What’s Different About Turnpike Troubadours 2.0
We said it for years. In fact, we say it about all of our favorite independent artists. We listen to their music, go to their shows, get such immense pleasure from their work, and insight from their songs, feel a great sense of gratitude, take such ownership in their careers, and sit back wonder why in the hell they’re playing in clubs—theaters if they’re lucky—and struggling to get by while those losers on the radio are packing out arenas. It’s just so unjust.
This seems true for all of our favorite artists, but it seemed especially true for the Turnpike Troubadours—the 2007-2019 version. Why weren’t they bigger? Why hadn’t the rest of the world caught on? Weren’t they listening to the song of Evan Felker? Couldn’t they see this was like a supergroup of players all to themselves?
In many respects, the Turnpike Troubadours were doing much better than many of our other favorite artists. But to make a living at their music and feed the mouths of six members and a support staff, they had to constantly be on the road, and mostly on the same circuit of haunts centered around Texas/Oklahoma/Arkansas/Louisiana/Missouri, unable to stretch their wings much farther since the farther they went from Oklahoma, the smaller the crowds got, and the less the pay was.
The Turnpike Troubadours were stuck in a weird place as local superstars, regional headliners, and generally speaking, national unknowns outside of the small diaspora of Red Dirt fans barely big enough to pack 500-capacity rooms in many locations at the extremities of the United States.
Part of the issue probably had to do with the fact that the world was not ready for the Turnpike Troubadours just yet. Timing is everything in music, and they were just slightly ahead of their time. They were around before the explosion of Sturgill Simpson, then Tyler Childers, then Zach Bryan and Billy Strings. Even within their strong fan base, people took Turnpike for granted. We just assumed they’d always be here. After all, if you lived in Texas or Oklahoma and missed one of their shows, you could just wait a few months and they would come back around, and you could always grab a day-of ticket on the cheap.
But absence makes the heart grow fonder, and not only did the Turnpike Troubadours hiatus re-calibrate our gratitude and make us ponder a world where they’re not around at all, it happened during an unprecedented time of discovery in independent country music. As fans lapped up Tyler Childers, Cody Jinks, and Zach Bryan, they went looking for similar artists, liked what they heard in the Turnpike Troubadours, and became instant fans.
No matter where you personally slot the Turnpike Troubadours on the country music depth chart, there’s pretty universal agreement that there is no better band for converting mainstream fans to independent country believers that the boys from Oklahoma. With some artists, it takes convincing, or an acquired taste. With the Turnpike Troubadours, as soon as someone hears “Every Girl,” “7&7,” or “Good Lord, Lorrie,” they’re instant fans.
But so much of the current and continued success of the Turnpike Troubadours after their return comes down to simple logistics and management. The Turnpike Troubadours couldn’t just be put right back on the regular touring circuit that they played for so many years and expect different results. The issues with frontman Evan Felker were real and personal, but they were exacerbated by the pressure of needing to be constantly on tour and away from home, and if they missed a date or two, it could mean missing the next mortgage payment.
It was best to blow that whole approach up and start over. You see this in your personal life or in your own job too, don’t you? Sometimes when it feels like you’ve hit rock bottom and everything is about to implode, it’s within those moments that an opportunity to enact a paradigm shift and completely re-orientate yourself on a more successful path presents itself.
This is what the Turnpike Troubadours have done. You may recall, during Turnpike’s indefinite hiatus, the band filed a lawsuit against their former management, claiming all sorts of infractions. This isn’t to throw the band’s previous management entirely under the bus, but at the least, the Turnpike Troubadours had outgrown their original team. They needed folks around them that could take them to the next level, that knew their potential, and could help them achieve it.
Now with the management company Tmwrk, and working with their long-time booking agent Jon Folk of Red 11, they have crafted a strategy where the Turnpike Troubadours don’t have to slog it out and constantly be on the road, but can be more selective with their bookings. This is what we’re seeing line up for 2023. Instead of publishing huge strings of tour dates, it’s one-off shows in bigger venues. Turnpike paid their dues plenty during the 1.0 version. They’ve earned the ability to be more selective with their appearances. Cede the 50-dates-in-two-months tour circuit to the up-and-comers who still need to make their name.
