KOKE FM brings you a day of music as unique as the station itself, KOKEFest 2017 — featuring Robert Earl Keen, Turnpike Troubadours, Jason Boland & the Stragglers, John Baumann and more bands to be announced.
The first ever KOKEFest will be held on Saturday, August 19th at The Gin at the Co-Op on Highway 79 in Hutto, Texas.
KOKEFest general admission tickets are available now for only $30!
More details coming soon…
A portion of the KOKEFest proceeds will benefit Honor Flight Austin.
2017 KokeFest Lineup:
It’s not always easy to sum up a career — let alone a life’s ambition — so succinctly, but those five words from Robert Earl Keen’s calling-card anthem just about do it. You can complete the lyric with the next five words — the ones routinely shouted back at Keen by thousands of fans a night (“and the party never ends!”) — just to punctuate the point with a flourish, but it’s the part about the journey that gets right to the heart of what makes Keen tick. Some people take up a life of playing music with the goal of someday reaching a destination of fame and fortune; but from the get-go, Keen just wanted to write and sing his own songs, and to keep writing and singing them for as long as possible.
“I always thought that I wanted to play music, and I always knew that you had to get some recognition in order to continue to play music,” Keen says. “But I never thought of it in terms of getting to be a big star. I thought of it in terms of having a really, really good career and writing some good songs, and getting onstage and having a really good time.”
Now three-decades on from the release of his debut album — with well over a dozen other records to his name, thousands of shows under his belt and still no end in sight to the road ahead — Keen remains as committed to and inspired by his muse as ever. And as for accruing recognition, well, he’s done alright on that front, too; from his humble beginnings on the Texas folk scene, he’s blazed a peer, critic, and fan-lauded trail that’s earned him living-legend (not to mention pioneer) status in the Americana music world. And though the Houston native has never worn his Texas heart on his sleeve, he’s long been regarded as one of the Lone Star State’s finest (not to mention top-drawing) true singer-songwriters. He was still a relative unknown in 1989 when his second studio album, West Textures, was released — especially on the triple bill he shared at the time touring with legends Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark — but once fellow Texas icon Joe Ely recorded both “The Road Goes on Forever” and “Whenever Kindness Fails” on his 1993 album, Love and Danger, the secret was out on Keen’s credentials as a songwriter’s songwriter. By the end of the decade, Keen was a veritable household name in Texas, headlining a millennial New Year’s Eve celebration in Austin that drew an estimated 200,000 people. A dozen years later, he was inducted into the Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame along with the late, great Van Zandt and his old college buddy, Lyle Lovett.
The middle child of a geologist father and an attorney mother, Keen was weaned on classic rock (in particular, the psychedelic blues trio Cream) and his older brother’s Willie Nelson records — but it was his younger sister’s downtown Houston celebrity status as a “world-champion foosball player” that exposed him to the area’s acoustic folk scene. By the time he started working on his English degree at Texas A&M, he was teaching himself guitar and setting his poetic musings to song. That in turn led to a college fling with a bluegrass ensemble (featuring his childhood friend Bryan Duckworth, who would continue to play fiddle with Keen well into the ’90s) and front-porch picking parties with fellow Aggie Lovett at Keen’s rental house — salad days captured in spirit on the Keen/Lovett co-write, “The Front Porch Song,” which both artists would eventually record on their respective debut albums.
While Lovett’s self-titled debut was released on major-label Curb Records, Keen took the road less travelled, self-financing and producing 1984’s No Kinda Dancer and leasing it to the independent label Rounder Records, which issued it on its Philo imprint. “It was difficult, because I didn’t know what I was doing … I literally opened up the phonebook and looked for studios,” Keen recalls. “I basically put it all together through brute force and ignorance, but I was shocked with how well it worked out and very happy with it. We had a release party at Butch Hancock’s Dixie Bar and Bustop, and Lyle and Nanci Griffith and a lot of those people who were a part of the Austin folkie scene came out.”
