Rhythm and Clothes: Life On The Red Dirt Road From An Insider’s Perspective

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(Editor’s note: The author of this piece, who wishes to remain anonymous, is a member of the road crew of a well-known touring country band with red dirt roots). 

They say the road begins with cheap Mexican food and ends with glory. As the bus hurtles through the wasteland that is West Texas, morale is high amongst the crew. Some sleep, some smoke, some make calls to the outside world. It’s an intricate dance of personalities that fluctuates between community and isolation. All together now for a common purpose, to put on a show.

Stephenville is a perfect mix of manners and mischief. Beautiful young women, one beer away from a fist fight, mill through the crowd. The building is packed and men in hats spill out of the main hall. Tension and angst fill the air. The band strikes and…relief! A night of wild abandonment has begun.

Brenham, Texas. The smell of livestock is reinforced by sounds of an auction in the distance. It’s hotter than you’d like it to be in September. Luckily, shade comes in the form of ice cream. Blue Bell started in Brenham and employs 2000 residents. At the factory, heavy machinery occupies the operating floor and vanilla permeates the air. We leave smiling; free ice cream in hand.

The scene changes as we approach the Blue Bell Family ranch. It’s green and open and beautiful. Cows graze near a pond below a mansion on a hill. Inside the grounds, there is food on a bar near a swimming pool. Charming sorority girls, friends of the families youngest daughter, arrive in carloads. The atmosphere is light and playful. The brisket tastes just right.

People born and raised in Pryor, OK love sunshine and country music. Cody Jinks loves loud guitars and I love Natalie Hemby. Catering opens at 5. Andy’s sound guy is drunk. My dad called and I told him I’m having fun.

Psycho joined the crew. I don’t know why they call him psycho, I’m afraid to ask. He smokes cigarettes and has a scar above his left eyebrow. His wallet is attached to his jeans and a Susan G Komen wristband hugs his wrist. At lunch he had two biscuits and a coffee.

Some lady stole Presley’s fiddle. Michael got it back. Everyone clapped when he got on the bus. Albuquerque is harsh and beautiful. Downtown is dangerous. The sunset is gorgeous against the mountains in the sky.

Red River take me home. Mountains filled with pines loom over a small one street town. According to local knowledge, a storm is coming. When the rain clears, music begins to flow from the Motherlode Saloon. Three boys watch from outside; unable to enter due to their age. A young woman asks for my number for her friend. Mustard explodes on Jock and everyone laughs. The bus rolls on. She texted. What should I say back?

Tucson is as dry as I remember. Plain speaking folks with tattoos mill about the corridors of an empty arena. The food served for lunch is spicy. It tastes delicious. When it’s time to settle, Dave is smart and follows the money. The show ends and I drive back to Phoenix with Mom.

Each year the Dallas honor society convenes to congratulate each other on contributing money to the underprivileged. It’s an elegant affair. Sophisticated women use X-ray vision to look inside the wallets of men who ask them to dance. Creased collars complement Miron Crosby cowboy boots. The staff hurries towards last call and the sons of senators drive home drunk. It’s a lovely night in Dallas, especially for those who can afford to see the stars.

Wine country winds down like the rest of us, with a cold drink and music in the air. As night falls, the dusty concert arena transforms into a twinkling paradise of light and sound. The show ends and families fill in around members of the band. Food is shared while children are introduced to people they won’t remember. It feels warm in the dark Texas night. This one’s for Granny Hall.

There is nothing to do in Cuero, Texas. So, when Turkey Fest arrives in early October, the whole town is in attendance. The afternoon is hot and Matt works tirelessly to fix the bus’s air conditioning. After what seems like two days, the band strikes and the field below the hill comes alive. Thousands of people scream, drink and dance. It’s fun to be here. The mood is light and people are kind. Curtains. Tequila is swallowed as everyone scatters. Gobble Gobble, back to Dallas we go.