Just like Billy Strings, the Turnpike Troubadours have weaseled their way into becoming an arena artist, at least in select markets. This week they announced they’ll be playing the immense American Airlines Center in Dallas, TX on February 25th, 2023, along with The Avett Brothers and The Wood Brothers.
This is a smart move, and one we saw when they booked their reunion shows at Red Rocks earlier in 2022 and their first arena show at Paycom in OKC earlier this month: book big openers who will help draw and fill these arenas to capacity, and cross pollinate fan bases. Because again, all you need to do to create a Turnpike fan is expose someone to their music. The truth is, The Avett Brothers have been at or near the arena level themselves for years with little fanfare. The Avetts remain the most popular band nobody’s ever heard of.
Of course there are a bunch of fans bellyaching over having to see the Turnpike Troubadours in arenas now. Well suck it up. You had plenty of opportunities to see Turnpike in smaller spaces for a dozen years. They’ve graduated now, as have a lot of independent country artists to the next level of support, and more are on the way. We’re winning the battles, and the war. Our favorite artists are shifting the paradigm, and changing the very notions of what it means to be “independent.” Artists like the Turnpike Troubadours and Tyler Childers now have major label artists opening for them, and looking on with envy.
Yes, success introduces an entirely new set of problems. But they’re good problems to have comparatively. When it comes to the Turnpike Troubadours, or really any band, the personal health and well-being of the players should always be the first priority. Even Felker now has two little ones running under foot that he probably wants to spend more time with than less. This new approach to touring facilitates that, while increasing capacity to facilitate more fans.
Meanwhile, the Turnpike Troubadours are turning in some of the best performances of their careers, and one after another. In a healthier environment for everyone, with a renewed hunger, and not boring themselves from having to perform the same songs five nights a week, they can take the stage in front of voracious crowds with a new sense of vigor.
And yes, the stadium experience can be a step down if the production doesn’t take a step up. It can also be incredible and immersive to stand within a sea of like-minded fans moving like waves to the rhythms of a massive musical experience. And if that’s not for you, all the more reason you should be making sure to see Sierra Ferrell, Charley Crockett, Lainey Wilson, Mike and the Moonpies, Flatland Cavalry, Kaitlin Butts, Molly Tuttle, 49 Winchester, and so many more independent artist on the way up before they get launched into the stratosphere.
And don’t worry, new music from the Turnpike Troubadours is certainly on the way. After all, why in the hell did you just read this whole thing if you weren’t hoping to see at least some news about it? But just like their touring strategy, new music will come when the time is right, and when it’s the most opportune. Everything is aligning for 2023 to be the year of the Turnpike Troubadours. You think they took a step up in 2022 with their return? Wait until you see what they have in store next.
It’s a new day in country music, for the Turnpike Troubadours, and for independent music in general. Barriers have been torn down, spirits have been lifted, opportunities never though possible are happening before our very eyes. There are still so many artists out there also deserving of greater attention and support for their art. Not all of them are going to rise to the arena level, but we do hope that all who deserve it are able to forge sustainable careers in music and flourish.
But for now it’s important to recognize the Turnpike Troubadours Version 2.0 as an independent country music success story, heed the lessons that their ascent can teach us, and be thankful for how a band from Oklahoma has upped the possibilities for all independent country artists, while we contemplate where they go from here.
November 29, 2022 @ 9:04 am
Great piece, Trigg. All about perspective and balance. I’m hoping they have found it, both professionally and personally. And I can’t wait to hear music from their next chapter!
November 29, 2022 @ 9:30 am
I can’t speak for the rest of the country but I know they have a great following in Atlanta. Prior to the hiatus, you could set your watch on them showing up around the end of October. Each year the venue would get bigger and bigger. They finally made it back this year. They played a huge new venue this time called Pullman Yards. Based upon the crowd that was there and the size of the place, they have already outgrown the Fox Theater.
November 29, 2022 @ 9:58 am
Pullman Yards is definitely an interesting venue. I didn’t get to see Turnpike there, but saw Goose there last month and the place is huge. Like you said, as big or bigger than the Fox, but without the prestige and probably the price tag it would cost to play the Fox.
