This past Labor Day weekend in Fort Worth during the Clearfork Music Festival, it was evident early on that the atmosphere would be dampened by the rather thin turnout. But the general malaise that swept through the sweltering, empty spaces of land along the Trinity River proved no match, however, for the steady stream of exceptional performances. Indeed, if the grounds of the festival were a bit dull, the onstage happenings were anything but.
Perhaps more than any other band through the entire event, which included a headlining set from Austin's Black Angels, and a revelatory, sun-baked one-man band show from Lincoln Durham, local band Holy Moly made its small square of the afternoon a memorable one for the few dozen assembled and dancing along.
All of a sudden, the group's upright bass player and guitarist were off of the stage, and in the grass with the onlookers as they kept pace and performed. It was quite a moment, to be sure. Oh, and when we say local band, this Joe Bill Rose-led psychobilly outfit proudly reps the 817, where each group member lives.
The group's origin has been immersed in a case of drunken history: As Rose says "there are conflicting answers" about the band's beginning, due to how the group "drank a lot when we first started this damn thing." For the record, the group's Facebook page states the group formed in 2005. Regardless of how they officially became a band, Holy Moly now consists of Jeremy Hull on bass, guitarist Danny Weaver, drummer Joe Carpenter and the esteemed Ben Roi Herring on pedal steel. This seasoned group (the youngest members are in their mid-30s) released Brothers Keeper, its fifth full length album, way back in December of 2013.
But between that release and the late-August Clearfork set, the band had virtually bulldozed the annual Fort Worth Weekly Music Awards earlier in the summer, taking home seven -- yes, seven -- trophies, including Best Song for "Time Travelin'," Best Album, Best Americana/Roots Band and likely most important to the group itself, Best Live Band. For those Dallasites who doggedly keep their focus on the east side of DFW Airport for their musical fun and information, that's a serious haul -- even better than a Sarah Jaffe-at-the-DOMAs-kind-of-haul.
Such acclaim from the Fort Worth press and adoring crowds makes sense, as the band has long nurtured a well-earned rep as forceful live band. The focused feel of Brothers Keeper is also an improved, tighter, more mature product than Grasshopper Cowpunk from 2011, or any of the group's other fun, worthwhile efforts.
"I was in my early 20s when the first album came out. All I was concerned with was playing power chords and doing as many drugs as I could get my hands on in an immature attempt at burning out fast and leaving a wasted corpse," explains Rose. "As the music progressed, so did our ability to tell a story and express emotion. Albums two, three and four were spent exploring every facet of emotion: From rage to complacency, silly to serious, and the merry to morose.
"Album five definitely has a different feel," he continues. "The first song I wrote for the album was 'Good Fight' which I wrote two weeks after my wife and I lost our daughter Scarlett. Most of the album has a similar feel of the sentimental, due to my deep need to understand the up and down nature of the world around me. I felt like a child, and when I was a child my musical inspiration came from classic country -- probably the reason this album feels a little more honky-tonk and less barn-burning."
Certainly, the band has enjoyed being kings of the Cowtown hill for a few years now, thanks to infectious performances, which has led to prime gigs at Billy Bob's Texas (Holy Moly just played to a crowded house there on Christmas night) and sharing stages with the likes of the Reverend Horton Heat and Turnpike Troubadours, and even an upcoming gig at the legendary Gruene Hall. Understandably, Rose likes to think that more Dallas- and Denton-based folks will eventually turn their attention to what is going on to the west, and grasps why it may not sometimes have happened as much in the past.
"We're just patiently waiting for our turn," Rose says. "I've been around long enough to watch the music scene in Dallas and Denton come and go many times. I don't think there is ever a shortage of talented musicians in DFW. I guess we all just have to wait and see."
As casual and refreshing as Rose's take on Fort Worth's musical underdog status is, the approach his group took as they ramped up to the aforementioned Fort Worth Weekly Music Awards is even more so. The lack of pretense the band showed in actually -- gasp! -- promoting themselves for such an event is a trait that Fort Worth oozes in its small-town-inside-of-a-big-city feel.
"There was some good, old-fashion shaking hands and kissing babies," Rose explained this past week to us, as the group gears up to perform the grand opening of the new Dallas venue, Henderson Avenue Country Club on Friday night. "Acting apathetic about what your music means to you seems to be the trendy way of introducing it to new people. Then we woke up and all decided one day that it was O.K. to get excited about your own art. It's O.K. to be unashamedly proud of it. After all, if an incredible band plays an underground show to an empty club and there's no one around to hear it and buy the t-shirt, who gives a shit?"
But more key to a country band's sustainability than social media promotion or landing high-profile gigs, any band worth a damn must adamantly command the stage, regardless of how pristine its records may be. And in Holy Moly's case, they not only command their stage, they set it ablaze with a roots-fueled fire.
"Our albums are carefully constructed, well thought-out interpretations of a past moment, a past thought," says Rose. "If you want to know who someone really is right now, you have to look them in the eye, shake their hand. Live shows live in the present. It's how we are feeling then. Usually 'then' is when we are also charged with adrenaline and booze, which makes for an exciting, charged interpretation of the past."
The joyous, frenetic live show Holy Moly provides betrays the deliberate approach Rose and crew adopt when it comes to the group's future goals. A sixth album is casually being considered as the various schedules of the individual members, and the increasingly busy concert docket takes shape for 2015.
Just as one will be hard-pressed to find a more up-tempo, raucous country show in all of North Texas, one will also have a tough time finding a guy that's not in much of a hurry to change anything or jump through too many hoops to simply capitalize on winning a few trophies. Such is another example of the refreshing lack of pretense that comes with a crack Fort Worth cowpunk band from Where the West Begins.
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"We're always keeping our eye out for bigger opportunities," he says. "Lucky for us, we are just fine with a slow burn; no need to rush. I can play country until I'm 90, sitting on a bar stool and sipping bourbon."
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