It Happened In Tulsa: The Turnpike Troubadours Reunite

Worry no more. The boys from Oklahoma are alright. Actually, they’re a fair bit better than alright. And at about 9:50 p.m. Tulsa Time Friday, April 8th, they officially reunited at the corner of Easton and Main, on the Cain’s Ballroom stage. Everything a fan could have hoped for transpired. Nothing anyone may have feared materialized. The Turnpike Troubadours have regained their place as the greatest band in country music at the moment, one of the greatest acts live you can see, and the spearhead in the independent music revolution helping to save country music.

It’s not hyperbole to report that some were physically weeping. Detractors, roll your eyes all you want. This set of eyes was there to see it for himself. Hell, the 15 second clip of them coming out on stage and launching into “Every Girl” has folks getting steamy eyed alone. It’s all happening. Again. And all is right in the world, and least when it concerns the Turnpike Troubadours.

For years, fans of the Turnpike Troubadours looked upon the band’s sustainable, yet measured and moderate name recognition and success in country music with surprise and bewilderment. Fans knew the Turnpike Troubadours were the greatest country band in the world, and they couldn’t comprehend how everyone else had not woken up to that fact yet. Even more bewildering is how it took the band’s slow and painful descent, disillusion, and indefinite hiatus amid an existential crisis for the band to finally realize the recognition we all knew they deserved.

None of us here in the present tense have any clue just hell is going on here. Sure, there’s the naturally pent-up appetite for a band that hasn’t been touring for a few years. But due to COVID, that’s in no way mutually exclusive to the Turnpike Troubadours. Yes, we were all forced to reckon with the idea that there may never be anymore Turnpike shows or music. But it wasn’t like they were selling out large rooms coast to coast before any of this.

Now the Turnpike Troubadours are one of the hottest tickets in music. Fans were apoplectic when they couldn’t obtain tickets to the band’s first announced shows back at Red Rocks in Colorado. They shut down ticketing servers and websites after announcing a second round of shows. Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth had massive stars play there during the pandemic—Hank Jr., Thomas Rhett, Miranda Lambert, Kid Rock. Arena and amphitheater acts for crying out loud. But the demand for Turnpike Troubadours tickets far surpassed all of them.

You had to know though, when it came to Turnpike’s first show back, the only appropriate place was in Tulsa, on the corner of Easton and Main, at Cain’s Ballroom.

According to Cain’s, some 70,000 individual queries came in for tickets when they announced their first two dates back would be April 8th and 9th at the historic venue, which has been an operating dance hall for 90 years. When Saving Country Music stopped by the venue at 11:00 a.m., there was already a cue of patrons waiting to get in. They already had their tickets. They just wanted to be there first. Matt Forrest from Arkansas was first in line. He’d driven there to attend with his buddy Matt Westerman who’d driven 11 hours from Minnesota. Also in line were two brothers Rye and Fin Hewitt who’d flown in from Vermont. By 6:00 p.m., and an hour before they opened the doors, the line snaked around the block.

1,800 tickets were sold, and every one of those 1,800 people were there early waiting to get in. They weren’t missing a second of this experience. When the doors flung wide, the line for merch stretched the length of the Cain’s Ballroom floor, and into the restaurant.

Hungry Turnpike Troubadours fans didn’t need a frenzy whipped into them, but it didn’t hurt that The Vandoliers were on hand to help lubricate the gears, and who better to commence a party than these dudes with their punk-infused country roots punctuated by trumpet blasts. Super tight after opening huge shows for Flogging Molly, they were the right fit for the evening, and one of numerous opening band beneficiaries to this swelling Turnpike phenomenon.

Then Turnpike came out themselves, launching into “Every Girl.” The roar both before and afterwards—and at other times during the set—was louder than any other experienced at any other live music event, at least to this set of ears. Ears are still ringing, and it’s not from the mains. It’s from the crowd. Even the Turnpike guys were looking at each other with big grins and bewilderment. They were expecting a warm reception. Nobody was expecting this.

Naturally, one of the biggest points of interest is how Evan Felker fared. After all, it was his combination of stage fright and alcohol that put Turnpike in peril in the first place. He was animated, energetic, and most importantly, healthy and happy.

