Turnpike Troubadours Book D.C. Show, Hank Early Talks Arena Shows

Evan Felker of the Turnpike Troubadours (photo: Rob Brown)

Are the Turnpike Troubadours post hiatus truly an arena act? Down in the Ark-La-Tex, the answer has definitely been certified as “yes.” Packing out the Paycom Center in Oklahoma City on November 12th, 2022, the Simmons Bank Arena in Little Rock on February 24th with The Avett Brothers opening, and then the massive American Airlines Center in Dallas on February 25, these were all massive feats. This has definitely catapulted Turnpike into the pantheon of arena acts.

Turnpike also had to add a second show at the BOK Center in Tulsa on March 30th due to big demand for the original show announced on April 1st. They also have the United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, TX reserved for April 21st. Jamie Lin Wilson and Dawes are opening that show. But the common thread here is how all of these dates have been in the big markets for the Turnpike Troubadours throughout their tenure in the Texas/Red Dirt music scene.

That all changes when they play Friday, May 5th at the Capitol One Arena in Washington D.C., with Old Crow Medicine Show and Lucero set to open. Not only is this venue significantly out of their native region, it’s also one of the biggest arenas in the United States. Playing the nation’s Capitol will be an interesting test if the appeal of Turnpike has truly gone nationwide. Presale tickets go on sale Wednesday, March 8th at 10:00 am Eastern. General sale starts Friday, March 10th.

Part of the calculus here has to be that Turnpike will draw from nearby Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and from New England in general for the show. Though Turnpike has been getting around a lot in the last year after ending their hiatus, they haven’t played much in this region.

After playing the American Airlines Center in Dallas recently and leaving a big impression, one of the biggest radio stations in the city—Sports Radio 1310 The Ticket—talked to Turnpike multi-instrumentalist Hank Early about the show, playing arenas, and the band after their hiatus. The afternoon show The Hardline and host Corby Davidson has always been a big supporter of independent roots music, and specifically Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell. After the show, Davidson called the Turnpike Troubadours his new favorite band.

“To see the crowd literally chanting every single word to every single song for a couple hours straight was super impressive, and you guys have been on this run where you’re playing these huge arenas,” Davidson said to Hank Early. “That’s the one thing that really struck me is that y’all haven’t made a record in a long time, and you came out of the chute playing these giant arenas. What were you expecting coming out of your hiatus, because y’all were shot out of a canon?”

“It’s been wild man,” Early said. “I had a feeling it was going to be pretty intense because, just lurking on social media and this and that, you just saw so much enthusiasm about it. And when we finally did start to announce [the return], the response was huge. And after touring last year, the ticket sales led our management team to decide, ‘Hey, let’s just start booking arenas.’ And yeah, it’s wild man.”

Then Hardline co-host Dave Lane asked, “Do you consider your genre of music to be country music? Or like Corby [Davidson] are you too embarrassed and you call it Americana? (laughing)”

Hank Early

“I’m actually more embarrassed to call it Americana,” Hank Early responded. “We played the AmericanaFest a few years back, and we stuck out like a sore thumb. We did not fit in with those sleepy, shoe-gazy country folk. Our stuff is definitely … we’re not embarrassed to call it country. Obviously it doesn’t sound like mainstream country radio, and that’s okay. Country’s kind of a big tent term.”

Corby Davidson also asked Hank Early if there was a moment when they thought the band may never get back together as frontman, singer, and songwriter Evan Felker was going through personal struggles.

“It was a dicey time. Whenever anyone is having struggles like that, you never have any idea of how it’s gonna go. The stuff he went through, that can make or break a person. I’m really happy he was able to get through all that the way that he has. I think it’s had a positive impact on the whole outfit. Him bringing his sobriety out on the road has got us all thinking and acting a little differently, and I think it’s a really healthy change.”

As for the cultural changes within the band since they’ve been back, and specifically when it comes to drinking, Early says,

“It’s been something we just felt out as we’ve gone along. Right away, it was very zero tolerance … keep it all dry back stage, and just being very considerate of trying to not cause a brother to stumble. By as time’s gone on, [Evan Felker’s] very comfortable where he’s at. He’s told us over and over again, ‘Do what you want to do, it doesn’t bother me.’ We’re not drinking on stage, and if you came back stage, it’s not like it used to be. There’s not handles of whiskey and beer all over the place. But if some of us want to go have some drinks after the show, we go have some drinks. It definitely changed the culture, and I’m a big fan honestly.”

You can hear the full interview below on Spotify:

© 2023 Saving Country Music