November 29, 2022 @ 4:54 pm
I saw Goose at Pullman, and then got called out of town 24 hours before the Turnpike. I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy it, because, well, Pullman sucks. There, I said it. It’s a cavernous industrial horror film set/event space with no concern for sound or audience efficiencies. Luckily, I drove three hours over to Tuscaloosa the following week, and Turnpike destroyed that little amphitheater they have over there, which I must say, is a gem of a venue. Wasnt even sold out….but damn if they didn’t rock my face for nearly 2.5 hours.
Robert's Country Blog
November 29, 2022 @ 6:27 pm
Turnpike used to play the Druid City Music Hall when they played in Tuscaloosa. That little venue is a small fraction of the size of the amphitheater.
November 30, 2022 @ 6:25 am
Nice to see Goose fans here. They’ve been on a tear lately, so great for a young band.
November 29, 2022 @ 9:34 am
If I could go back in time, I’d see Turnpike at The Mercury Lounge in Tulsa and throw some $$ in their tip jar.
November 29, 2022 @ 9:46 am
I’m hearing a few local cover bands starting to include Turnpike songs in their sets which tuck nicely between the Tom Petty standards and Feathered Indians which seems like a song every cover band worth it’s salt needs to play these days. The future of independent country rests with the kids. I was driving my daughter and her friends back to college after Thanksgiving break and suggested they play some of their music as I tried to be the cool open-minded dad. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing – no Taylor Swift, no radio country – but rather Marvin Gaye, The Bee Gees, and then several Zach Bryan songs, Tyler Childers Nose to the Grindstone and Coal (really?), I Don’t Mind by Sturgill. I almost ran off the road. These girls were listening to Katy Perry and rap just a few months ago. My point is, kids are looking for authenticity in everything including music. They all have old school digital cameras because they want grainy imperfect photos instead of the cropped and perfectly lit photos from their iPhones. If there’s a young person in your life, daughter/son or grandchild or niece/nephew, suggest 7&7 or Every Girl. I did on the drive. And now I’m pretty sure I’m the coolest dad ever.
November 29, 2022 @ 10:01 am
I’ve been a fan since 2015 or so when I first discovered them. Loved them instantly. I saw them twice this year at the Friday Ryman show and the Tuscaloosa show. The Ryman was packed for the opener (The Vandoliers) and there was so much energy in that place awaiting Turnpike. The Tuscaloosa show was a little different because there were two openers (Them Dirty Roses and Muscadine Bloodline), and not a whole lot of crowd for either. But by the time Turnpike took the stage, the amphitheater filled in nicely.
I’ve been thinking about Turnpike’s return and resurgence over the past few months and trying to figure out why they didn’t get bigger during the first run before the hiatus. I’ve concluded that maybe they were too late for their sound. I feel like if they had formed in the Mid 80’s or Mid 90’s when there were so many country bands around, they could’ve been the biggest one of all. But that’s just me pondering over a couple of beers. I’m so glad that they are back and only hope they continue to get more well-known. Myself, I’ll continue to listen to them on those cool evenings when I’m sitting outside on the deck while I watch the day end.
November 29, 2022 @ 10:02 am
I’m tired of hearing about these guys.
December 1, 2022 @ 10:33 pm
Then don’t listen and don’t read about them. Real simple.
December 2, 2022 @ 5:55 am
Thanks, Vick, I don’t know why I didn’t think of that!
I Need Some of that *sniff* Turnpike
December 7, 2022 @ 8:04 am
You’re tired of hearing of the best independent band in country music who just made a historic phoenix like return? You must rock at parties!
December 7, 2022 @ 9:18 am
Yeah dude, cuz I don’t like one popular band, I’m a miserable bastard to be around. Try different cliché next time, hoss.
December 7, 2022 @ 9:25 am
No… you’re a miserable bastard despite that.
December 7, 2022 @ 10:07 am
If someone like you thinks I’m a miserable bastard because I don’t enjoy the Turdpike Poopadours, then I must be doing something right.
