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Yep. The schedule for this year’s ACL Fest has been announced, and truthfully, that announcement is far more important than the unveiling of which bands will be playing. that sounds crazy, I know. But when you begin to drool over the thought of catching so many great bands in one weekend, you take a look at the scheduled time slots for the acts and realize that seeing full sets from your top picks will likely be an impossibility.

Hey, that’s really a good problem to have. Sure, it’s a bit of a bummer, but look at it the other way: Imagine a 3-Day festival bill that doesn’t have enough quality acts to create any schedule confusion. Now THAT’S sad.

Sometimes the time-frames that seem congested with quality can turn out to be easy choices, once you get moving inside of the park during the festival. Often times, set conflicts work themselves out. Some of you may remember from my recap of Night One of last year’s ACL Festival, the 7:00 pm time slot was packed with four acts that were legit headliners at just about any festival, all on different stages at the same time. Sonic Youth, Ryan Bingham Vampire Weekend and Robert Randolph were indeed battling for my time and attention.

Turns out, it wasn’t much of a fight. With a predetermined strategy to start at the far end of the park with Sonic Youth and proceed to make my way to each set a couple of tunes at a time, I ended up staying transfixed at Sonic Youth’s show. Couldn’t help it. it jsut happened, and I was beyond OK with missing on whatever I might’ve missed at the other sets. Such is festival magic, I suppose.

This year, each of the three days offers a couple of spots where tough decisions will have to be made. My likely strategy at this point for these tough spots is similar to what I had last year: Catch a couple of songs and get moving. But, if I experience enthrallment at one of the stages, as I did last year, then who knows which band I might end up missing.

Check out these tough time-slot choices. Feel free to drop a note in the comments section about what choice you would make among the offerings below…

FRIDAY 9/16 ~

  • 2:30 pm: Old Crow Medicine Show, Bobby Long and Delta Spirit.
  • 8:30 pm: Kanye West and Coldplay.

SATURDAY 9/17 ~

  • 6:00 pm: Patrice Pike, Wanda Jackson, Gillian Welch and Cee Lo Green
  • 7:00 pm: Court Yard Hounds, Preservation Hall Jazz Band w/Del McCoury and TV on The Radio.

SUNDAY 9/18 ~

  • 1:30 pm: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., The Greencards and The Head & The Heart.
  • 4:30 pm: Ryan Bingham, Broken Social Scene and Leroy Powell.

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OK, I know it doesnt seem like that long ago, because it wasnt. But 2010′s ACL Festival is a distant memory, regardless. Why? The line-up for 2011′s edition of the annual party in Zilker Park was officially announced recently, and for those who claimed the organziers had an off year with last years billing (for the record, we didn’t think that), it would seem that such complaints will be hard to come by this year.

Kanye West, Stevie Wonder, Coldplay, Arcade Fire, My Morning Jacket, Cee Lo Green, Fleet Foxes, Allison Krauss, Ray Lamontagne, Nas & Damien Marley, Social Distortion and Ryan Bingham headline an insanely fun group that, as was the case last year, will surely provide many an opportunity for tough decisions once the schedule is announced in a couple of months.

Aside from Bingham, there are several notable acts with Texas ties, as usual. Iron & Wine, Court Yard Hounds (the Dixie Chicks sans Natalie Maines project), Jack Ingram, Hayes Carll, Gary Clark Jr., Patrice Pike, Hudson Moore and of course, as usual, Asleep at the Wheel will certainly lend the festival its usual taste of the Lone Star State.

So, this is only the beginning. This year we at Best of Texas are going to take the ACL preview to new hieghts (at least for us). We’re not going to throw out a few big names and wait until after the September festival is over to tell you how it all went down, no sir. Starting NOW, we’re going to begin a musical oddysey that will see us give you the reader a short (and sometimes not-so-short) introduction into each and every act that will grace an ACL 2011 stage. Sometimes we’ll tell you about several at once, in some form or another. Sometimes we’ll just post a video and a couple of quick thoughts on an act or two, and at other times, we’ll kill a few hundred words on an act that we think is particularly special and certainly worth your time, should you head to Austin between Sept 16-18. 

Since this is the first one (of so very many to come), let’s get one of the big names that needs very little introduction out of the way: Kanye West.