Keen himself had already started to make quite a name for himself on that scene, thanks to four years of constant regional gigging and winning the Kerrville Folk Festival’s prestigious New Folk songwriting competition in 1983. After his debut’s release, he began touring more and more outside of the state lines, eventually moving to Nashville in 1986. Keen’s stint in Music City, U.S.A., lasted just under two years, but he returned to Texas armed with a publishing deal, a new label (another indie, Sugar Hill), and a national booking agent. He closed the decade with 1988’s The Live Album and the following year’s West Textures, the album that marked the debut of “The Road Goes on Forever” and, not inconsequently, kicked his career into high gear.
With hindsight, Keen admits he no idea at the time of writing it that his song about a couple of ill-fated lovers running afoul of the law would have the legs it did, but he readily points to the forward thinking of DJ Steve Coffman of San Antonio radio station KRIO for helping to start the fire. “He talked the station into doing sort of a free-form programing format, basically anything he liked, which turned out to be some Texas music along with a lot of cool sort of pop music,” he says. “So all of a sudden, I heard my song back-to-back with the Sheryl Crow song that was popular at the time, and that was the first time that I really felt like I was a real part of the music business, despite having been in it already for a pretty long time. And right after that, I went to a show in San Antonio and there were 1,500 people there — whereas up to that point I’d been playing to, max, maybe 150. That was the real ah-hah moment for me that really got me going and kept me going, because before that I’d been doing this for eight or 10 years and had a lot of rejection but very little success.”
After that, though, success came in spades. Although he continued to steer clear of the Garth Brooks-dominated waters of the country mainstream, the perfect storm of Keen’s literate songcraft, razor wit and killer band (more on that in a bit) stirred up a grassroots sensation in Texas not seen since the ’70s heyday of maverick “outlaw country” upstarts Willie, Waylon, and Jerry Jeff Walker. Armed with two more albums (1993’s A Bigger Piece of Sky and ’94’s Gringo Honeymoon) brimming with instant classics like “Corpus Christi Bay,” “Whenever Kindness Fails,” “Gringo Honeymoon,” “Dreadful Selfish Crime” and “Merry Christmas From the Family,” he began packing dancehalls, roadhouses, theaters, and festival grounds with diverse crowds of rowdy college kids, serious singer-songwriter fans and plenty of folks who, like Keen himself, had been around the Texas music scene long enough to remember Willie’s earliest 4th of July Picnics. And the phenomenon was not confined to the Texas state lines. Famed producer and pedal steel ace Lloyd Maines (Joe Ely, Terry Allen) helped Keen and his band bottle lighting on 1996’s No. 2 Live Dinner, a next-best-thing-to-being-there concert document that remains one of Keen’s best-selling albums, and the burgeoning alt-country scene (bolstered by AAA radio stations across the country and magazines like No Depression) embraced Keen as one of its prime movers. In the wake of albums like 1997’s Picnic and ’98’s Walking Distance (both released on major-label Arista), one would have been hard-pressed to tell the difference between a rabid Robert Earl Keen crowd at Texas’ legendary Gruene Hall and those at New York City joints like Tramps and the Bowery Ballroom. Little wonder, then, that when the songwriter-revering “Americana” style was officially recognized by the industry 1998, Keen was the genre’s first artist to be featured on the cover of the radio trade magazine Gavin.
The ’90s may have been a boom period for Keen, but his momentum hasn’t ebbed a bit since the turn of the century — nor has his pursuit of continued growth as a writer and artist. If anything, his output from the last decade has been marked by some of the most adventurous music of his career. “Wild Wind,” an unforgettable highlight from Gravitational Forces, his Gurf Morlic-produced 2001 debut for the Nashville-based Americana label Lost Highway, captured the character (and characters) of a small Texas town with a cinematic eye reminiscent of The Last Picture Show; but the album’s title track also found Keen wryly experimenting with spacey, beatnik jazz. For the freewheelin’, freak-flag-flying Farm Fresh Onions (2003, Audium/Koch), Keen and producer Rich Brotherton (his longtime guitarist) took the band into the proverbial garage to knock out their most rocking set of songs to date — most notably the psychedelic rave-up of the title track. Brotherton also produced the more rootsy but equally playful What I Really Mean (2005, E1 Music), but Lloyd Maines was back at the helm for 2009’s eclectic The Rose Hotel and 2011’s spirited Ready for Confetti (both released by Lost Highway). The later was especially well received by fans and critics alike, with AllMusic’s Thom Jurek raving, “Ready for Confetti is, without question, Keen’s most inspired and focused project in nearly 20 years.”
