WARNING: Some Language
Yes, we’re going here. And hopefully now that all the celebrity gossip bullshit has been exhausted, we can clear the decks and be adults about it. Because despite the very obvious personal nature of this story and the underlying given that it’s none of our damn business who is banging who, there are some very real musical implications to this situation, and some very important points to make about how this story broke, or most importantly, how it didn’t break, for so long.
Go ahead and see the headline, and then navigate to the comments section and scream about what garbage it is this subject is being broached in the first place. But you’ll be glossing over the fact that this outlet, along with many of your other favorite outlets and journalists in the Texas music scene and beyond, sat on their hands for two weeks or more when they had this full story detailed and verified and didn’t say a peep, knowing all the while that US Weekly, TMZ, or some other celebrity gossip rag would abscond with the millions of clicks this news would generate that barring some massive, jarring death, will end up being the the biggest traffic-generating story in all of country music in 2018.
We sat on our hands not just because the story didn’t fit in the realm of “music” coverage, or because of the potential backlash it would cause by certain fans that would scream, “Mind your own business!” (but would click anyway). It’s because Even Felker was not just the member of a “Neo-folk music group” as US Weekly portrayed. He is and was a very private individual who never asked, nor deserves to be under the microscope of the salacious media for stuff that doesn’t affect anyone aside from the people close to him in his personal life.
And by the way, what the hell does “Neo-folk music group” even mean? This just underscores how the personal lives of these artists are dealt with as “content” and “product” by publishers who are often perfectly ignorant of who these people actually are.
If you’re a true country music fan, you don’t need any qualifiers to know who Evan Felker is. You don’t even need to be told he’s the frontman of the Turnpike Troubadours. This dude’s been soundtracking your life for the past decade. His songs sit as time stamps on some of the most important moments you’ve ever experienced, and they always will, regardless of how he gets dragged by the celebrity press, or dick kicked by Gwen Stefani Stans on social media.
“Neo-folk music group”? You can seriously fuck off with that. The Turnpike Troubadours are arguably the greatest country music band of the twenty teens, and it’s only because most country media is too busy sniffing its own farts in echo chambers and/or prattling to the mainstream industry that the Turnpike Troubadours and Evan Felker have been so criminally underrated for so long.
Ultimately this is a personal matter, but there are significant musical implications to this Evan Felker and Miranda Lambert story that do make it very relevant to music media. This could be huge for the Turnpike Troubadours. Yes, the same was surmised for Anderson East, and if any such benefits materialized, the effects were marginal. Undoubtedly Anderson received a boost in name recognition, which I’m sure translated into some more sales, streams, and bigger tour purses. But what East does is frankly outside of the country sphere, and only was relevant to what Miranda does by the proxy of “Americana.” And not to knock his music whatsoever, but what someone like Anderson East does will always be a niche thing, barring some crazy resurgence of interest in throwback blue-eyed R&B like we saw happen with the swing craze in the late 90’s.
Meanwhile the Turnpike Troubadours are the greatest living country band on the planet at the moment, yet nobody’s heard of them. They’re the first band you turn to when you want to show your pop country-listening buddy the power and potential of independent country music. Evan Felker and The Turnpike Troubadours are the reigning Saving Country Music Artist of the Year. The only reason it’s not self-evident to pop culture that Evan Felker is one of the greatest songwriters of our time is because so few people have heard of him in the grand scheme. And Miranda Lambert was helping with that problem even before whatever relationship may or may not exist right now was even on the radar.
That’s one of the reasons that in the last two years Miranda Lambert has become an incredibly important player in the attempt to save country music, and one of the reasons Saving Country Music has made a concerted effort to highlight those ongoing efforts, like taking the Turnpike Troubadours out on tour. And if you second guess that at all, just check the mantle of Jack Ingram, which now has a fresh ACM trophy sitting on it thanks to Miranda, not to mention the dozens of other songwriters she’s cutting songs with, or taking out on tour, or showing up to support live while most mainstream artists sit back in their mansions and media enclaves.
Saving Country Music was accused of both being horifically uninformed, and for fulling knowing of the relationship and trolling on April 9th when a story was posted on how Miranda Lambert had shown up to Floore’s Country Store in central Texas to take in a show featuring Tyler Childers and the Turnpike Troubadours. Tyler Childers is the artist Miranda Lambert posted about on Instagram, so that’s where the focus of the story went. Also important to note, Saving Country Music was supposed to be at that event to cover it. Because that’s what Saving Country Music does—it covers events for the Turnpike Troubadours. But credentials got 86’d last minute.
Despite the accusations that swirled, yours truly was completely in the dark about any relationship between Miranda Lambert and Evan Felker at that time. But that sure changed quickly as within an hour, links to public notices of divorces in Oklahoma, and even private text messages from Even Felker’s (soon to be) ex-wife’s phone landed in my inbox completely unsolicited.
And yet I sat on that info, as others did. Because fuck that shit. But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to post something and openly struggled with the decision, and not just because it would have paid off six months of mortgage payments, and probably would have been the biggest story posted on this site in years. And everyone, including the people who will chirp about how even this long and winding dissertation is exploitative and opportunist, would have clicked, and clicked again.
