Jason Boland & The Stragglers

Jason Boland & The Stragglers

Turnpike Troubadours

Wed, November 21, 2012

Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

$15 Advance - $18 Day of Show

This event is all ages

All seating is general admission. A limited number of table reservations for groups of 4 or more are available for an additional charge by calling The Cotillion at (316) 722-4201.

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Jason Boland & The Stragglers
Jason Boland & The Stragglers
This is country music.

In a recent commercial-country star’s genre-defining song, the act of singing about Jesus, tractors and little towns is portrayed as an unfashionable act that runs counter to the current of societal norms. Rebellion is drinking a cold one, getting a little loud, although it’s never mentioned what the country folk are getting loud about. Country music seems to be an increasingly neutered genre, where nothing at all is said, where a hit song that welcomes a world where a black man could become president was seen as a bridge too far by some. Contrast that discomfort with the bravery of an artist like Merle Haggard producing a song like “Irma Jackson” in the late 1960s. That The Hag is name-checked by so many current country stars as an influence is ironic, given that the bravery exhibited in this one song is greater than the combined bravery of every artist currently on the country chart.

Into this tepid landscape, Jason Boland releases his latest album, Rancho Alto. Even though its songs are not likely to be topping the country charts anytime soon, Jason is adamant that this is country music. “It may fit in with some other types of music, like Americana maybe, but I’m not ready to give up on the idea that country music can be relevant,” says Jason. “And country music is what I play. My fans are George Strait fans. They go to the dancehalls to see shows. I know these people. They are more capable of complex thought than the country music industry thinks they are.”

Jason was born and raised in Harrah, Oklahoma (like the casino he says – “there weren’t any around where I grew up, I used to joke, and now there are”) and went to college at Oklahoma State University, where he formed a band with some like-minded mates. Jason Boland and The Stragglers went on to become one of the most popular bands of that region, having released five albums since 1999 and having played in front of millions of fans during that time. Boland has certainly had his challenges along the way. His fraternal college drinking turned into frightening full-blown alcoholism, and was ultimately admitted to Sierra Tuscon Rehabilitation Center for 28 days in October of 2005. In 2008, as his most recent studio album Comal County Blue was being released, he ruptured a polyp on his vocal chord, and doctors thought that he might not be able to sing again. Because the journey has been difficult, Jason operates with a deeper resolve to say something worth saying.

Many of the characters that populate Rancho Alto are struggling and reacting to their travails. The album’s lead track, “Down Here In The Hole,” tells of a miner who is stuck


in a cave-in, maintaining hope despite his predicament (“I’m finding out when troubled, the sprit can glow”), but also ruminating on the limited options that put him in the hole to begin with (“Some say I fell between the cracks and some say I was shoved”).

Less resigned to his fate is the protagonist of “Pushing Luck,” a man who has been living outside the law in order to take care of his family. He sees little difference between his “hustle” and the government’s, where the government has taken money to perpetuate its existence, and with which it has funded the assault on his homestead. He has a bulletproof vest on, underneath his overalls, and stands ready to fight the power.

Rancho Alto has moments that are not quite as fraught with political tension. Jason has two outright love songs on this album. “I never really wrote love songs before,” he says, adding that having found a stable love allowed him to channel these sentiments more readily than before. “Mary Ellen’s Greenhouse” is a love song of a different sort, written for the mother of one of his first band mates, who would let the trio put on jam sessions in her greenhouse, as well as feed them. “I wanted to write a song to thank those people who support us broke-ass musicians and allow us to do what we do.” Boland also shows his immense imagination, songcraft and reverence for country music in “False Accuser’s Lament.” He takes a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern turn on the classic country song “Long Black Veil,” where the song is sung from the point of the view of the accuser whose false testimony led the protagonist of the original song to his execution.