November 29, 2022 @ 10:39 am
I’d rather see them than Billy strings
November 29, 2022 @ 12:09 pm
“Just like Billy Strings, the Turnpike Troubadours have weaseled their way into becoming an arena artist, at least in select markets.”
Billy Strings didn’t “weasel” his way into anything.
Show some respect.
November 29, 2022 @ 1:47 pm
“Lighten up, Francis.”
November 29, 2022 @ 2:16 pm
Yeah, Stripes is one of my fav’s, too.
November 30, 2022 @ 7:11 pm
I think Trig is trying to say Billy & TT weren’t supposed to make it to the arena if the labels and radio had their way.
November 30, 2022 @ 7:49 pm
Yeah, folks were making a big stink about this on Facebook too, like I’m going to write a 20-paragraph piece on the Turnpike Troubadours praising their reinvention, and then slag them in the middle of it for no apparent reason. It should be self-evident that I used that word not to impugn their character, but to indicate just how hard it has been for independent artists to slide past the gatekeepers in the popular country music industry.
December 1, 2022 @ 6:01 pm
: D i understand where you are trying to go with this statement, but not buying it.
Trig threw Billy Strings in with the TT’s hoping to add a little leverage to what the TT’s are doing. A little name dropping, as it were.
Believe it, Trig will come at me, saying this is not so. But, it is what he was shooting for.
Billy is on a whole ‘nother level.
That being said, happy for the TT’s.
November 29, 2022 @ 12:46 pm
“Of course there are a bunch of fans bellyaching over having to see the Turnpike Troubadours in arenas now. Well suck it up. You had plenty of opportunities to see Turnpike in smaller spaces for a dozen years”
I had tickets to see them in a small venue in Detroit several years ago. They canceled because Evan was going through his whatever that was. I’d be damned if I go see them in an arena. I absolutely will not “suck it up”.
November 29, 2022 @ 8:02 pm
I do think Turnpike should have done a few more make good dates to some of the venues and festivals that got left holding the bag during their cancellation era. But after their return, I’m not sure some of the venues could even facilitate it demand was so high.
November 29, 2022 @ 9:04 pm
The Little Rock arena show has the top center part of the upper levels closed off to sales and there’s plenty of seats left still with those closed. I’m sure Texas will sell easily but I wonder how far their market for arenas stretches?
November 30, 2022 @ 9:04 am
Little Rock is a weird market for indie country. Radio stations obviously play nothing but pop country and there’s really no middle ground between 100 ticket bars and 18,000 seat Simmons arena. Not sure why Robinson Auditorium isn’t booked more for this market segment with 2,000 seats.
Dave in SD
November 29, 2022 @ 2:42 pm
Up here in South Dakota we are usually behind the rest of the nation in terms of trends catching on. In the past six months I can recall about a half a dozen times where I heard an independent artist’s music blaring from a car stereo or being streamed in a business or repair shop. The most recent was a couple of weeks ago I was out at the local steakhouse/bar for dinner and a couple of beers. There were also some out of state hunters out that night, they were playing 49 Winchester, Whiskey Myers, and of course Turnpike on the juke box. I immediately bought them a round of drinks. We started talking music and the bartender, a young guy in his early twenties, and another local guy in his thirties sitting next to me joined the conversation, they all knew the independent music artists we were talking about. Another local bar had a wine tasting event this past weekend. They posted a video on Facebook of the entertainment, he was covering Zach Bryan’s Oklahoma Smokeshow. If it is catching on up here in South Dakota I think this indie music is getting bigger than we imagined.
November 29, 2022 @ 3:22 pm
I’ll never be an arena fan, especially now that Ticketmaster owns all the rights to them and instituted the financial rape known as “flexible ticket pricing”. Seeing artists play an arena just isn’t the same, even when the stage show is extravagant. I’m happy to let those artists enjoy their success and I’ll just dig deeper to find new artists who play Knuckleheads here in KC.
November 29, 2022 @ 4:04 pm
Knuckleheads is awesome. I miss living in KC and being able to go there so frequently to see great music and enjoy a great bar.