But the road goes on and on, with no time for resting on laurels. Not that Keen’s complaining. “I had a relatively open schedule for 2013 back at the beginning of the year, but it has just filled in like you wouldn’t believe,” he marvels during a rare day off in Kerrville, Texas (where he lives with his wife and two daughters). “I’ve broke my record this year — I’ve packed for five trips at one time, because I wasn’t going to be starting any of them in the same place. It’s been crazy!”
Earlier this year, Keen played a handful of sold-out theater dates with Lyle Lovett, just two old friends swapping songs on acoustic guitars like they used to do on Keen’s front porch in College Station. But the lion’s share of his concert schedule still finds him playing full-tilt with his seasoned road and studio band: Brotherton on guitar, Bill Whitbeck on bass, Tom Van Schaik on drums, and Marty Muse on steel guitar. “I’ve been with this band for 20 years now,” Keen says proudly. “I used to think that was just sort of an interesting fact, but now it’s almost a total anomaly — that just doesn’t happen much. I always felt like once you lock into the right bunch of people, you try to do the best by them that you can. So we’ve been able to stay together a long time, and I think one thing that makes it worthwhile for people to come see us as an act is the fact that it’s not like we’re trying to work it all out onstage — we’ve already worked everything out.”
As for what they’ll be working on next, well, Keen’s fans probably won’t have to wait very long. Despite the fact that 2014 will mark the 30th anniversary of his first album, No Kinda Dancer, Keen’s primary focus remains — as ever — more on the road still ahead than the road behind him.
“We take everything one year at a time,” he says, “but I am hell-bent and bound to make a record this year. I really don’t know what I have in mind as far as what it will be, but what will happen is I will go off to my ‘Scriptorium’ for three or four days to write with no distractions, and I’ll have a record by the time I’m finished. I’m locked into this idea, and I know for a fact that I’m going to get a new record out … unless I get hit by a bus or get run over by my own bus!”
If Turnpike Troubadours are playing in your town, you’ll know it. A block or two from the venue, you’ll see the crowds lining up. Get closer and you’ll start to hear the music — rockin’ hard, lashed by burnin’ fiddle and guitar, maybe a little rough on the edges but with a deep-rooted soul that’s impossible to resist.
And if you make it through the door, you’ll witness one of the best shows you’ll ever see.
Audiences in their home state of Oklahoma and down in Texas have known this for years. It’s no longer news when they draw 5,000-plus at Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth, sell out three nights in a row at Gruene Hall or turn several hundred away at the Legendary Stubb’s Bar-B-Q in Austin.
Word has spread, though: Their shows in Chicago, St. Louis and elsewhere have pulled in more than 1,000 fans. And they’ve drawn full houses at Joe’s Pub in New York and The Troubadour in L.A., among many other nightspots from coast to coast.
They’ve even been picked by Playboy as one of three acts to watch in 2015 — a distinction lead singer/guitarist/songwriter Evan Felker admits is “pretty bizarre” but impressive nonetheless.
So is that the story? “The Turnpike Troubadours Tear It Up Night After Night”?
Actually, no. There’s another side to singer/guitarist Felker, bassist RC Edwards, fiddler Kyle Nix, steel and electric guitarist Ryan Engleman and drummer Gabe Pearson. Maybe you don’t notice it as much at their shows, where their blazing performances tend to obliterate detached reflection.
