When Granger Smith equated the Texas music scene to the minor leagues, a lot of folks jumped in with their own thoughts. For some, them’s fightin’ words. Wade Bowen offered a tongue-in-cheek rebuttal on Instagram, sharing Smith’s quote with the caption, “Love my life! Cheers to the minor leagues!!”
That cued off a bit of a flame war amongst fans. Smith’s longtime drummer demanded Bowen apologize, and Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel planted himself in Bowen’s corner with this tweet:
— Ray Benson (@bismeaux) July 19, 2016
Bowen said he and Smith eventually cleared the air over the phone, a promising “olive branch” of sorts meant to calm down the quarreling fans more than anything. But the feud once again unearthed the inescapable argument in the country world.
Which has more merit: the Texas music scene or the Nashville scene? Unfortunately, for many fans it’s an either/or argument. Being a diehard fan of the Texas music scene, the thinking goes, precludes you from also loving the Nashville sound. Success in Texas, the Nashville “suits” suppose, doesn’t translate to a shot at success outside of it.
The two lines of thinking couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the Texas music scene and the Nashville machine are intertwined more deeply than perhaps any other genre in the music industry.
The Texas music scene and the Nashville machine are intertwined more deeply than perhaps any other genre in the music industry.
Texas’ rich musical tapestry includes legends in just about every genre. When it comes to country, Texas’ stake as the genre’s forefather is undeniable. Bob Wills, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, George Strait — these icons shaped country music back before anybody cared if it was “Nashville” or “Texas.” But what about today?
Texans should be proud to know that some of the best-selling, most critically acclaimed Nashville acts are Texans with musical roots deep in the Lone Star State. Some of the biggest writers, producers and engineers behind the biggest hits are Texans. In many ways, Nashville is Texas.
But Nashville is a lot of other people, too. Because it has a scene that draws thousands of people every year from across the country, from nearby Southern states to the Northern Plains and beyond. The Nashville scene includes people who left towns both large and small in search of a network that could help them take their music careers further.
A Scene Of Its Own
Texas and Texans are blessed with their very own scene. One of Texas’ brightest young stars in Nashville, Maren Morris, made that distinction beautifully. “Once I moved to Nashville, I learned so many people had to move there to find a music scene, and I realized how lucky I was to come from one in Texas,” Morris told me months ago.
But that very thing can make the industry in Nashville uneasy. They’re not sure how to tackle such a unique market. One that still largely operates with artists who write the bulk of their material, as opposed to songwriters. One that emphasizes the small market draw and finds its most kindred states in more rural areas like Oklahoma, Colorado and Wyoming.
And yet, the separation of the “Texas” scene from the rest of the country world really only came about in the past twenty years. At least in terms of a viable, structured market with its own touring, radio and press. It’s a viciously independent world, and Texas artists wear that independence like a badge of honor.
And that still doesn’t change the fact that they all want a chance to roll with the big boys. Or at least dig into the big boy pocket books. Some of Texas’ most prominent artists made the leap, earning major label deals out of Nashville, to varying degrees of success: Pat Green, Randy Rogers Band, Eli Young, Wade Bowen, Josh Abbott Band, Granger Smith and many others.
A Sunny Spot To Grow
But Texas’ greatest artistic value, perhaps, lies in the wealth of creative artistry under the surface. Today, the biggest names in country music from Texas left Texas at one point or another to achieve that success. That culture should be embraced, not ignored.
Many of country’s top women built their chops and confidence in Texas. Kacey Musgraves, Lee Ann Womack, Miranda Lambert and the aforementioned Maren Morris all spent years in the state before taking their talents Northeast.
For Morris, that included three independent albums and a No. 1 single on the Texas charts. But none of it quite added up to the success she’d hoped for, so she followed her acquaintance Musgraves to really concentrate on the craft of songwriting — something Nashville offers better than any city in the world.
As she later told me, she’s not mad that she didn’t “blow up” in Texas. Because she just wasn’t as good as she is now. She saw each album and song as a stepping stone to something greater. A lot of that comes from studying the songwriting of Texas legends past and present.
That includes Texan writers like Guy Clark and Radney Foster, along with modern masters of the pen Shane McAnally and Liz Rose. When these artists and writers leave Texas, they’re not leaving the Texas music scene. They’re expanding it. (Just look at how many of them constantly pay homage to their Lone Star heritage).
A Fierce Individuality
The Texas music scene, above all, inspires a fierce individuality. It always has, regardless of genre. From Buddy Holly, who changed rock n’ roll forever, to Beyonce Knowles, who continues push the boundaries of pop music and culture, Texans can’t help but raise the bar.
And that attitude persists not just in the promising young acts of Texas country, like William Clark Green, Cody Johnson and Cody Jinks, but in the Texans who plant their boots in soil across the country. The “Don’t Mess With Texas” spirit is infectious. As Morris noted, you can hear the attitude of acts like Ray Wylie Hubbard and Steve Earle in the modern tracks of artists like Carolinian Eric Church, who gives Hubbard a shoutout in his song “Mr. Misunderstood.”
So whether artists and songwriters choose to explore that sound in Texas or anywhere else is, ultimately, irrelevant. Yes, the Texas scene offers more opportunities for budding artists to get up and play. It costs less money to promote music to radio in Texas, the bus rides are shorter (well, only sometimes) and the ceiling is ultimately lower if an artist chooses to never tour outside the state.
It can be as minor as an artist makes it. But the quality of artistry, the uniqueness of voice, the audacity of individuality within the Texas scene are as major as it gets. It matters, and the mainstream country world is better for it.