Headlining the Friday night schedule, competing for ears with Coldplay, who’ll be rocking the other end of the park around the same time, most likely, West has established himself as a festival act that is as unpredictable as he is ostentatious and genius. Full disclosure, West’s 2010 record My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy was my vote for record of the year when I voted in the Village Voice Pazz and Jop Poll (the album ended up at #1, among 1200 voters from publications all over the country including Rolling Stone and Spin).

OK, we’ve got almost four months until that magical weekend, so please check back regularly for future ACL band intros. I promise: it’ll be well worth your time, oh fellow festival goer.

Goodness, the kolache-scented roads of the Texas hill country are just insanely ripe with musical talent, aren’t they?

Javi Garcia & The Cold Cold Ground are springing forth and aren’t much interested in happy tales that give listeners the warm fuzzies that a hearty kolache might. Truth be told, I’ll take Garcia’s record, Southern Horror, over roadside snacks, any day of the week.

From the band name, to the macabre, Dia de los Muertos-style album artwork (which was designed by Garcia, naturally), to the stories that are told from the opening notes of the album’s first track, “Comal Country River”, so much of the ambitious double album is a work of art and literature as it is a musical document that deserves greater attention. Yeah, that’s right – this is a double album. And, it’s produced by Garcia, himself, who also just happen to write all of the songs. The EP that is paired with the album to complete the dangerous duo is entitled Madly in Anger, and as with the title of the primary record, the title fits the blues-infused country rock of Garcia to a tee.

Ambition is great and admirable, especially in artists that are still making their way up the proverbial Texas music ladder, but without some real meat on the skeleton bones of simple ambition, all the listener is left with is, well, a shell of an album that never really gets anywhere. Fortunately, it’s glaringly obvious that Garcia’s ambition is backed by an ample amount of authority and substance; his hustle bolstered by some serious muscle.

The ghostly strain of Garcia’s vocals manage to recall the well-known rasp of fellow hill country-dweller Ray Wylie Hubbard, and it’s a perfect fit for his tales of murder, screwed-up family members and bloody dangerous women. Heck, sometimes those subjects are rolled into one devilishly satisfying yarn. As for influences and comparisons, it’s also hard not to notice the grime and grit of Mescolito-era Ryan Bingham, especially as the impact of the soulful “Lose Control” plays on. Of course, there’s enough here to distinguish Garcia apart from established greats and help his cause as he continues to dig his own gothic-country pathway into his dark ambitions.

Kelly Dearmore is a freelance writer, mean pot of chili maker and opinionated music lover. To read more about what Kelly is listening to, visit him here on The Squawker weekly.

J.J. Grey & Mofro kicked things off with some good ol' swampy love.

I recently mentioned how The Sword kicked my tail at this year’s ACL Festival. Now that I’m back in Dallas and a bit more rested, I’m ready to discuss the other eventful goings-ons while I was in Austin, this past Friday and Saturday…

FRIDAY

  • Man, I can think of a a bunch of great ways to start a day of concerts. Catching JJ Grey & Mofro is near the top of that list. Admittedly, I got a little antsy as some of their bluesy, swampy grooves meandered a bit, but my first goosebump-inducing moment of the weekend came when Mofro’s guitar player stood and played his lap steel as if it were a regular guitar and simply tore it up!
  • Sorry, Blues Traveler. I want to like you more. In fact, I’ve enjoyed you a bunch in the past, but with all of the other choices available, I just couldn’t get into your well-attended 2:30pm set on Friday.

Chief is definitely a band worthy of getting to know better.

  • Those Darlin’s were fun, as usual, but it was Chief, who followed them on the Austin Ventures stage that really impressed me. Every year at ACL, I leave the festival with a list of bands that I want to dig deeper into when I get back to Dallas. Chief’s mellow, but authoritative indie-rock was the first name on that list, this year.
  • I was WAY too far in the back of the crowd for The Black Keys. Pat Green was on the other big stage, but I wasn’t much interested in hearing the same 10 songs that he plays over and over again. It’s never tough to figure out which bands are buzzing the loudest across the country at ACL. Judging by the crowds, The Black Keys might be the buzziest of them all.
  • 5:00 pm, aka, the point where ACL Festival 2010 officially started for me. The Sword rocked. Period. What came next? Only the highlight of my entire weekend…
  • There were tons of big names playing this festival, to be sure. With that said, there were only a scant few legendary names. Make no mistake: trendy can make you big, but it cant make you a rock god. Sonic Youth is what just about any other rock band wants to be when it grows up. Friday night’s set was electric, rebellious, reckless and pure, unadulterated joy of the noisiest order. Starting just after sundown, the setting was as perfect as the way that the band’s three guitar attack owned the stage for an hour. The shortest hour of my life, that is.

Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth looking all legendary as they take the stage.

  • Of course, catching the entire hour of Sonic Youth meant that I missed the other notable 7:00 pm Friday acts. Ryan Bingham, Robert Randolph and Vampire Weekend. I did manage to see the massive exodus from the Vampire Weekend performance, and I figure their buzziness is at least equal to that of the Black Keys, if not more so. Ultimately, if I had tried to catch a few tunes from any of the other 7:00 pm acts, they would’ve surely disappointed, given the propulsive thrills that I was privy to at the Sonic youth set.
  • To end the night on a bed full of good vibes would only be suitable. Thanks to Phish and their dreamy, groove-happy set, I was able to do just that. Skipping the reunited Strokes, I took in all the patchouli-scented love that Phish offered to Zilker Park. They aren’t for everyone, and that’s fine. On Friday night, however, it was hard to imagine why that is, though. Good times.

Check back in a day or two for my recap of Saturday’s events, O.K.??

Kelly Dearmore is a freelance writer, mean pot of chili maker and opinionated music lover. To read more about what Kelly is listening to, visit him here on The Squawker weekly or daily on his personal music blog, The Gobblers Knob.

I recently, as in earlier this week, exchanged a few emails with a friend of mine who loves a good Texas talent as much as just about anyone. The reason for our electronic conversation was so I could get his help and direction in discovering some musical gems from our state that I may not be familiar with. And, the reason I was even asking him for such guidance was due to my exasperation at what I have recently been hearing on so-called “Texas/Red Dirt” radio stations, and more specifically, the Sunday night “Red Dirt” shows that run on many of the state’s larger signals.

The playlists on those shows seems to be more short-sighted and limited than the Nashville machine that these shows and artists claim to be the alternative to.

How many times do we have to hear “Dancehall Dreamer” from Pat Green or “The Everclear Song” from Roger Creager before we get to the new stuff that should be providing glimpses into the future of Texas country?

Even the alleged newer and fresher material from certain younger artists like Rich O’Toole, Josh Abbott, and Johnny Cooper strike me as little more than rehashed Randy Rogers, or in some cases, REO Speedwagon. We get it. You’re from Texas and you really like to rock out while you wear jeans with fancy pockets with even fancier embroidery on them. Now, start making music that doesn’t suck (I’m really looking at you, Johnny Cooper and Kyle Park).

Truth be told, I haven’t felt great about the scene that has provided us with some of our top, practically iconic, talents. Recently released songs from the likes of Kevin Fowler, Creager and Wade Bowen have left me uninspired, or worse, annoyed (this time, I’m looking directly at you, Fowler).

Until, that is, a new song from the Randy Rogers Band popped up and took hold of my ears.

The new cut, “Too Late for Goodbye”, is off of the bands upcoming record Burning the Day. The cool part, really, is the fact that Rogers seems to be heading in a similar sonic direction he has headed in the past with his other, excellent releases. Simple, stright-forward country with a bit of rock flourish. 

To make things even better, Ryan Bingham has also leaked some new tracks from an upcoming record. The T-Bone Burnett produced disc, entitled, Junky Star, will be out in a couple of months also. As with Rogers, Bingham hasn’t changed direction drastically and still is inspires. While the Academy Award winner isnt a Texan anymore, living with his wife in Los Angeles, he is still revered here and will always be an honorary Texan.

So, Texas artists, so-called “red dirt rockers”, be warned: people might be listening now, but if you can’t keep it up and consistently perform at a very high level like Rogers and Bingham, certain people are going to stop caring. Even though you may be from Texas and love Shiner and think you provide the listener an alternative to cheesy Nashville pop, that isn’t enough to trick people into caring over the long-run…just a warning.