But you’ll definitely notice it on their new album, The Turnpike Troubadours, to be released September 18th on their Bossier City imprint. Away from the intensities of their show, the music speaks more intimately. Details of their arrangements clarify. Above all, the lyrics become the center of attention, spinning stories so compelling that you realize you’d almost forgotten how powerful the message of a song could be.
There’s “7 Oaks”, recounting a life made desperate by poverty, made more vivid by an incongruous hoedown accompaniment … “Bossier City”, focused on a sad mill worker who blows his pay regularly on gambling and booze … “The Bird Hunters”, a short story set to a Cajun waltz about friendship, love and coming home … “Down Here”, a conversation between one guy who has lost all he had and another who assures him life “down here” really isn’t so bad … “How Do You Fall Out Of Love”, a melancholy meditation on lost love.
Dig deeper into the words and bits of brilliant craftsmanship gleam: “Hillbilly girl, as sweet as wine, grew up in the thicket like a muscadine.” … “Robbie’s got a brand new girlfriend. She’s got to strip for pills.” … “I left my heart in Tulsa on the corner of Easton & Main on the Cains Ballroom floor, soaking up a bourbon stain.” … “You bet your heart on a diamond and I played the clubs and the spades. We gambled and lost. Yes, we both paid the cost. Look what a mess I have made.”
“Human beings like stories,” Felker insists. “It doesn’t matter what form, whether it be a song or a movie or a poem. And they’ve always been drawn to characters. Our songs are real life applied to stories applied back to real life. I might get a plot line from several short stories I’ve read. Then I’ll build fallible characters into the midst of all that. They’re never archetypes. They’re real. It’s all about the character.”
In fact, characters are so central to the Turnpike Troubadours that they often turn up in more than one song. On The Turnpike Troubadours, for instance, the narrator in “Down Here”, Danny, turns up again in “The Bird Hunters”.
“Stephen King has this canon of characters and any of them can walk into one of his stories at any time,” Felker says. “You have all these characters living in the same universe. I haven’t ever seen that applied to songwriting, but that’s what I’m doing.”
This universe feels real on The Turnpike Troubadours because the band resolved to let the album happen on its own time. Moving out to the Prairie Sun recording complex in the desert country of Cotati, California, setting up in former chicken coops converted into studios, they metaphorically unplugged the clock and worked studiously through 12-hour sessions, wrapping up only when each story and every note rang true.
“This album sounds like us at our best,” Edwards says. “We weren’t going for being overproduced. What we got was exactly what we wanted because we didn’t have that time factor problem.”
And this is the paradox of the Turnpike Troubadours: Do they sound their best when they’re delivering another electrifying live show or when they’ve crafted an artful album, enriched by a narrative tradition that traces back to their fellow Oklahoman Woody Guthrie, in which every nuance tells a story unto itself?
Honestly, the band doesn’t worry much about that.
“The show is about people having fun,” Felker says. “The more fun they have, the more fun we have and the better off everybody is. The record is about understanding the poetry in a real way. I figure it’s like people sitting around in their house, maybe drinking a beer. That’s more the place for poetry.” “Our sound comes from playing country music, punk rock and anything else we liked in honky-tonks and beer joints,” Edwards adds. “You’ve got to give the crowd something to dance to and have a good time. But songwriters are the most important thing. So I think everything we’ve done says that you can have it both ways.”
The proof is on The Turnpike Troubadours and at whatever place they’re playing down the road near you. Think of them as a two-headed silver dollar; on both sides, you’ve got a winner.
Music is having a moment. Listeners are crying out for something true––some meaty songs that’ll give us some comfort, even as they cut closer to the bone.
Everyone is finally ready for the gritty, thundering country Jason Boland and the Stragglers have sharpened over almost 20 years’ worth of selling out roomy venues and commanding stages across the nation. And new album Squelch provides the ideal vehicle.
“We’re just trying to make something that we’re proud of,” lead songwriter and vocalist Boland says. “If any more people want to take notice of it, they’re welcome.”