Jerry Clower's Ghost
November 29, 2022 @ 4:18 pm
Did Dusty Rust play there a lot when he was still in KC?
Jerry Clower's Ghost
November 29, 2022 @ 3:28 pm
“It was best to blow that whole approach up and start over. You see this in your personal life or in your own job too, don’t you? Sometimes when it feels like you’ve hit rock bottom and everything is about to implode, it’s within those moments that an opportunity to enact a paradigm shift and completely re-orientate yourself on a more successful path presents itself.”
Turnpike is kind of a microcosm for the how the whole country has been since the pandemic. People are reevaluating how they operate in order to improve their lives. And corporations wonder why people won’t go back to the crappy jobs they’re offering…
Jerry Clower's Ghost
November 29, 2022 @ 3:38 pm
Are Evan’s kids from his original lady, or did he get remarried?
November 29, 2022 @ 7:14 pm
Word is that he reunited with his wife, Staci.
Jerry Clower's Ghost
November 29, 2022 @ 7:19 pm
If true, that’s awesome. I always hoped they would mend those fences.
November 29, 2022 @ 8:04 pm
Yes, Evan is back and married to Staci Felker, and they now have two kids.
November 29, 2022 @ 4:39 pm
That is cool stuff.
Bring on the new music. They need some new songs to add to the canon.
Great Caesar's Ghost
November 29, 2022 @ 5:49 pm
On one hand, it’s kind of sad thinking about the first time I saw these guys, and 50 peeps seemed like a huge crowd for this band that EVERYONE should know about. On the other hand, it’s nice when true art is appreciated by the masses. It’s all the more spectacular considering their success as a touring band this year when there’s been no new music on record since 2017 released to the public. Yeah, 2023 is definitely going to be a big year for the Wright City Poet and his fellow Troubadours.
November 29, 2022 @ 6:02 pm
I am a big fan and have probably seen them 15 times over the years, from when they first started playing the stage at Steamboat at 3:40pm to last month in Jacksonville. The show last month was the weakest I had seen them. It was a regurgitation of the albums and specifically regarding the vocals, there was the least audible zeal present yet. Red Rocks last year had a bit of energy, but it was nowhere near the old days. There have been no new song teasers and the set lists are 90% the same show to show.
This is a challenge with all bands as they eclipse levels – they need to play to the masses. This is understood, but Empty as a Drum would not be expected to be played (as a singular example).
I have felt more like we have left the feeling of pals playing their hearts out and have begun to tease the realm of where we feel we need to play The Truck Got Stuck because a bunch of folks heard that and associate with it.
I imagine I sound like some guy asking for an IPA, but the point remains
November 29, 2022 @ 9:06 pm
you left out the woman who made them famous Trig 😂 jk jk. But not really ✌️
November 30, 2022 @ 6:31 am
Trigger, do you have an inside line on new music?
I imagine Evan was writing songs during their break…
November 30, 2022 @ 8:38 am
On Turnpike or in general?
I’m often made aware of albums before they’re announced, or get to hear them before they’re released, but not always. That said, I never announce albums until they’ve been made public, and don’t review albums until they’re released.
I was honestly expecting at least a new single from Turnpike before the end of the year. RC Edwards alluded to this in an interview. But unless we get something this Friday (which feels unlikely), I don’t expect to hear anything new until the new year. I would say that the rumors they’ve been working on new music are probably true. But I also think they understand that releasing their first album in over five years, and with all the attention on them, it will be a big moment, and they want to make sure they get it right.
November 30, 2022 @ 6:45 am
Not to blow smoke up your hole, but you deserve credit as well. Your efforts to keep these great bands in the public sphere is part of this resurgence in real country music. I used to share SCM with friends that had never heard of the site. Now I am amazed how how many times one of your articles shows up in my different story links on social media. Keep up the great work so the next TT or Zach can blow up big
November 30, 2022 @ 8:39 am
Thanks for reading.