Kelly Dearmore is a freelance writer, mean pot of chili maker and opinionated music lover. To read more about what Kelly is listening to, visit him here on The Squawker weekly or daily on his personal music blog, The Gobblers Knob

While many artists make their way to Texas so they can make the music they truly want to make in the way they have always wished to, there are certain artists who actually need to get out of the state for a bit so they can the album of their dreams.

Country-rocker Shy Blakeman is one of those travelin’ souls. Growing up in Kilgore and hitting just about every honky-tonk in Texas, Blakeman showed signs of excellence well before the release of his latest (and fantastic) album, Long Distance Man. After flirting with the ”big-time” after his short stint on a past season of the reality show, Nashville Star, Blakeman realized that Texas might not be the only place around for him to make his music happen.

Full of southern rock, soul and boot stomping country, this album was recorded in Hollywood, of all places. Singer/Songwriter Ted Russell Kamp, who happens to also be the bass player for Shooter Jennings, produced the record while Blakeman enjoyed the fine studio help of Doug Pettibone (who plays guitar with Lucinda Williams) and Marc Ford (who has played with the Black Crowes and more recently, Ryan Bingham). With a serious wealth of talent such as that, its not a shock that the final product turned out to be as sweet as it is.

The disc itself is a rather mixed bag of sounds. that’s not to say that the results are mixed, however. Touches of Celtic and gospel make themselves known quite admirably as well.

While it would be easy to determine that Blakeman still holds Texas near and dear to his heart from listening to the record and the fact that he still tours so much here in Texas, the point is hammered home when Blakeman pays tribute to one of our state’s greatest musical heroes, the Cosmic Cowboy himself, the late and great Rusty Weir. Blakeman’s take on “Don’t It Make You Want to Dance” is as jubilant and identifiable as the darn-near sacred original is.

While the sonic is diverse, as is the geography of the album’s progression, the overall spirit is solidly country, Texas country to be more specific, even.

Kelly Dearmore is a freelance writer, mean pot of chili maker and opinionated music lover. To read more about what Kelly is listening to, visit him here on The Squawker weekly or daily on his personal music blog, The Gobblers Knob

A month ago, or so, I pointed you fine folks into the direction of some quality musical happenings that were coming soon. Well, those have come and gone, and now we’re looking straight ahead to some more festivals that will host music that’s as hot as the sun it’ll be taking place under.

The Randy Rogers “Sake of the Song” Festival - New Braunfels. (June 10 – 12).

It’s doubtful that there is a better setting for a weekend of music than the Guadalupe river. With that quintessentially Texan back-drop, Randy Rogers Band, Band of Heathens, Billy Joe Shaver will be playing along with a few non-Texan acts. Sons of Bill and Jason Isbell lead the pack of friendly carpetbaggers.

Free Press Summerfest - Houston. June 5-6.

Almost like a mini-ACL Fest, this relatively new festival has a solid line-up, indeed. Flaming Lips, Ra Ra Riot and Girl Talk will provide the buzz while acts such as Lucero, Medeski, Martin & Wood and Slim Thug only add to the substance that is packed into the two day shin-dig.

Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic - Austin. July 4.

I hate to say stuff like this, BUT, you may not be able to officially call yourself a Texan if you haven’t been to one of Nelson’s (almost) annual parties. Legendary for their brazen and debauchery filled early days, the festival has evolved into a well-run and star-studded affair. This year, Willie will  hosts acts that helped him get wild and crazy in the early days (Kris Kristofferson, Asleep at the Wheel, Leon Russell, among others) and bands that grew up wanting to be a part of the craziness (Jack Ingram, Randy Rogers, and Jamey Johnson, just to name a few). 

Stockyards Stampede - Ft. Worth. July 3.

Another Randy Rogers Band headlined event. Brought to us by the folks that bring us the CCR Red Dirt Roundup, also held in the backyard of Billy Bob’s. Thankfully, this isn’t just another red dirt, rock-intensive line-up that seems to be dominating the calendar. Sure, there is Randy Rogers and Radney Foster, but aside from those red dirt stalwarts, we’ll get MC Hammer, Everclear, Mark Chestnutt and academy award winner, Ryan Bingham. Now that’s a varied line-up, even if it’s a big-time head scratcher, also.

Kelly Dearmore is a freelance writer, mean pot of chili maker and opinionated music lover. To read more about what Kelly is listening to, visit him here on The Squawker weekly or daily on his personal music blog, The Gobblers Knob