A Look at the Growth of Texas/Red Dirt Music

Texas and Oklahoma are the foundation of our scene and provide the most solid fandom and opportunities for “Texas/Red Dirt artists,” but our music has transcended well beyond the geographical boundaries of the region. It’s not breaking news by stating our artists have fans outside the region or that they’re playing shows all over the U.S., but many don’t grasp the magnitude of the out-of-region interest many of our artists have and what the long-term potential holds for the scene.

I truly believe we are on the verge of something special: a shift. . . a movement, if you will.  People really seem to dig the sound our scene is producing and we’re set up incredibly well for long-term expansion (I’ll dive into this more in part two).  It’s one thing for me as an observer (and analyst) to write about what I see and notice, but it’s another thing to hear the opinion of some of the major industry personnel who are out there experiencing it. So, I reached out to a few people who could give me their perspective from the industry side and help quantify the growing out-of-region interest in our scene.

My first phone call was to Red 11 booking agent Jeb Hurt.  Hurt has quite the collection of artists that are doing exceptionally well in the current landscape (Shane Smith and the Saints, Flatland Cavalry, Koe Wetzel and more), so I was interested to hear what he’s been seeing on his end as a booking agent.

“We’ve definitely noticed a growing interest all over the country for our guys,” Hurt told us, referencing the 14 shows in 15 days Shane Smith and the Saints and Flatland Cavalry were in the middle of. “They had a really good showing in St. Louis, Missouri; some solid presale in Lawrence, Kansas; sold out in advance in Charlotte, North Carolina; and almost sold out in NYC,” he continued.

He went on to tell me about how Koe Wetzel just got back from packing places in Manhattan, Kansas, and Omaha, Nebraska, while opening up some new markets (for him) like Meza, Arizona and Fayetteville, Arkansas.   Sam Riggs just got done with some big shows in Grand Junction, Colorado; Denver; and Laramie, Wyoming. “Koe, Sam and Shane all have one weekend out-of-state every month until November,” Hurt said.

But what about radio? Are stations from outside the region playing our artists more?  Are radio promoters seeing new markets open up? According to Tami Millspaugh of Texas Record Chick Promotions, there “absolutely” is a growing interest from stations around the U.S.  Millspaugh, whose clients include Aaron Watson, Cody Johnson, Wade Bowen, Casey Donahew and many more, told us “I receive multiple requests weekly from stations all over the U.S. who have discovered the music either through a show or word of mouth, and who have started incorporating the music in their playlists.”

“Currently, there are 10 stations that report to the Texas Regional Radio Report that are out-of-region and one that reports to CDX only.  They are located in New Mexico, Louisiana (reports to CDX only), Arkansas, Minnesota, Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska. I work with many more stations all over the U.S. that play the music including, but not limited to, California, Washington, Indiana and Pennsylvania,” Millspaugh continued.

She also stated the Midwest and West Coast regions are particularly strong markets and concluded by telling us “most of the artists who tour outside of our region have either huge ticket pre-sales or sell out shows prior to the concert date.  Artists are seeing a big increase in fan bases and demands in other regions. New tour markets are opening up all the time for our artists with much success for most.”

This got me curious to what some of the major acts of our scene were experiencing out there on the frontlines of the movement. The next phone call I made was to Gino Genaro of CDA Entertainment. As Aaron Watson’s manager, he’s told us they’ve been feeling the increase in out-of-region growth quite strongly for about 6 or 7 years. “We’ve been proactive about pushing our boundaries,” Genaro told us over the phone. “The availability and accessibility of streaming has definitely opened up a lot.  People can now sample without buying, and it lets them try out the music more.”

He went on to tell us that over the last year they’ve noticed quite a few places becoming strong markets for them in the U.S., but the Rust Belt region (Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan) has come on really heavy recently, as well as Florida and California.  “We’re now selling out 1,000-1,200 hard-ticket rooms in California almost every time we make a run there. We’re seeing in almost every market multiples of growth upon returning and in a lot of instances, looking to step up to the next building size to accommodate all the new fans we’ve been attracting”

It’s not just national growth they’re experiencing: it’s worldwide as well, the U.K. in particular. “During our first U.K. tour in 2016, we could see some good potential. Then our 2017 tour sold more tickets than the available capacity of 2016.  Now in 2018, we’re co-headlining a major festival there, as well as doing hard ticket shows to surround and build upon that success”, Genaro told TMP.  

It’s not only the U.K. that’s becoming an avid consumer of our artist’s music.  John Marks, The Global Head of Country Music at Spotify, told us that “Brazil is the second largest consumer of Texas music on the music streaming platform, followed by Canada, Germany and Mexico.”

Hearing this had me interested in finding out more on the booking side and history of the “modern” Texas/Red Dirt scene expansion. Two more phone conversations were underway.  The first was to Chad Kudelka, co-founder of Red 11 Music (Cody Johnson, Roger Creager, Cory Morrow and more).

“Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Arkansas and some others in The Midwest jumped on board pretty early on, and all of those places are still very strong today.  [Washington] D.C and New York also translated pretty well with us finding some big shows in pocket markets,” said Kudelka. “Since then, we’ve grown quite a bit; people are more aware.  We’re not as alienated due to the way music has changed and become more accessible.”

