative) teeth on songs about several things he’s not too happy about, including his old nemesis, alcohol; today’s country music, and humanity’s warlike ways. His mellower side shows up on a few nice love songs, and there’s even a tune about growing up that features a train. Shaver is in good voice here and is backed by a fine studio band and guest appearances by some illustrious players. It all adds up to a strong effort.

Standout tracks include:

  • “Last Call for Alcohol,” a country two-step in which Shaver sings about a lost love and the booze in which he’s trying to drown her memories. “Last call for alcohol, I’m finally through with you,” he sings, but it’s not clear whether it’s the lover or the liquor he’s saying goodbye to.
  • “I’ll Love You As Much As I Can,” a gentle but honest warning to a potential romantic partner. “Remember the chance that you’re taking,” Shaver sings. “I’ll love you as much as I can.”
  • “Checkers and Chess” is fueled by the populist, anti-authority outlook that’s long been a Shaver trademark. “Nothin’s fair in this world of lying shame,” he sings. “The rich man steals the money/The poor man takes the blame.” The poor also get to die in rich men’s wars, he later adds.
  • “Hard to Be an Outlaw,” a duet with Willie Nelson that laments the passing of time, while taking a swipe at musical newcomers and what the old guard sees as their unearned success: “They go and call it country/But that ain’t the way it sounds/Makes a renegade like me/Want to terrorize the town.”

The title track is a kind of rap about growing old, but not gracefully. Points for trying, but let’s face it – rap is not what Billy Joe Shaver is best at. “Music City USA” covers similar ground but a lot more effectively. It’s not clear that the story of a young man who left Texas “to capture Music City USA” is autobiographical – that story line could apply to a lot of people – but it might as well be. “That crazy fool with shaggy hair has spread his songs out everywhere,” Shaver sings. “I reckon he done captured Music city USA.”

Four of the album’s 10 tracks were co-written with Gary Nicholson and two with Ray Kennedy; the two Nashville veterans also co-produced the album. They had some good material to work with – the “Can’t Hardly Playboys” studio band consists of guitarists Dan Dugmore and Jedd Hughes, bassist Michael Rhodes and drummer Lynn Williams. Also contributing is a long list of excellent guest artists, including Leon Russell, Tony Joe White, Larry Franklin, Mickey Raphael and Joel Guzman, among others.


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Americana Music Festival releases 2012 line-up

Americana Music News – The Americana Music Association has announced an impressive line-up for the Americana Music Festival & Conference September 12-15 in Nashville , with more performers to be named later.

As usual, the roster includes a good mix of accomplished veterans and emerging artists.

Among the biggest names: Billy Joe Shaver, the Punch Brothers, Brandi Carlile, Richard Thompson, Sara Watkins, John Hiatt, Steve Forbert and Rodney Crowell.

Also booked are newer artists who have enjoyed extensive airplay on Americana music radio, including honeyhoney, John Fullbright, The Deep Dark Woods, Shovels & Rope and Eilen Jewell.

The full list: American Aquarium, Amy Helm, Andrew Combs , Angel Snow, Anthony da Costa, Bearfoot, Belle Starr , Bill Kirchen, Billy Joe Shaver, Black Lillies, Blue Highway, Blue Mountain, BoDeans, Brandi Carlile, Brennen Leigh, Buddy Miller, Buxton, Caitlin Harnett, Chastity Brown, Corb Lund,Cory Branan, Darrell Scott, The Deep Dark Woods, Della Mae, Derek Hoke, the Dunwells, Eilen Jewell, Felicity Urquhart, Fort Frances, Gretchen Peters, Holy Ghost Tent Revival, honeyhoney, Humming HouseImmigrant Union, Jason Boland and the Stragglers, Jill Andrews, Jim Lauderdale, Jimbo Mathus and the Tri-State Coalition, John Fullbright, John Hiatt, Jordie Lane, Julie Lee, Kasey Anderson and the Honkies, Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson, Kevin Gordon, Lera Lynn, Lydia Loveless, Mandolin Orange, Mary Gauthier, the Mastersons, Max Gomez, McCrary Sisters, Mindy Smith, Nicki Bluhm and The Gamblers, Phoebe Hunt, Punch Brothers, Reckless Kelly, Richard Thompson, Robert Ellis, Rodney Crowell, Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside, Sara Watkins, Shovels and Rope, Sons of Bill, Sons of Fathers, Star and Micey, Starr Anna, Steep Canyon Rangers, Steve Forbert, Teresa Williams, Larry Campbell, Tift Merritt, Turnpike Troubadours, Two Gallants, Wheeler Brothers, Whitehorse, The WoodBrothers and The World Famous Headliners.

You’ll find more details on the Americana Music Festival on their home site.

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