Texas artists keeping country music alive

I grew up on the good kind of country music. The timeless music and lyrics that are still making an impact on the world after generations. Country is the only genre my parents listened to (and remains so), and it is a wonder that I knew who Britney Spears was, but I still shook it up a little with her music every once in a while. 

But the one genre I always went back to was country, and it still reigns supreme in my heart. Something about country music soothes the soul, makes my feet tap along to the beat, and occasionally makes me sing at the top of my longs – normally in the car when no one is around to hear me.

country music has definitely evolved over the years, and in many ways it has been for the worse, if we are being honest. There have been some good changes; new artists like Luke Combs and Jon Pardi have graced us with their presence, and Eric Church and others like him have drawn attention to the fact that Country and Rock go hand-in-hand. 

On the other hand, many new artists have shown us that Country and pop are two genres that do not – and should not – mix. The specifics of this claim are enough for a whole different story; maybe for another time, when I'm feeling feisty. 

When these new “country” tunes fail me, it is best to rewind and listen to a little bit of the good old 80's and 90's tunes that I grew up on – George Strait, Brooks and Dunn, Reba McEntire, Shania Twain; the list goes on, and I could babble about them all day. I thought they were all I had, and I was content, but imagine my excitement when I found a whole different universe apart from the one I knew, a different level of artistry I didn't know existed.

It wasn't until I started dating my now-husband, Adam, that I was introduced to the gem that is Texas country music. Since then, I have grown a great deal of respect for the trailblazers who dedicate their lives to songs and lyrics that break the mold, tell a story, and speak to their fans' hearts.

These artists are bringing a revolution to the country music world, and for the longest time they were hidden from the spotlight because it was too focused on the mainstream artists. I think, though, keeping these guys under the radar gives them bragging rights – they are of their own craft, and they deserve to be set apart as their own genre because they are certainly unique. I would like to shine my own spotlight on them and express a little bit of the appreciation I share with millions of other fans.

The Texas country music genre is home to many talented people, including the pioneers like Gary P. Nunn and Guy Clark. But newer artists like Kyle Park, Cody Johnson, and Aaron Watson, and so many others are at the top of my songbook.

The three have played a huge role in my life and my love for music. Adam and I have been to many of their concerts and jump at the opportunity to go to another as soon as it's available. I walked down the aisle to “Yours and Mine” by Leander-born Kyle Park; my father-daughter dance at our wedding was to Aaron Watson's  “Diamonds and Daughters.” My best friend and her new husband's first dance was to Cody Johnson's “On My Way To You.” Our first dance was to the “Feet Don't Touch the Ground” cover by Stoney LaRue. Needless to say, Texas country music has made an incredible impact on my life and the lives of those around me.

Aaron Watson, our Honkytonk Kid, climbed his way up the totem pole with sheer determination to share his craft with the world when the big guys in Nashville did not see his true passion and talent.

He recently released a new album, “Red Bandana,” which features 20 songs he wrote himself. His music has never disappointed me, and this new release has gone above and beyond everything he has done in years past. I have listened to it on repeat since it became available and am amazed at his method of storytelling which he carefully threads throughout the entire album, song by song. He pays tribute to his personal and professional inspirations, instills deep meaning in every lyric he sings, and tells a story of passion, determination, and love, and obviously has a lot of fun doing so.

One song in particular strikes a chord in my heart. “Country Radio” is a soft, slow, nostalgic song that brings a tide of memories and tears each time it plays. The lyrics conjure up the image of my grandparents dancing, a staticky radio playing country love songs in the background. Talking about the song just isn't enough. I suggest listening to it. If you grew up in a home built on a foundation of love and have fond memories of the times you shared with your loved ones throughout your life, it will sweep you back to those simpler, special times.

Cody Johnson is another inspirational Texas Country artist. He left his career as a rising star in the rodeo world to chase his other passion – making music for his fans. He has since topped the charts in the country music scene with meaningful, fun, storytelling songs, and more and more of his work is being featured on mainstream radio, introducing listeners to this genre set apart from the others.

I know my small community shares my appreciation for the craftsmen and women of the Texas country music scene, because we have the wonderful opportunity to welcome these people to our stage at the Bluebonnet Festival in April, Haley Nelson Amphitheater during the summer, and in October during the new Oktoberfest.

I can guarantee everybody still has, or at least knows someone who has, their photo with Granger Smith saved on their phones from years back after his concert during the Burnet Summer Concert Series. 

I remember how packed Haley Nelson Park was, and the incredibly fun show Smith and his alter ego, Earl Dibbles Jr., put on for us, his loyal fans. Attendees swarmed to the merch tent to snap a picture with our Central Texas guy once he left the stage, and all throughout Facebook and Instagram were the same photo with Smith and his huge grin posted for days after, still resurfacing today.

That is another thing I love about these down-home Texas artists; they recognize how loyal their fans are, and they immediately reciprocate the respect they are given. They point out delirious fans throughout the show and thank them for their support in one way or another, raise a beer along with the audience during a particularly exciting song, bring lucky people up on stage to sing or dance, and take the time to snap photos with hundreds of people after the show. 

Adam and I have countless photos with Kyle Park from shows we've followed him to across the Hill Country and beyond, and a few times he has recognized us, which shows how much his fans mean to him (or that he thinks we may be stalkers, but we will go with the first option).

Talking about the artistry of these few people is just not enough when trying to convey their very important role in the music world. These artists and others have paved the way for a new generation of country music fans, and I think they will continue to rise to the top and, hopefully, rescue traditional country music from dissolving into the pop genre. 

Take a moment to listen to these artists, as well as others like Flatland Calvary, Wade Bowen, Tyler Childers, Sturgill Simpson, Cody Jinks, or the country-rockers Kody West and Koe Wetzel. Hear their stories and pass them along, because they are important; they are what the country music world needs to stay true to the poetry and expressiveness it used to be.

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