Legend has it a ghost haunts the Bonita Creek Hall in Nacogdoches, Texas. As the story goes, the bodies of 80 dead Mexican soldiers lie in a well underneath the venue. The image of a little girl plays at the top of the stairs. The center light flickers and the owner’s dog howls. These kids don’t care. If the beer is cold and the band’s hot, they’ll dance anywhere.

Money isn’t everything, but it sure helps if you’re throwing a party. The view from the bus in Dennison, Texas shows rolling hills scattered with ponds. Upon further inspection, a large house is nestled between the trees complete with a swimming pool and basketball court. A game of pickup gets underway. Band vs. the locals. The band wins, but everyone leaves happy after an hour of good fun.

Arepas in Starkville, MS transports its customers to a quaint Central American cafe. Lovely music and decor pairs delicious food with a light atmosphere. Nearby is the Mississippi State rec center. We pay $10 and play basketball for two hours. It’s motivating to be amongst the younger men. Afterwards, Thai Siam hosts the post game meal. The curry is incredible. Back to the venue to play the show. Stay out of the showers, Nick the Tickler is on the loose.

Street corner preachers fill Five Points in Birmingham with boisterous praise. The city is stuck between antiquity and modern pleasure. It maintains some character, but much is lost to the outskirts of town. In Avondale, a nearby suburb, there is a budding arts district. Music pushes against the walls of a venue called the Saturn. We eat across the street at Saws; home of the sweet tea chicken sandwich. The crowd at the show is young and rowdy. Vinyls fly off the shelves. A woman with a crooked smile flashes a mischievous grin. Hot shower, all is well.

Ironically, Hattiesburg isn’t anything to write home about. Boasting Southern Miss and the almost famous Brewskys, the town tries its best. One bright spot is T-Bones Records and Cafe. They serve sandwiches on one side and sell records on the other. In effect, the guitar tone of a Wilco song falls softly as patrons bite into paninis. After the show, Brewskys turns into a nightclub. Drake and Migos fill the airwaves as students stumble into themselves. RIP Takeoff. Down the road we go.

Knoxville is beautiful in the fall. The trees are changing and the football team is playing well. It’s brisk, but comfortable. The Mill & Mine concert hall holds 1200 fans. Important people arrive from Nashville to meet West Texas’s rising stars. There’s tension on the bus after the show. It slowly releases as we crack local lagers and count the hours till we’re sleeping at home.

Confident women with heavy credit cards arrive in groups to the Lyric Theater in Oxford, MS. The Lyric is well lit and feels intimate. Mathilda, the manager, makes last minute preparations as bartenders mix lemonade. Once the show ends, the street fills with students eager to make their next move. For us, it’s pizza at the parlor across the street. The food is awful, but the folks we meet in line make it worth the trip. As we walk back to the bus, police race towards a bar fight.

Chaos abounds in Rebel Town.

Cars honk as we push sound equipment underneath scaffolding in the French Quarter. It’s the perfect place for a coffee and a cigarette. Joe tells a lady to shut the f**k up and a brass band plays outside the Cafe Du Monde. It’s sticky and I’m glad it’s November. The guys are playing a birthday party on the second floor of a gallery. It’s a beautiful space that includes an outdoor terrace. In New Orleans, art is everywhere; the byproduct of cultures combining. Caribbean, French and southern accents, foods and mannerisms fill the space around the ancient architecture. It feels like a dream and smells like spice. New Orleans has soul F’true.

Round Rock is freezing. The wind cuts through layers of clothing as rain falls. Whoever thought November was the time for an outdoor show should be fired. Merch sales are strong thanks to dedicated fans who brave the weather for the band. Muddy boots and hot coffee. Grab the money and go.

Cowpokes Dancehall functions as a vagrant encampment until 7pm. Then, it transforms into a two step paradise. The dance floor sits on the ground level below a large balcony. The stage is lifted above the crowd. Remnants of a bull riding ring gather dust in an arena now used for storage. The room is a mixture of shit kickers and weirdos. Cowboys and roughnecks and a member or two of a Mexican cartel. The band plays well and my Mom and sister keep me company at the booth. Tacos and pumpkin pie pair with sad songs on the bus after the show. Yee Haww. (Our Uber driver has a podcast in case you wanted to know).

