Review: Turnpike Troubadours at White Oak Music Hall

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Toll Highway Troubadours
White Oak Music Room
May 7, 2022

GORDO COOPER: Who’s the best driver you’ve ever seen?
Trudy Cooper: …
GORDO COOPER: You look at it, baby.

It’s a great time to continue our series of hypothetical country music rankings. Previously, we’ve discussed who owns the country’s Mount Rushmore, as well as a March Madness-style Texas Americana bracket. Now onto the big guns: namely, who is the current best country artist?

The answer could be as simple as “anyone not called Florida-Georgia Line”, but there’s probably more to it. Legitimate legends like Willie Nelson and Loretta Lynn are still recording, while most of the genre’s best are completely ignored by the likes of 93Q.

For your consideration, there are the Turnpike Troubadours. The indie band from Talequah, Oklahoma enjoyed what could only be described as “skyrocketing” success in the early 2000s, going from opening act to headliner shortly before that frontman Evan Felker’s drug addiction issues only led the band to go on hiatus in 2019 (ironically, hours before a show at WOMH).

Freshly sober, Felker and company returned to Houston last night and — not to stress it too much — blew the roof off the place. Or would have if the show hadn’t been outdoors.

It’s easy to describe the song they opened with (“Every Girl”) as a fan favorite, but that wouldn’t exactly reduce it. I’m having a hard time remembering which songs didn’t elicit sing-alongs, but the ones that particularly stand out include “Good Lord Lorrie”, “Gin, Smoke, Lies” and “Pay No Rent”. But I couldn’t pull three different songs out of a hat and the feeling would be the same.

Click to enlarge

Triumphant troubadours.

Photo by Jennifer Lake

It was mentioned more than once during my audition that the Troubadours could have played in a room twice the size of WOMH and filled it up, and it would be a bit silly to argue that point. Last night had the biggest crowd I’ve personally seen in White Oak, which would seem to indicate that their comeback tour is going pretty well.

Felker was in great shape, looking as relaxed on stage as he probably ever has. He attributed at least some of that to his new daughter, dedicating a closer “Long Hot Summer Day” set to her, pointing out that her middle name came from songwriter John Hartford.

Did all of this register with the public? It’s hard to say, but you can’t blame them for simultaneously celebrating the return of a beloved band while symbolically thumbing their noses at the pandemic. Last night’s show was the Troubadours’ first big-city gig since their hiatus (you know that’s right, Fort Worth), and showed pretty emphatically that they’re ready for bigger things.

It’s safe to assume that any issues between Felker and his bandmates (notably co-founder RC Edwards) have been resolved. Edwards also showed up to sing “Drunk, High, & Loud,” which sounded less like exultation and more like a warning shot, and was – ironically – the tune that caused the biggest exodus.

WOMH may not be the biggest venue the Troubadours have played on their comeback tour, but it certainly demonstrated that they are ready for that next big step. Last night was a combination of nostalgia and gratitude that the Troubadours were still around. Hopefully they stick around and claim the title of best country band.

Personal bias: I was supposed to cover these guys at the rodeo and their 2019 WOMH gig, but traffic and fate conspired against me. They have been part of my rotation for over 10 years.

The crowd: Who left all those Okies here?

Heard in the crowd: “Is weed legal in Texas?”

Random notebook dump: “Beards and trucker hats, it’s like an IPA convention.”

LIST OF SETTINGS
All the girls
7&7
Morgan Street
Shreveport
Good God Lorrie
Destroy
The mountain blues of the spiral staircase
The bird hunters
something to cling to
Gin, Smoke, Lies
house fire
Kansas City South
The whole fucking town
don’t pay rent
A tornado warning
Easton and Main
Drunk, stoned, loud
Long hot summer day

BIS
1968

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