When the Turnpike Troubadours first started playing in Oklahoma honky-tonks in 2005, folks seemed more interested in drinking beer than listening to their music. Times have changed.
Two years ago, the Troubadours released their fourth studio album and the self-titled recording peaked at No. 17 on the Billboard 200.
On Monday, July 31, the band takes the stage at Cargo Concert Hall in Reno for an 8 p.m. performance with opener Charley Crockett. Tickets for the 18-and-older show are $20 in advance or $26 at the door.
“When we first started playing, people couldn’t have cared less that we were there,” recalls Troubadours’ frontman Evan Felker in press materials. “They were there to drink beer and raise hell and they didn’t really care what music was playing while they did it.
“But as we went on and as we got better, they started to listen. I mean, they were still drinkin’ plenty of beer, but before too long, they were actually coming to hear us and asking us to play our songs, and not just covers of traditional favorites and all the other stuff we’d been doing.”
Not only did the crowds get more attentive, they kept getting bigger. As time went on, and the Troubadours broadened their touring circle, they moved on from tiny clubs in the more obscure corners of the Sooner state and started hitting – and selling out – prestigious venues such as Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa, the Firehouse Saloon in Houston and Antone’s in Austin.
In the past five years, Felker, bassist RC Edwards, fiddle player Kyle Nix, guitarist Ryan Engleman and drummer Gabe Pearson have honed the rowdy, quick-witted sound that’s brought folks of all stripes together in front of those stages.
The band – which took its name from the Indian Nation Turnpike that connected so many of the smaller towns where they cut their teeth – gradually evolved from offering acoustic explorations of tunes by Townes Van Zandt and Jerry Jeff Walker to kicking out three or four sets a night of full-throttle roadhouse country – tinged with the punk rock attitude that was in the air during the members’ teen years.
“We all pretty much grew up with hardcore country music around us,” Felker says. “I mean, sure, there was rock stuff in there, but the real old-school stuff, plus exposure to folks like Jason Boland and Cross Canadian Ragweed, really affected what we were playing. We’re really a product of both our influences and our environment. It wasn’t something that we sat in a room and dreamed up in one day.”
With songs such as “Gin, Smoke, Lies,” “Good Lord Lorrie” and “Long Hot Summer Day,” listeners are perhaps inspired to, well, drink some more beer. The Troubadours wouldn’t have it any other way.
Opener Charley Crockett, a descendant of Davy Crockett, was born in a poor town in southern Texas and raised by his blues-singing single mother, according to press materials. His uncle introduced him to the big-brass sound of the French Quarter in New Orleans, where he would later learn to play guitar as a street performer. Today, his sound combines Texas swing, Louisiana blues, New Orleans music and R&B.