Over the past year, we have seen musicians and Texas Country/Red Dirt industry personnel make diamonds from the pandemic dust left after live music was completely flipped upside down. As a music journalist and number one roadie to an Americana songwriter, I’ve seen many walks of life experience various successes and let downs from the global-wide Covid-19 shutdown and its effects on the music industry.
Over the next few weeks, I will be showcasing original thoughts, ideas and feelings from people deeply seeded in the Texas Country/Red Dirt music scene and their own personal experiences from this pandemic.
Debuting this series is Ben Hussey, Co-Owner of Melody Mountain Studio and touring bassist for numerous notable bands over 17 years.
A Tractor and a 15 Passenger Van
Written By: Ben Hussey
Is it possible to write an article this year and not mention COVID?
Probably not. Because it happened and the whole industry was affected. Or infected, or whatever.
As I write this, I’m mixing the LJT songwriter finals and everyone is in good form. It feels like the festival, as it should. It’s that time of year. I’m not going to go so far as to say Texas music festivals are back, but one is about to happen and who knows exactly how it will be received or how it will go.
The people here haven’t missed a beat. The fans— they appear to feel as if 2020 didn’t happen. They crowd around tables listening to these songwriters and drinking, swapping stories of festivals past. It’s electric. I’ve been working these festivals since I was 18, and I still (almost 18 years later) feel the electricity before the festival.
I didn’t miss the electricity last year though. I didn’t miss shows either. I had a good run playing around the country and beyond with some really talented people, but sobriety and family changed my focus. I was on a European tour in 2018 and spent most of the tour wishing I was on a tractor in nowhere Texas; then thinking somewhere there was a kid on a tractor wishing he was on a European tour. It was about that time I decided it was time to start winding down. My wife Lyndsi said I was probably internally craving for life to slow down a little. The bands and musicians I was with were wanting growth, and I was just looking for a way out or at least a manageable consistency.
That wasn’t fair, and I felt as if some kid on a tractor or holed up in an Austin apartment practicing relentlessly deserved to be growing with these other musicians.
So when the world shut down, I, like many others, decided to pivot. I saw my friends post about missing shows and realized I didn’t really; and aside from the studio and a few pick up gigs, I’ve started pursuing other career paths that keep me close to my family and my cows. And that’s just fine.
That’s enough about me. For now anyways.
Back to the festival and the LJT songwriting showcase. This is hands down the best one in years. The finalists have restored my faith in this corner of the vast Texas Music Scene. Don’t get me wrong, I’m gonna stay on my tractor as much as possible instead of piling back in a god damn 15 passenger with anyone— but I’m excited to see what these artists are going to do.
They have a respect for songs unlike almost any one I’ve seen in recent years. Luckily, a few of them are coming through my studio and I get to see what they are creating. These people are bringing back the want to sound like themselves. Recently it seems up-and-coming writers were just trying to emulate what’s been popular. Well actually… not recently. All the time. That’s the way it goes. It’s annoying, but you see something work for someone else and think “I can do that.” You can’t. All you can do is be yourself. That’s what worked for the person you’re trying to emulate.
That’s what I’ve seen from this years finalists. A call back to originality and individualism.
Maybe it’s because of Covid. Maybe they sat by themselves for a year and “found themselves” as artists. Maybe it’s because they got to be starving artists for the year and learned that nothing really matters. The person they were trying to copy wasn’t immune from the shut downs or shit shows of 2020 either. Arts, venues, festivals were the first to go. If I don’t have an audience, the only person left to impress is myself. What happens when we impress ourselves? Self confidence. What impresses other people? Self confidence. It’s cyclical. It translates. It’s real. But it doesn’t translate online. Now that you can, go out and see it for yourself. I’m just as excited to see the next class of writers who try to emulate these up-and-comers.
The artist “up-and-comers” referred to in this article are:
If you would like to record at Melody Mountain studio, please email Ben Hussey at email@example.com.
If you would like to be featured as a writer in this series, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your industry credentials and topic you’d like to discuss in your piece.
See y’all next week for part two!
– Taylor Ashlynn