It's true that William Clark Green, Josh Abbott, John Baumann and Cleto Cordero of Flatland Cavalry formed The Panhandlers to pay homage to Texas country music icons The Flatlanders, but save a little credit for The Dixie Chicks and the talented women following in their bootsteps.
Per Baumann, Abbott first entertained the original Panhandlers concept after seeing Jamie Lin Wilson, Kaitlin Butts, Courtney Patton and Heather Starcher-Stalling lead a Dixie Chicks tribute set in January 2019 during Music Fest at Steamboat, an annual, Texas-heavy getaway in the Colorado mountains.
"Josh was just like, 'That's a great idea. We should do a Flatlanders tribute," Baumann says. "There's so many great songs and albums they've made, but they kind of fly under the radar. We thought we could shine a light on them 30 or 40 years after they were popular because, in a big way, they're a foundation of what the Texas music scene's all about."
The leader of the Josh Abbott Band's concept organically turned into a collective of singer-songwriters with original material that pays homage to West Texas' musical legacy.
"It really didn't start until Josh Abbott called all of us individually and just said, 'Hey, would you be interested in doing a project like this?,'" Baumann says. "At the time, it was just like, 'would you like to play a show at Steamboat MusicFest,' like a tribute show. Then from there, it turned into maybe we should make a record, maybe we should have a band name and maybe we should have a writing retreat. It just kind of evolved and evolved and evolved."
Once it became clear that The Panhandlers' debut album would consist of original material and not Flatlanders covers, four songwriters with distinct voices began writing for an album, out March 6 on Bruce Robison's label, The Next Waltz.
"Josh and I wrote the first song at my house one afternoon last summer," Baumann says. "A few weeks later, we took a trip to Marfa, Texas and stayed out there for three nights. We wrote songs, drank beer and had a good time. That's where a bulk of it happened."
Baumann wrote "No Handle" by himself, not knowing it'd be the first Panhandlers song heard by the masses. He also contributed to the last song on the album, "Caprockin'," which he describes as "very tender and sweet and just about appreciating where you are in life."
The group debuted as planned with a January set at Steamboat and will return March 19 with a show at legendary venue Gruene Hall. Beyond that, there's a couple of festival appearances scheduled around Texas: April 21 at LJT Fest in Stephenville and May 1 at Cotton Fest in Lubbock.
Baumann adds that scenarios where two or three Panhandlers appear on the same bill may lead to impromptu jams, much like those partial Highwomen lineups we've seen in recent months. After all, he's giddy over any chance to collaborate with his fellow Panhandlers.
"I'm appreciative of the other three guys because they've really moved the ball far downfield in their careers, and it's an honor to share the stage with them and share this opportunity with them," Baumann says.