Evan Felker was never meant to be some superstar. It all just happened off the resonance of his words, and the amazing kinship forged with his band mates. He’s a poet, a farm boy, an Oklahoman. But there’s something about the way he’s able to put all of our lives into words and rhyme that undoubtedly deserves to be elevated to the highest reaches. Because it’s medicine for so many of us, and should be medicine for so many more.

But the reason this band works so well—and now finally has found their place as one of the hottest acts in music—is because it’s a supergroup all unto itself, which became evident during their hiatus. Evan Felker is the soul of the band, but bass player RC Edwards has always been the beating heart, as well as the other songwriter who some forget to give credit to, including writing some of the band’s biggest songs like “Easton and Main.” He also has a side project, RC and the Ambers.

Fiddler Kyle Nix proved during the downtime he can be a solo artist, songwriter, and bandleader himself any time he chooses. We knew he was the steady rudder of Turnpike, who wasn’t shy stepping up the energy when Evan began to falter. Smart and talented, Turnpike would not be Turnpike without him. Same for lead guitarist Ryan Engleman, who provides the essential sound of the Turnpike Troubadours, which is distinctly country, but with that critical rock edge that makes them unique.

“Hammerin'” Hank Early might be the best instrumentalist of the lot, transitioning from steel guitar, to banjo, to accordion with deftness and purpose. And ol’ Gabriel Pearson, who never enough is made of, and few photos surface of since he’s back there behind the cymbals and drums (including here), he’s just doing his thing, which in a country band, is not to be noticed as the drummer. But he’s the one holding it all together, and driving it forward with both energy and feel.

As for what they performed, you can find the full track list below. It started strong and never ceased. Even though the set was front loaded with some of their biggest hits, the energy never relented. The crowd knew every song and sang along. RC Edwards took a turn at the mic singing his signature “Drunk, High, and Loud.” Some wondered if Kyle Nix might sing a few, but not at this time. It was a Turnpike Troubadours show, with a similar approach to the ones you may have seen before the hiatus, but with an energy and chemistry that sometimes was missing before, except heightened more than ever previous.

And no, there weren’t any new songs played. Though at one point, Evan Felker—who spoke very little aside from some thank you’s—did seem to drop a slight hint new music may be on the way at some point. But they will announce that stuff in their time, and to their liking. It will undoubtedly happen though, even if it may be closer to 2023 than tomorrow.

In the interim, the Turnpike Troubadours have big return shows at Billy Bob’s Texas, Floore’s Country Store, Red Rocks, and scores of festivals and other appearances all around the country scheduled for this summer. If what happened at Cain’s Ballroom was any indication, fans have a lot to look forward to.

But the greatest takeaway from the experience is to never give up hope. In anything. Whether that’s your favorite band getting back together, or that person in your life that you love finally finding the equilibrium in life to keep it on track. Life is hard, especially for the most brilliant and creative among us. Love is often messy. But the Turnpike Troubadours persevered. Because the brotherhood and chemistry this band has forged just can’t be torn asunder, and is something wholly unique to this world.

With no effort at embellishment, what happened in Tulsa will go down in history—for the historical venue of Cain’s Ballroom, for the Turnpike Troubadours, for independent country music, and for country music in general. It was that paramount, and that profound.


Set List:

Every Girl
7&7
Easton and Main
A Tornado Warning
Good Lord Lorrie
Morgan Street
Wrecked
Down Here
The Bird Hunters
Something To Hold On To
Blue Star
Pay No Rent
House Fire
Gin, Smoke, Lies
1968
Diamonds and Gasoline
Drunk, High, Loud (RC Edwards)
Long Hot Summer Day
Bossier City
Long Drive Home


Photos

Matt Forrest, Matt Westerman , Sean Reed from Stillwater, OK, Rye and Fin Hewitt of Vermont, and Savanna Zackery and Emma Huffman from Talequah were 1st in line.
The Vandoliers
Evan Felker
R. C. Edwards
You can’t find an “Easton and Main” sign out in the wild in Tulsa. It will get stolen, like signs for Luckenbach in Texas. So it lives inside of Cain’s Ballroom, on the corner of the sound booth.
Ryan Engleman
Kyle Nix
Hank Early

Video:

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