The main strip in Lawrence, KS is well lit and endearing. The town has a natural affability to it. There is a line of fans standing in front of the Granada Theater. It is cold and lightly raining. It’s been three weeks since the last show and the band is in a good mood. Tonight the crowd is less cowboy and more student. Young pretty girls are accompanied by men over six feet. A stagehand explains to another that weed gives her anxiety. He suggests she try smoking less. Energy pushes against the walls as the band plays their last note. A drunk woman tries to get on the bus. Late night pizza and sex jokes provide nourishment and entertainment for the crew. Music is played in the front lounge until 3AM. It sounds pretty so no one minds.

There’s something special about Cain’s Ballroom. Pictures of dead country stars hang on walls around a dance floor in a room that looks like a school gymnasium. The green room is large and has a ping pong table. Highway 412 runs over the top of it and almost touches the roof. Tulsa itself is spread out and rugged. It takes 15 minutes to walk to the Mexican restaurant downtown. Back at the ballroom, it’s a tough day at front of house. But, the show sells out. The band smokes a joint under the stage to celebrate. Then.. we play ping pong. Still undefeated in the house of Bob Wills.

JJ’s in Fayetteville is a beautiful venue with high ceilings. Outside there are pickleball courts and bathrooms. The crowd starts to slowly trickle in around 6:30 and the place is full by 8. College girls arrive in droves and one spills her drink on our vinyl. A self important man pays $50 for seven guitar picks. For dinner, we are served salmon and rice with a lemon to squeeze. The band parties in the front lounge after the show, while the crew conspires in back. I’m tired and go to bed. When I wake up in Dallas my eyes are still red.

Billy Bob’s is the largest Honky Tonk in the world. It sits in the Stockyards in Fort Worth, Texas amongst shops, restaurants and bars. A cattle drive closes the alley behind the venue from

1-3pm daily. The rodeo seems connected to the music and it’d be hard to find a more authentic locale. Once inside, the enormity of the room becomes clear. There is a large stage in front of a seating area closest to the southside entrance. As you continue on, there are line dancers taking lessons from a strict old lady on a dance floor. Past them, there are two restaurants, an arcade, a gift shop and a bull riding ring. We host our private event at Billy Bob’s 81 across the street. To the right of that, there is a parking lot filled with horse trailers. It feels like a battlefield during the shows, yet people are thriving. As the night wanes, the green room is filled with families, stars, interns and executives. Everyone is happy. The moment is beautiful. It’s a wonderful place to be.

The Paycom Center in Oklahoma City is where the Thunder play. Today however, it is where the Cast Collective comes to clock in. The bus parks behind the arena next to three semi trucks.

One of them has Clark’s face on it and Mason asks if I want a picture. It’s an easy merch day. I take advantage of my free time and walk down the street to the gym. It’s small, but useful. When I walk out, a homeless man calls me a f****ng b**ch and dares me to call the cops. I uber to Whole Foods to buy magnesium. My driver tells me I should check out Sunset Patio; it’s where strippers hangout. In the green room, William has Leo try a B chord. Brian thinks it’s F. We all pray, then the guys take the stage. The show goes well and Stefen and I help with set change. A fan throws Leo her phone to sign. When he tries to throw it back, it falls short and lands on the bleachers. Stefen stays up almost 24 hours. Clark’s settlement is off. We leave late, but the mood is bright and fresh.

North Little Rock is across the river from downtown. It’s drizzling when we arrive. Catering sucks. To prove it, Reed sends a picture of a Bratwurst to the group. The band sound checks and I play guitar on the bus. We head to Sticky’s for dinner. The food takes forever and Michigan loses to TCU while we wait. There is a trans woman that likes Michael. He leaves his phone at the restaurant by mistake. It’s New Year’s Eve. We stop to buy champagne. Backstage is buzzing and visitors hang tight to their all access passes. The ball drops. We clink glasses to honor the passing time. Although it’s exciting, it feels empty. It’s been a hell of a year. The future seems bright and I’m happy I’m here.

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock