Robert Earl Keen's Texas Uprising : the home of fine Texas music
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, Houston, TX, May 27, 2000
HOUSTON - What do you call 11 of Texas' best country artists all in one concert? On Memorial Day weekend in Houston and Dallas, you'd call it Robert Earl Keen's Texas Uprising.
For the third straight year, Keen put together a fabulous lineup of what is being called Texas music - a sort of catch-all genre that includes a lot of country, some rock and hints of folk, bluegrass, and Tex-Mex. The same 11 artists performed at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in Houston on May 27 and at the Fort Worth Stockyards in Fort Worth on May 28, and an almost completely different 10 will play at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds in California June 11.
In Houston and Dallas, six of the artists played on the main stage and the other five on a side stage. While this set-up meant a lot of walking back and forth for spectators, it also allowed music to be performed for 10-hours straight with only one half-hour break. While the next band was setting up on the main stage, an artist would be playing on the side stage and vice versa.
Much of the best music came from the side stage. This phenomenon was due partly to the talent of the up-and-coming bands chosen to play there and partly to acoustics and atmosphere. The main stage is built for bands like Dave Matthews and The Cure, who had played three nights earlier.
The great Houston bar band, The Hollisters, who opened the main stage, looked out of place on a platform of that size, and their sound got muddied by the need to project it to 20,000 people in the pavilion and on the hill of lawn seating in back.
In fact, only Robert Earl Keen seemed at home on the main stage. He has a big band, which helps fill up the stage, and he moved around a lot more than most of the other artists.
Keen is best known for his party songs, and he played the fans' favorites toward the end of the show. After a couple of slow songs, "Gringo Honeymoon" brought the crowd to its feet. Then after tuning his guitar a bit, he sang the famous opening line to "The Road Goes On Forever," "Shari was a waitress at the only joint in town," and the fans went crazy before he'd even finished the first word. That song went on for about 10 minutes as Keen's incredible band traded solos back and forth.
In recent years, Keen's toned his music down a bit. He's less into party songs now and more into pretty songs about life and love. "Feelin' Good Again" and "I Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight" were two of these.
Keen will never have the greatest voice in the world, but he does have a great talent for songwriting, a sense of humor, an absolutely amazing band and a devoted fan following. He gave a very good performance. He also gave the longest performance, - two hours - while the other main-stage artists got an hour and the side-stage artists 30 minutes.
The best show on the small stage was unfortunately missed by most because it was mid-afternoon. Terri Hendrix came on stage with just famous Texas producer Lloyd Maines backing her up and put on an amazing all-acoustic show. She writes nostalgic story songs and sings them in a sweet, girlish voice while switching between guitar, mandolin and harmonica. Her best song was "Old Joe Clark," a traditional folk song that featured some wonderful guitar playing by Maines. "Invisible Girl" and "Wallet" were other highlights.
Kelly Willis is developing a great following in Texas. After three weak-selling albums on MCA, she was dropped by the label, but continued playing her brand of traditional country music.
She said that after a year of touring on the album "What I Deserve," (Rykodisc) she was getting depressed from playing slow songs all the time, so she decided she needed to liven it up a bit. As a result, she and the band played a breakneck version of "River of Love," and she closed the show with the title song from her first album, "Well-Traveled Love."
But the sweet, midtempo songs on which she has built her career were still there. She opened with "I'll Try Again" and one of the best songs was "I Have Not Forgotten You," a gorgeous song written by her husband Bruce Robison.
Robison also played, but he was on the side stage. He's a great songwriter with not much stage presence, so he leans on his famous wife and brother Charlie. "Desperately" and "Wrapped" featured beautiful three-part harmony with Willis and her wonderful fiddle player and backup singer Amy Farris. "Angry All the Time" is his best song, a heartbreakingly beautiful number on which Willis sang backup. After that song, Willis left and Charlie Robison came on for duets of "Rayne, Louisiana" and "12 Bar Blues."
Charlie Robison put on a great show of his own on the main stage. Like Keen, he's popular with the party crowd, singing about beer drinking, pot smoking, and even cocaine. "You're Not the Best" is a funny song about settling for what you can get in love. "Sunset Boulevard" is another good one that features the following line about Monica Lewinsky: "If she'd go down on President Clinton, then she'd go down on me."
He has a new album coming out in September, and it should be a good one, judging by the song he played from it. "These Are Desperate Times" is a true story song about a corrupt San Antonio police officer who robs a bank, but gets double-crossed by his wife.
Pat Green was the second-to-last performer on the main stage. Given the number of "Pat Green - Texas Songwriter" shirts in the crowd, he seemed to be popular with the high-school and college male crowd. He certainly gave an energetic performance, jumping around the stage and shaking his mane of blond hair, but like many of the performers on the main stage, he suffered from poor acoustics, and the lyrics of his songs were drowned out.
Reckless Kelly also performed on the main stage. Since the release of their country-rock debut "Millican," they've moved progressively toward the rock side. Even in bars, their sound is cluttered and the vocals hard-to-understand, so the setting just exacerbated their problems as a live band.
Eleven Hundred Springs is a crack country band from Dallas that was a nice surprise on the side stage. The lead singer, with his long brown hair, doesn't look like a country singer, but he sure sounds like one. They have a great honky-tonk sound and some good songs like "Four Walls" and "Seven Days," and they closed with a great party song, "Raise Hell, Drink Beer."
Beaver Nelson has an unpolished voice but definite songwriting talent. He performed songs like "Strong As I Look" and "Company of Kings" off his album, "The Last Hurrah."
Rodney Hayden opened the show on the side stage. He has a good country voice, and he performed classics like "Always Late" and "Move It On Over" well. He has a ways to go as a songwriter - his "December Rose" could have been poignant, but it turned out just to be hackneyed - but at only 20 years old, he has potential.
The Texas Uprising was proof that there is still good country music out there, if you only know where to look for it.