Keen's Texas Uprising brings Texas music to the fans
Woodlands Pavilion, The Woodlands, TX, May 25, 2002
THE WOODLANDS, TX - For five years running now, Robert Earl Keen has been bringing some of the best country music to the Houston area under the guise of his Texas Uprising tour. It's a great way to sample a wide variety of artists - Keen always brings back a few artists from the previous year's concert, but by and large, it's a new group every year.
One very welcome addition to this year's show was Ricky Skaggs and his Kentucky Thunder bluegrass band. Credited along with George Strait for returning country to its roots in the early Eighties, Skaggs is a true country music legend. No less an authority than Chet Atkins said Skaggs "single-handedly" saved country music.
But despite attempts to remain commercially popular in the early Nineties, the hits dried up for Skaggs, and he made the decision to eschew country radio in favor of bluegrass music. The result was his 1997 record, "Bluegrass Rules!" And on this afternoon, he proved that bluegrass is still where his heart is, playing the heck out of his mandolin on long solos and singing high lonesome classics like "Mother's Only Sleeping" and "The Old Home" off his latest album, "History of the Future."
Another great addition - and a big surprise - was Cowboy Mouth, a versatile rock band from New Orleans. Most of the audience didn't know quite what to think of them - while some fans jumped up and down with every drumbeat, many folks sat still in their seats, waiting patiently for Charlie Robison.
But even though it wasn't quite the right scene for Cowboy Mouth's captivating mix of alternative rock, folk, punk, Cajun, country, and gospel, the band was determined to show the crowd a good time. Loopy, overalls-clad drummer/frontman Fred LeBlanc sometimes seemed to take on a religious fervor as he pushed the crowd to sing along, particularly during the closing 10-minute rendition of their hit "Jenny Says."
But of course, most of the crowd came to see the headliners, Charlie Robison and Robert Earl Keen. Robison has quickly become one of the most popular country artists in Texas - a reputation built largely on the strength of his 1998 CD, "Life of the Party." He concentrated on that album this evening, singing 7 of its 12 songs.
Robison is a classic Texas party singer, singing about smoking pot on "My Hometown" and the virtues of an ugly wife on "You're Not the Best." Performing toward the end of a long day of beer drinking and music is the perfect spot for him because like almost no one else, he can bring a crowd of inebriated Texas country fans to hysteria, singing along to slackers' anthems like "My Hometown."
And then there was Keen - the organizer of this party, the Texas music legend, closing the show with an hour-and-a-half-long set. And although he's tried to move more toward thoughtful, reflective music on his CDs in recent years, he still knows how to throw a party, especially in Texas where he is adored.
He opened with "Goin' to Town" and "Corpus Christi Bay" and then ran through great older songs like "Five Pound Bass" and "Gringo Honeymoon" as well as new songs off his "Gravitational Forces" CD like "Wild Wind" and "Walkin' Cane."
He was in fine form, singing in his weathered voice, playing his acoustic guitar and going off on tangents. For example, while picking his acoustic guitar, he told a long story about his attempt to figure out what to call this kind of music. As he's sitting there in his hotel room, the answer hits him like a flash: "Best Western" music!
He closed with his classics, "The Road Goes On Forever" and "Merry Xmas From the Family." Then he invited the rest of the artists back on stage for a couple of closing songs, "T for Texas" and "Sitting on Top of the World." It was a great end to the show.
Out of the lesser-known acts, Caroline Herring was a great find. Originally hailing from Mississippi, she moved to Austin after college to pursue a music career. Based on the strength of her debut album "Twilight" and her performances in Austin, she was recently named the best new artist in the Austin Music Awards - no small feat, considering the strength of the city's music scene.
With an all-acoustic band including a stand-up bass, mandolin, fiddle, and two acoustic guitars, one of which was played by Keen sideman Rich Brotherton, she sang simple songs of the South in a gorgeous, heart-tugging voice.
Cory Morrow is a promising Texas artist in the Pat Green/Keen mold. His "Nashville Blues" is a scathing song lamenting the lack of classic singer-songwriters on the radio like Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Merle Haggard. He also sang fun songs like his own "Big City Stripper" and Travis Tritt's "Great Day to Be Alive." Morrow has a good voice and a strong stage presence but his material doesn't yet quite measure up to Robison's or Keen's.
Other artists performing at the show included 1100 Springs, the Weary Boys, Rodney Hayden and the South Austin Jug Band. All in all, it was a long, exhausting, wonderful day of...Texas music? Best Western music? Whatever you want to call it, fans should thank Robert Earl Keen for being such a great crusader and bringing the music to the fans.