Fans of country and Red Dirt’s Turnpike Troubadours were left forlorn late last month when it was announced that the band would be going on an indefinite hiatus amid a rash of cancelled shows and concerns for frontman Evan Felker. This has left a gaping hole in the independent country scene where one of the most beloved, exciting, and accessible bands has been brought to an abrupt halt, which begs the question of who might be able to step up to fill this important void.
Not any band can fulfill this task just because they’re a group of guys (or girls) who play country rock and are located in Texas or Oklahoma. Shane Smith and the Saints are a great up-and-coming band, but with their more folk-oriented material, they have their own niche to fill. The duo Shotgun Rider was a potential candidate, but they recently announced they’re splitting up too. More established bands like American Aquarium or Reckless Kelly are out their forging their own legacies. There’s a lot of solo artists like Randall King, Dalton Domino, William Clark Green, or Red Shahan, Jamie Line Wilson, and Charley Crockett who’ve opened for Turnpike before, or up-and-comers like James Steinle, Drew Moreland, or the Panhandle’s Comanche Moon. All of these are great bands and artists, but don’t feel like they fit the mold just right.
So who does then? Here are Saving Country Music’s Top 5 candidates for bands who could take Texas country to new heights.
#5 – Mike and the Moonpies
If you’re looking for a band that drips with true Texas country music authenticity and is not some marketed and packaged turquoise-encrusted fortunate sons formed in Nashville, Mike and the Moonpies are right for you. Before they became one of the hottest things in independent country music, the Moonpies paid well over their fair share of dues haunting the honky tonks of Austin and surrounding areas, playing multi-hour sets for two steppers, and even today can still be caught playing places like The White Horse and Hole in the Wall. It’s past time for the Moonpies to go national, but they’ll always have the real life experience of playing the honky tonk circuit for many years embedded in their music.
#4 – Mike and the Moonpies
One of the primary assets that allowed the Turnpike Troubadours to become such an important and influential band in Texas/Red Dirt music and beyond was their ability to bridge infectious songs with subsnative and resonant lyricism. Forging wide appeal for your music is one thing. Doing it while still staying true to your roots and working in verses that don’t just make you move, but make you feel and think as well was the secret ingredient to the Turnpike Troubadours’ success. Mike and the Moonpies is one of the few bands from the Texoma region that like the Turnpike Troubadours, get this chemistry just right.
#3 – Mike and the Moonpies
What made (or makes) the Turnpike Troubadours so special is that it was a group of top notch guys who all felt like the top flight players in their positions. Even Felker was a consummate frontman, just like Mike Harmeier with the Moonpies. But when you build in one of the best steel guitar players in the business in Zach Moulton, bass player Omar Oyoque who is the soul of the band live (and can play steel guitar too), guitarist Catlin Rutherford who is the perfect counter punch to Mike Harmeier, and Kyle Ponder putting that drive behind their music, each one of the players feels like they deserve their own spotlight. Mike and the Moonpies are like a supergroup, but all in an original package, just like the Turnpike Troubadours.
#2 – Mike and the Moonpies
Beyond what you might hear on the stellar records of Mike and the Moonpies, possibly the greatest reason they’re ripe to step up to the plate and fill the Turnpike gap is because they are nothing short of the greatest live act in all of country music at the moment. This is the reason Saving Country Music named the Moonpies 2018’s Live Act of the Year, and if anything, they’ve even stepped it up a further notch recently. Mike and the Moopies absolutely melt faces when on stage, and the recent addition of bass player Omar Oyoque has lit a fire under this band, and brought out the best in everyone else.
#1 – Flatland Cavalry
Look, nobody will ever replace the Turnpike Troubadours, and even broaching the subject seems insulting to Turnpike’s legacy, and as silly as putting lists together for easy internet click bait. The only band that could ever fill the shoes of the Turnpike Troubadours is the Turnpike Troubadours, and one of the reasons for this is due to how they hit on something so wildly original and unique, it could never be duplicated. It’s also unfair to lump that responsibility on any band’s shoulders.
The Turnpike Troubadours were also wildly influential, and there’s no better band that reflects that influence than Lubbock’s Flatland Cavalry. Frontman Cleto Cordero has the songwriting chops of all the Texas greats, and is backed by a crew of guys who “get” the Texas sound that is mostly country, but a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll to engage a bigger audience and keep country feeling fresh and rejuvenated. You can clearly hear the influence of the Turnpike Troubadours in Flatland Cavalry, but if they are going to step up to the plate and become the premier Texas country band, then you will have to hear the influence of Flatland in others. It’s all out there for Flatland Cavalry, but they have to want it. They have to be uncompromising with both their live show and their studio work. And they have to look beyond the easy Texas/Red Dirt markets so they don’t get stuck in the same circuits, which was one of the issues that saddled the Turnpike Troubadours.
No band lasts forever. But in country music, strong bonds form between generations or artists and bands where the up-and-comers learn from their predecessors, take up the torch, and carry the legacy to the next generation. Hopefully the Turnpike Troubadours have decades left to contribute. But if not, bands like Flatland Cavalry should be ready to step into that void, and keep the legacy alive for the next generation of country fans. Because the legacy of Texas and Red Dirt is bigger than any one artist or band, and more considerable than any geographical region. The Turnpike Troubadours proved that.