November 30, 2022 @ 7:06 am
Isn’t it always the same when you discover some lesser known band? You grow attached to them, share them with your friends, and tell others on sites like this that there is a band everyone just needs to check out. When they hit and become everyone’s favorite band though, reality hits. Gone are the days of spending a hundred bucks for a ticket and a few beers at the local favorite nightspot, as you are now going to need double that for a ticket. And depending on where you live. you may spend hundreds of dollars in gas, tickets, meals, and hotels, for the opportunity to see them mashed in with thousands of others.
I am always happy to see my favorite bands succeed, but the older I get, the less I am willing to go along with them. Good luck to them, I’ll be at the local place watching the next new band.
The Original WTF Guy
November 30, 2022 @ 7:46 am
I saw Turnpike at Druid City in Oct of 2016 with Charlie Crockett opening. I also just saw them at the amphitheater a copule of weeks back.
Both shows were excellent. I was a bit surprised at the lack of pre-show ticket sales for the amphitheater, but it looked like there were a lot of same day purchases as it looked more full than I expected.
Lil DL’s righteous fury
November 30, 2022 @ 9:43 am
Don’t get me wrong I’m happy for the guys making the money the deserve but hell naw I’m on team Gatekeep. After the brain dead morons I had to sit around while seeing them in OKC, I’m converted. Gatekeep your hobbies boys and girls, it keeps them from becoming unrecognizable.
December 2, 2022 @ 7:49 pm
Can you translate pls?
November 30, 2022 @ 10:11 am
Based on this last tour, they are still pretty regional. Sold out arena in OK, but hundreds of tickets for a small amp in Alabama were down to $4 a week before the show on TM – those tix were 20 feet from the stage! I saw the same at the show I went to in at a 4000 seat amp in Jacksonville (with American Aquarium and Blackberry Smoke opening). Show was selling so bad that TM removed all of the resale tickets from the site 3 weeks before the show. $120 tickets were being sold for $20 preventing TM from selling their tickets, so stopped allowing resale for that show.
I eneded up with a pit ticket for that Jax show for $40 and had a great time in the front row 5 feet from Evan – i would have had to pay a fortune for that spot in the OK arena :-)!
November 30, 2022 @ 1:18 pm
There next album is going to be massive. A true coming out pary on the level of American Heartbreak.
November 30, 2022 @ 8:02 pm
I’ve been tracking them for awhile, but I’ve never seen them live since they haven’t come to Ohio. Hope they do in 2023!
December 3, 2022 @ 3:57 pm
As someone who saw TT at a few pre-hiatus shows and 4 times this year, I have to agree that the announcement of the AA Dallas show was bittersweet (of course I’m going- Avett fans rival TT fans when it comes to energy). I knew the Billy Bobs show might be our last chance to see them in their natural bar habitat. However, I’m glad for their success and hope they can find a sustainable long term tour schedule. They seem to be intent on gaining new fans in new areas. All 4 shows this year we’re outstanding – better than any pre-hiatus shows.
Nice shout out to 49 Winchester- we saw them open for TT at the Saturday Roman show and they blew the roof off!
February 2, 2023 @ 3:24 pm
Thanks for the post! Great article!!
March 6, 2023 @ 7:31 pm
Been following TT for a while now and stoked for their 2.0 success. They are putting this 2.0 article to the test as they just announced a May 5th 2023 show at 20,000 seat Capital One arena in Washington DC! They are teaming with Old Crow Medicine Show and Lucero. Capital One is a place to see Taylor Swift, Wizard and Capitals pro sports. This is a tall order but I hope they sell it out it and have as much success as they want. If that keeps your favorite bands making music for 30+ years then that’s what it needs to be. Yes I will miss them doing smaller shows for a time but arenas won’t last forever and they seem to be mixing in some smaller shows. Saw them at Windy City BBQ with Willy in Chicago (not small). Going to see them at York PA fairgrounds and in Boston with Drop Kick Murphy’s St. Patrick Day weekend (oh yeah!). Only saw them twice pre-Covid and glad I get to see them again.
March 6, 2023 @ 7:48 pm
May have an article coming up about this, but I agree it’s a big test. I think the calculus here is that DC is close enough to Virginia and the Northeast where they haven’t really played yet since coming back that the appetite will be high, and they’ll sell this thing out. Old Crow and Lucero will also be big draws for them. We’ll see.