Kudelka went on to tell us how the accessibility to data has helped them figure out which markets they should be getting their people in to. “For example, I had been talking to this talent buyer in Charlotte, North Carolina, for a while and telling him that it looked like it would be a great place for Cody Johnson to play.  It took awhile to convince him, but we finally got him in there. The venue ended up doing the best pre-sale it’s ever done.”

But what Kudelka said next was really exciting and what I believe to be the sentiment starting to resonate all over the U.S: “Now the talent buyer wants to know who else we have. Now we can open the floodgates a little for other artists.”

Kudelka went on to say they’ve noticed a considerable uptick in the last 18-24 months, and some of his newer artists are even breaking markets out of the region before markets in Texas.  “I would say that inquiries from talent buyers and venues from outside the region have at least doubled in the last five years. In-region versus out-of-region inquiries are almost 50/50 now.”

My second phone call was to Henry Glascock of William Morris Endeavor (Pat Green, Randy Rogers, Parker McCollum and more).

“I started working with Pat [Green] in 2001, and we got some out-of-region interest pretty early on. We had success in areas with a lot of Texas transplants like Chicago, New York and D.C.” Glascok told us.

“The growth has been pretty consistent over the years,  although since Jan. 1st, our numbers have had a big spike.  Everyone’s numbers are up— in and out of Texas. More guys are selling venues out in advanced so far this year,” he continued.

He proceeded to provide us with some insight on the growth of those markets. “I believe building those out-of-region markets are just like building ones in Texas: you have to play them regularly. A lot of the bigger/national artists only hit the top 35 markets, so there are a lot of other great markets for acts that don’t really get hit a lot.  If artists go in to those places and play them on a consistent basis, they can build them just like any other market.”

Glascok believes there is currently some great cyclical growth going on. “Some of the new guys are getting the young people excited to go out to new shows, and the older guys are blazing the path and building new markets. They’re both helping each other grow.”

While streaming has certainly opened up some doors for his artists, it’s also made it tougher in some regards. “Streaming has kind of been a double-edged sword.  It makes the music more accessible, but it makes artists have to compete with everybody; not just with the other artists playing those markets,” Glascock told TMP.

We’ve also noticed the out-of-region interest growing ourselves, here at Texas Music Pickers.  When looking at the cities where our website hits are coming from this year, we have several out-of-region cities in the Top 25: Chicago is 12th, Atlanta is 13th, Nashville is 17th, Los Angeles is 21st, and New York is 24th. Out-of-region hits grew 42 percent from 2016-2017 and have already toppled last year’s count within this year.

Yet, what do festival organizers and venues owners that feature Texas/Red dirt artists think? What’s their perspective? I reached out to Gordy and Megan Schroeder, organizers of the Hwy 30 Music Fest in Filer, Idaho, which includes a 3-day lineup of Cody Johnson, Whiskey Myers, Koe Wetzel, and many more this year.  

“Idaho has long been deep-rooted in country, bluegrass and folk genres,” Megan told us. “From these fundamental, traditional roots emerged artists who developed a new sound that shattered the norm and influenced the rise of Texas/Red Dirt music. This rebellious nature has mirrored the impressions left by all the greats— Cash, Haggard, Willie, hell even MoTown. The throng of Red Dirt music lovers appreciate the artists who aspire to pave their own way, especially if it means going against the grain of Nashville’s parodies.”

She told us music streaming and satellite radio has allowed music lovers to obtain exactly what they want to hear and stumble upon new music not offered on mainstream radio. “It may be a particular melody, an exceptional voice or that perfect set of lyrics that draws them in, but once those goosebumps are triggered, they are hooked. Fans follow, like and interact with bands habitually waiting for their hometown to appear on the tour,” Megan continued.

She noted that people often flock from all over to to experience the Idaho music scene, especially during festival season’s perfect weather, to interact with friends and revel in awesome line-ups like Gordy’s Hwy 30 Music Fest.

“When I was younger and single and could travel to see all the bands, it was great! Now, with a family, we can’t get to Texas to see all our favorite artists nearly as often; so we bring them all to Idaho,” Gordy told us.

“We’ve noticed a huge growth in Texas/Red Dirt music here. Randy Rogers, Cody Johnson, Cody Jinks, Whiskey Myers, Reckless Kelly, Micky and the Motorcars, Shane Smith, Sam Riggs, etc… have all sold out shows here,” he concluded.

Here’s the bottom line: the Texas/Red Dirt music scene has been growing for a while now, and the music industry landscape that’s currently evolving is set up to vastly accelerate that growth in coming years.  The demand for the music at out-of-region radio stations, venues and festivals is rapidly increasing. We’re at the beginning of something really exciting— a thriving, independent national music scene, controlled predominantly by the fans; and those fans are growing both in size and geography.  The bigger artists are not only having more success outside of the region, but also trailblazing and opening up paths for future artists to follow in.  Buckle up. It’s going to be a wild ride.

Stay tuned for part two as I dive into why I think our scene is set up extremely well to take advantage of the changing musical landscape and drive future expansion.

Author: Chris Fox

Music addict, a sucker for heartbreak songs, and avid Houston sports fan! I'am also the Editor-in-Chief of Texas Music Pickers.

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