Since coming together in Stillwater, Oklahoma, Boland and his tightknit crew have sold more than half a million albums independently and earned a devoted following that’s swelled far beyond the band’s red dirt roots. At a Stragglers show, oil patch roughnecks, hippies, college kids, and intelligentsia all sway side-by-side like a traveling reincarnation of Austin’s Armadillo World Headquarters in its cosmic cowboy, Willie Nelson heyday.
While the Stragglers draw from rock and folk, make no mistake: they traffic in unfiltered, unfettered honky-tonk, raw and lean. Equal parts subtle, meditative, and snarling, and often wickedly funny, Squelch is a deeply rooted exercise in exhuming beauty by trading smoke and mirrors for what’s real.
“We pay homage, but we don’t want to copy or be a throwback act,” Boland says. “All you can do is try to take the music that inspires you and take it further. And make it personal.” If he has felt any pressure to make his “personal” what others have in mind, it doesn’t show. Boland has never constructed an identity or sound for mass or even niche consumption. He is who he is, and he’s all in.
Recorded at Orb Recording Studios in Austin and mixed at Sonic Ranch in El Paso, Squelch was produced by Jim Ward (At the Drive-In, Sparta, Sleepercar) and marks the band’s eighth time in the studio. Like two previous Stragglers’ albums, debut Pearl Snaps and 2013’s critically acclaimed Dark and Dirty Mile, Squelch was recorded and mixed directly to tape. “It’s one thing when you can say, ‘Okay, now, engineer, you do your magic,’” Boland says. “There is no magic when you record and mix to tape. It is what it is. I think it’s a fuller, richer sound. And it’s just more honest.”
Opener “Break 19” thumps brazenly, reveling in bassist Grant Tracy’s heart-pounding walks and punctuated by Nick Worley’s whirling fiddle, Brad Rice’s locomotive drumming, and newest Straggler Cody Angel’s achy pedal steel. There’s not a throwaway line to be found, as Boland’s deep baritone rumbles through a sly takedown of modern media and absolute certainty after copping to trying it all the wrong way first and realizing “the more I see, the less I claim to know.” It’s a fitting introduction to The Stragglers’ signature blend of social consciousness, self-awareness, and swing.
“I Guess It’s Alright” is classic Boland wordplay layered over a breakneck shot of adrenaline. A rollicking sendup of society’s uneven tolerance for bad behavior, the track roars that for those with power, life is open season and consequences are nil. “I guess it’s alright to be an asshole if you’re good,” he pounds over growling guitar. “Fat and Merry” bristles with snark, taking aim at quintessentially American hustle, from suburban flight and gentrification, to waste and nonstop consumption. It’s got to be the only song ever to bemoan “coffee shops and escalades where escalades and cocaine could be found” with a world-weary fiddle echo. “Nobody wants to come off as judgmental, but you have to make judgments,” Boland says. “With your tongue in your cheek is a nice way to do it. None of us are above reproach. We’re all just having a good day or a bad day, same as everybody else.”
“First to Know” is a love song for adults. “If my voice sounds scared and frozen, it’s because I’m afraid and cold / And when I am you’ll always be the first to know,” Boland sings, both as an ode to the one who knows him best and a plea for understanding. It’s also a reminder that sometimes, what you see really is what you get, and while that may occasionally disappoint, ultimately, it’s cause for trust and hope.
Aversion to artifice permeates Squelch in just about every way, from the recording process to the album’s themes to Boland himself. “Lose Early” is a sauntering rendition of dust to dust and a skewering of the lie that you have to sell your soul to eat, while “Do You Love Me Any Less” questions whether or not absence hinders affection. Written by original Stragglers fiddler Dana Hazzard, haunting and heartbreaking “Christmas in Huntsville” is the only track Boland didn’t pen. Images of Christmas at home flood the imprisoned narrator’s mind as he heads to his holiday-timed execution for a murder he didn’t commit. Closer “Fuck, Fight, and Rodeo” kicks out the footlights in a two-minute, hell-in-a-hand-basket hoedown.
Asked why he feels so compelled to focus on lost causes and society’s ills, Boland explains, “Because we’ve talked about the rest of it. It’s almost out of obligation––and it’s an obligation that’s more intense because of the fact that nobody else is talking about it––some rock, rap, Americana, and folk does. But nobody is doing it the way we do it.”
Boland just exited his 30s, but he seems older, based on his experiences. He’s lived through alcoholism, a should-have-killed-him car crash, a ruptured vocal chord, and other trials. He wears his hard-won wisdom easily, without ceremony or conceit, and has evolved naturally as a writer, becoming more and more comfortable with his knack for recognizing the universally significant––even divine––in the ordinary. “Holy Relic Sale” is a stunning example, and one of the songs that makes Boland most proud. “My wife’s got a pair of lucky blue socks,” he says. “One day, we just had an awesome day––everything went right. We got home, and she pulled the socks out of the dresser and said, ‘I thought I had these on all day.’ It’s the classic story of ‘it’s not the things.’ The things are there to remind you to concentrate on the positive facts of life. The little relics that we have are going to wear out or get lost, but the light and the energy are within you.”
On stage, Boland leads a raucous party. Off stage, he’s mellow and warm, often wryly philosophical. But no matter where he is, he’s always grateful. “You play the dimly lit honky tonks of the world and take the music to the people, several at a time,” he says. “Some shows are huge, some shows aren’t. You take the good and the bad and you go down the road. And you think, ‘Isn’t that what everybody’s going for?’ Well no, it’s not. But that’s what we look back on and always smile about––the shaky ground that we’ve always been on. The uncertainty of it all.”
Hard-working, creative, and possessed of admirable humility and good humor, John Baumann likely would have seen success in whatever field he chose to ply his talents. Fortunately for listeners who love country music graced with a literary eye for detail and poetic charm, he made the bold choice to try his hand at singing and songwriting.
A San Antonio native who has also called Amarillo, Lubbock, Fort Worth, and now Austin his home at some point or another in his young life, Baumann tinkered with the mechanics of songwriting in between college and day jobs for several years before making the leap of faith to record a debut EP West Texas Vernacular in 2012. Released with little fanfare, it still emboldened him to piece together a band and hit whatever stages would give him the chance. The personable young musician honed his craft on the way up, making connections within the business (not to mention with thousands of fans) en route to releasing his full-length 2014 album High Plains Alchemy and landing coveted opening slots at some of the state’s most revered venues. At Gruene Hall, Floore’s Country Store, and the Nutty Brown Amphitheater, among many others, he has shared the stage with red-hot headliners like the Turnpike Troubadours and the Randy Rogers Band.
As Baumann’s music came into its own – a follow-up 2015 EP, Departures, garnered him some radio play for new signature songs like “Bay City Blues” and “Vices” – a clearer picture of what he is going for has emerged. Like his heroes including Texas songwriters Robert Earl Keen, James McMurtry, and Adam Carroll, he has cultivated a gift for near-journalistic lyrical detail, leavened with humor and spiked with heartache. His songwriting talents have garnered co-writes with artists including Pat Green, Cory Morrow and Wade Bowen that he was once content to just enjoy on a fan level: not insignificantly, Morrow included three co-writes with Baumann on his recent album The Good Fight. Even the country music mainstream took notice: Baumann’s poetic “Gulf Moon” was on hold for a platinum-selling country artist for several years before a last-minute change of direction handed him a rare disappointment in a still-new career that has otherwise been steadily on the rise.
Still, 2016 was overall a solid year, including a run of shows opening for Texas music’s ultimate hero Willie Nelson and laying the groundwork for what should be a much-anticipated 2017 full-length album. With his growing crowd of fans, peers, and even a few musical forefathers rooting for him, John Baumann has become one of the newest worthy links in the long chain of ambitious, progressive, and relatable artists that plays the singer-songwriter-performer game by their own rules.