But at heart, this album is about embracing the truths that country music used to tell, but that it can seemingly no longer stomach telling. That spirit is behind two of the covers that Jason chose to record for the album. One is the legendary Bob Childers’ “Woody’s Road,” in which Jason sings about reaching out to the helpless and hopeless “and the folks nobody wants to know.” In the final song of the album, the Greg Jacobs-penned “Farmer’s Luck,” Jason tells the tale of a farmer who made his living and raised his family on his bottomland farm, only to have the government declare eminent domain on his land, dam the Canadian River and turn that bottomland farm into the bottom of a lake, made for recreational purposes. Power makes a cameo, declares it progress and leaves the stage. Meanwhile, people grill out and water ski, never considering a man’s home, life and labor were put asunder for their recreation.

It used to be that a country artist would sing about the farmer that lost his land. Now they glorify that party at the lake. For those of you who love country music, but hate what it's become, Jason Boland will sing you back home.
Turnpike Troubadours
Turnpike Troubadours
Times are tough for just about everyone these days, especially for those who live in what is often referred to as the “flyover states,” in the heart of the country. People have become tougher, their skins have grown thicker and they have become much harder to win over. That especially holds true when it comes to the music that rolls into the bars, music halls and honky tonks of their towns. The overwhelming success that Turnpike Troubadours have had on the so-called Red Dirt circuit of those states says a lot about the quintet’s authenticity and fire, particularly because their music is not exactly what that scene in known for producing.
“When we first started playing, people couldn’t have cared less that we were there,” recalls Troubadours’ frontman Evan Felker. “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 like Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa, the Firehouse Saloon in Houston and Antone’s in Austin.
Over the course of 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. And on Goodbye Normal Street, the Troubadours’ third full-length album, the band takes that blend of nice and easy and nice and rough and distills it into a 43-minute ride that takes in the scenery of America’s Heartland and the inner workings of a group of 20-somethings on a quest for something better.
“This time around, we tried to balance things out,” says bassist Edwards, who shelved a steady gig as a pharmacist in late 2011 to concentrate on the band. “We wanted to combine the idea of getting something perfect, the way you can only do in a proper studio, with the energy of playing in front of a thousand people jumping around and screaming.”
They attack that goal with gusto on Goodbye Normal Street, putting the pedal to the metal on “Before the Devil Knows We’re Dead” (a breakneck romp about regular folks who lived hard and died in a blaze of glory) and dialing back to a sensual closing-time waltz on “Call a Spade a Spade” (a cheater’s lament on which Felker duets with Jamie Wilson of the Trishas).
Felker, who writes the majority of the lyrics – with an assist from Edwards, who penned the semi-autobiographical “Morgan Street,” about the band’s hardscrabble early days – has a knack for capturing slices of life in vivid detail. He can hit hard emotionally with a song like “Blue Star” (a bittersweet tale of a veteran returning from war) or tweak the listener with something like “Gin, Smoke and Lies” (on which he contrasts his own romantic plight with that of a rooster who manages to satisfy 20 partners, and not just one).
“All the songs are about people we know,” he says. “And yeah, some of them are probably about me to some degree – the guy who ticks off the wrong girl from Arkansas, and the guy who doesn’t always like what he sees himself becoming. Mostly though, I think they’re just honest.”
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,” says Felker. “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.”
That’s clear. The raw-boned energy of their 2007 debut, Bossier City, cut on a shoestring budget and aimed squarely at getting boots on the dance floor earned raves from many corners, including No Depression, which dubbed it “a testament to the small towns in which they were raised ... with stories of longing, humor, tragedy and general life in rural America.” The quintet broadened its horizons on its sophomore outing, Diamonds and Gasoline, which spawned the Americana favorite “Every Girl” and brought them to the attention of folks throughout the country, and overseas.
And with Goodbye Normal Street – the name a reference to another longtime band residence as well as a state of mind that they left behind long ago – they set their sights on conquering even more expansive territories. With songs like the blue-collar anthem “Southeastern Son” and the universally understandable breakup plaint “Wrecked,” they look pretty likely to conquer them.
“This music, at its best, can put into words what we have been thinking for our entire lives,” says Felker, “and even at its worst, it gets people drinking beer and makes people happy. Either of those is fine with me.”