Randy Rogers Band With Josh Abbott Band WinStar World Casino April 10, 2015
Upon approaching the WinStar World Casino's Rome entrance, home of the Global Events Center and a bunch of terribly-rendered copycat Italian sculptures, the first thing I saw was a woman with her head in her hands, crying. This probably isn't a particularly uncommon sight at a casino, but I wondered if it was an omen of what was about to come as I walked into the venue for the Texas Country super bill that was the evening's Randy Rogers Band and Josh Abbott Band concert.
Abbott opened the evening. When I'd made my way through the sea of cowboy boots and shitkickers, I realized that the old lady may very well have been an oracle. For an 8 p.m. show, the crowd was insanely rowdy, like a frat party soundtracked by Abbott's twangy songs about Texas. And about Texas, they almost all exclusively are. As a lyricist, Abbott must use a map of Texas to write his songs -- most are just city names, landmarks and, of course, bluebonnets strung together and put to music.
Maybe that's only true about his early work, though. On Friday night, Abbott debuted two new songs from his upcoming album that will be released in June. On these two tracks, it was clear that Abbott has evolved as a songwriter: "She Don't Break," the band's latest radio release, is a breath-of-fresh-air departure from bro-country's ideas about women. Even more than that, these tracks are thoroughly Texas country, just shined up with a little bit of Nashville-friendly sheen as Abbott tries to take his regional act to the national stage.
Despite occasionally over-singing to the point of pitchy strain, Abbott's performance was mostly charming. Toward the end of his set, he brought a 12-year-old girl named Samantha up on stage to sing with him on "Oh, Tonight," his duet with Kacey Musgraves. She was in the audience singing along with every word. Poor Samantha, though, was visibly (and rightfully) terrified when staring into that crowd of thousands, but Abbott reassured everyone that was she was rocking it out in the seats. This heart-warming moment was a nice break from all the songs about partying and Texas' geographical features.
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When Randy Rogers Band took the stage after a quick reset, it was clear who the crowd was there to see. As Rogers launched into "Too Late For Goodbye," the entire audience was on its feet with an even rowdier enthusiasm that Abbott had been trying to whip up for the last hour. After nearly 15 years in the business, Rogers knows exactly what his audience wants, and he's happy to give it to them. He also played a solo version of "I've Got Standards," from his new collaboration with Wade Bowen, to a pretty warm reception.
Rogers, looking the part of a country music outlaw with his shaggy beard and beat-up hat, played through a solid set that wound through his entire music career. He may be at home in the honky-tonks, but a bigger stage suits Randy Rogers, who still has one of the most unique voices and songwriting talents in the genre. Older tracks like "Tonight's Not the Night" are exactly the kind of laurels that any artist would be begging to rest on. Even if Rogers hung up his guitar right now, he'd still be one of Texas country's most beloved artists. At one point, the boots stomping on the WinStar's seat risers were almost louder than the music.
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The crowd, on the other hand, was having some trouble handling their low-point beer. It was only 8 p.m. when the evening started, and there were already drunk girls barely able to stand, guys in blinged-out Rock Revival jeans spilling their beer, and couples sloppily making out in the aisles. An extremely drunk guy with a cheap cowboy hat and an Aggie ring called me a nasty name because I wouldn't let him cut in the beer line. I watched another woman fend off an invitation to dance from an aggressively drunk bro until her husband showed up to scare him off.
But when Randy Rogers is singing songs about, in his own words, "getting nekkid and doing stupid shit," it's hard to think that his audience won't act accordingly. Beyond the party and the beer and the girls, though, there is some really incredible country music being played between the lines. Unfortunately, I often wonder if the audience is ever really even paying attention to that.
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