The main frustration was that you just knew that when this story eventually broke, it would be written by people who don’t know anything about Evan Felker, or Miranda Lambert for that matter, or country music, and don’t have the insight into personalities to understand why such news could be callous and caustic, or incredibly important. If someone was going to break it, better that it be someone who doesn’t think the Turnpike Troubadours are a “Neo-folk music group.” And still, myself and others sat on our hands in hopes the story would get squashed in the womb, and meanwhile we’re now getting railed against for supposedly protecting infidelity that we for sure would exploit if it was some vilified pop country personality.
There’s no sugar coating it. None of our damn business or not, from a personal standpoint, yes, how all this went down looks bad for both Evan Felker and Miranda Lambert. If you want someone to defend this behavior, you’ve come to the wrong place. But that still doesn’t make it fair to put these people’s personal lives on trial in the court of public opinion when many of the facts are still unknown, such as if Evan Felker and his wife were already on the outs. And surprise surprise, the personal lives of musicians are just as messy as the rest of ours. Those who haven’t had a friend, or a family member, if not themselves be a party to similar behavior, feel free to cast the first stone.
And this truth wouldn’t be any different if this was some big, polarizing pop country star, unless that pop country star had been out there in the press portraying themselves as a beacon of virtue, similar to how Jason Aldean was doing in the press right before he was caught necking with his current wife Brittany Kerr in a California hot spot while he was married to another woman. But Miranda has never made herself out to be the prim and proper housewife. In fact she’s done the opposite in both her own material, and the songs of the Pistol Annies. Miranda’s kept her character persona in the public eye via her care of orphaned animals. And as for Evan Felker, we’ve never known enough about the guy to say he was being publicly disingenuous with us.
But one of the reasons messy personal situations always seem to swirl around musicians is because for a large part, musicians are messy people, at least most of the ones who are any good. Find a boring person, and they probably make a bad musician. Anyone paying close attention to the Turnpike Troubadours over the years knew about Felker’s battles with alcohol, which at times have played out on stage. And that’s right, Saving Country Music—who’s being accused of “sheltering” Felker now—was the one who had to deliver the ugly news.
When covering Evan Felker at a festival in Florida in February, I said of him, “Evan Felker is the everyman poet of our time. He possesses the ability to make his stories feel like all of ours, and somehow give those stories the same feelings we all feel during the momentous events in our lives. Incredibly insightful, just enough troubled to make him real, and plucked right out of the Heartland with an authenticity impossible not to love, he embodies everything you want from the frontman of your favorite band.”
The same virtues and gifts that make an artist like Evan Felker be able to offer incredible insight into life and make his stories seem like all of ours are the same burdens that often make every day a struggle for equilibrium in ways most of us cannot comprehend, and are unfair to judge. This is in no way a defense of indefensible behavior. But nobody will have to live deeper with the choices Evan Felker has made in his personal life than Evan Felker. The same goes for Miranda. Sure, maybe if Felker was out there selling his wedding photos to People Magazine, it would be perfectly fair to now use his personal life as gossip content. But all Evan Felker has ever wanted to do is write songs and share them with people. He’s terrible at selling his persona, and that’s why he continues to be so beloved by many fans, even through this current turmoil. He is real.
And the same goes for Miranda Lambert, and it shouldn’t be any different simply because she is a women. A few days ago, it was the 5th Anniversary of the death of George Jones. The Possum spent much of his life philandering and face down drunk, throwing shows or not showing up at all. He stole Tammy Wynette from her then husband by flipping over the dinner table as an invited guest. But today we cite all of these character flaws as if they’re redeeming qualities and chits of authenticity for George Jones. We’re proud of them as country fans. Again, nobody’s letting Miranda Lambert off the hook. If she made time with a man in a committed relationship, that was wrong. But that doesn’t give us a reason to hate her music, or gloss over all the times she was right, including the times she championed the music of Evan Felker, or Jack Ingram, or Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley, and others.
Perhaps the Evan Felker and Miranda thing will be nothing more than a passing fling and fizzle momentarily. Perhaps Felker will end up on the arm of Miranda on the CMA Awards red carpet, or walking down an aisle, and it will finally result in the Turnpike Troubadours receiving their due and the two will waltz into the Country Music Hall of Fame hand in hand.
Either way, it is the duty of all of us, as fans and journalists, to always take into consideration the personal implications of what we choose to say or do, and take stock of the necessity of it when it interfaces with the personal lives of artists, and the implications those actions might have. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a struggle to know what to do with the Miranda Lambert and Evan Felker story, seeing how it is ultimately not our business, but being frustrated by the way it’s being portrayed in celebrity gossip, and the misnomers swirling in the air about Evan, and the Turnpike Troubadours. I struggle with posting this now, fully knowing it will be called click bait and opportunistic even before people click on it.
Ultimately, artists give greatly of their personal lives to entertain us. The least we can do is not use their personal lives as our entertainment.