Tag Archives: Lubbock

Field Report: (New) American Aquarium

BJ Barham of American Aquarium. Photography by Tim Castleman.

by: Thomas D. Mooney

American Aquarium, with a new, revamped lineup in tow, kicked off their Fall 2017 tour at Lubbock’s Blue Light last night to a sold out crowd. The countdown for this night has been ticking ever since five of the six members of the “Classic American Aquarium” lineup stepped away from the band this past Spring.

With lead vocalist BJ Barham crisscrossing the Lower 48 on a solo tour and the rest of the band–Ryan Johnson, Whit Wright, Bill Corbin, Kevin McClain, and Colin Dimeo–all settling into life after AA, rumors and uncertainty filled the void left behind. Would this be the end of the band as we knew it? Solo? Split? Whatever the case, the passionate die-hard AA fandom–and Americana and Texas music circuits at large–wanted some kind of answer to the unresolved.

A month ago, Barham announced a two-month Fall Tour with a new cast of players–Ben Hussey, Joey Bybee, Shane Boeker, and Adam Kurtz in the fold. Last night, was the night.

For tickets and more information on American Aquarium’s current tour, click here.

  • It’s difficult to talk about new AA without contextualizing and understanding how we got here. There’s a history with this band that runs a decade, six studio albums, an EP, and two live albums back. The “Classic” lineup was as sharp and tight a band as one would find. It grew into a well-oiled machine that seemingly never lost their footing with a misplaced note. By all means, they were hitting their stride. And while Barham was always the frontman, you thought of them more as a single unit than individuals or as hired guns.
  • The Blue Light was the perfect place for them to kick off this tour. By all means, Lubbock is an AA town unlike any other. It was shooting fish in a barrel–even if they’d have fallen flat. No matter how confident you are in your own abilities, there’s little doubt Hussey, Bybee, Boeker, Kurtz, and Barham were looking to get this one out of the way. It’s a bit of an exhale and shaking out the nerves.
  • It’s still slightly weird on the visual side. It’s going to be. It kind of has to be. After seeing upwards of 20-25 AA/Barham shows the last handful of years, it’s weird seeing Barham up there with different folks. And when you’ve seen Hussey, Bybee, and Boeker (This is the first time seeing Kurtz on stage) multiple times in various bands over the years, it’s amplified. It wasn’t that long ago Bybee would have been in the crowd at Blue Light for an AA show. It’s not bad by any means. Just strange–almost like a dream when you realize something is slightly off.
  • Up to this point, they’ve only had two rehearsals under their belt. Currently, they aren’t who they’ll end up being after a couple of weeks of nightly shows. And that’s fine. In many ways, I kind of wish Lubbock was mid-tour instead of the launch point. Their performance was solid. I wouldn’t say paint by numbers exactly, but the four behind Barham are stretching into their roles. It’s not just growing into the songs either. It’s growing to understand one another on stage.
  • For the most part, they played the songs true to form. There wasn’t a lot of coloring outside the lines. I think that’ll come in time. An example of that is fairly simple. With Classic AA, the interludes between songs was the icing on the cake. They seamlessly transitioned from one to next. Music was a constant. Those little touches haven’t found their way into the mix just yet. But again, only two rehearsals and a show into playing.
  • Even with a seasoned veteran cast, you could sense everyone was laying back and letting Barham lead the charge. It was the most animated I’ve seen him in some time. He was out in front throwing punches with his vocal delivery. The Springsteen Stomp was fully charged. The Cash Guitar Raise was in full motion. Even the “Like Wilson Pickett, we were moving and shaking” of “St. Mary’s” coming out in full force. I think that’s going to be paramount going forward. Barham has to ensure crowds believe in this AA as the band gets their reps in.
  • They didn’t just play any 18 songs within the AA catalog; they played 18 of the hits. Staples, classics, singalongs that make a crowd grow into a fury. This too, I think will help make the transition go smoothly. It was a lot of “I Hope He Breaks Your Heart,” “Wolves,” “Cape Fear River,” and “Casualties.”
  • One of the best things about Classic AA was Johnson, Dimeo, and Wright bouncing off one another. There was a familiarity they had with one another that created a unique and specific ambiance. On the surface, it was trading guitar solos back and forth. But deep down, it was filling in the void and creating a boundless backdrop. You could see the baseline of that happening with Boeker and Kurtz last night. There’s a shimmering, shoegazy element to Boeker’s guitar and Kurtz pedal steel playing. Deep into the set, when they went “Cape Fear River,” “Family Problems,” “I Hope He Breaks Your Heart,” and “Burn. Flicker. Die.” there were some of these moments. Again, they’re just now peeling back that top layer of their potential.
  • Flatland Cavalry played the night before. Another sold out affair. Two singalong nights in a row–almost juxtaposed to one another. Flatland was primarily girls singing out loud, hoping to find the perfect man. AA was a lot of drunk dudes singing to one another about the women who had broken their hearts over the years. Still, every girl in that bar looked like 1965–or at least tried.
  • Despite Barham hinting at new material coming in the near future the past few weeks, no new material was debuted. Only time will tell if any new material gets thrown into the mix on this tour. I’m betting something will.
  • “Northeast Texas Women” by Willis Alan Ramsey has become a staple of the AA set. As Barham mentioned last night, the Ramsey album is now on Spotify. Listen to it religiously here.

American Aquarium Setlist
Lubbock, TX.The Blue Light.08/31/17
01) Wolves
02) Wichita Falls
03) Casualties
04) St Mary’s
05) Lonely Ain’t Easy
06) Jacksonville
07) Good Fight
08) Losing Side of Twenty-Five
09) Rattlesnake
10) Louisiana Beauty Queen
11) Southern Sadness
12) Nothing To Lose
13) Cape Fear River
14) Family Problems
15) I Hope He Breaks Your Heart
16) Burn. Flicker. Die
17) Katherine Belle
18) Northeast Texas Women [Willis Alan Ramsey]

West Texas Walk of Fame 2016 Inductees: The Flatlanders, Ponty Bone, Terry Cook, & Sonny West

2016 West Texas Walk of Fame Inductees: The Flatlanders (Top), Ponty Bone, Terry Cook, and Sonny West.
2016 West Texas Walk of Fame Inductees: The Flatlanders (Top), Ponty Bone, Terry Cook, and Sonny West.

by: Thomas D. Mooney

The Civic Lubbock, Inc. board has announced that its 2016 West Texas Walk of Fame class will be honoring  alt-country pioneers The Flatlanders, accordion player & musician Ponty Bone,  opera singer & vocalist Terry Cook, and singer-songwriter Sonny West. Located in the Buddy & Maria Elena Holly Plaza, The West Texas Walk of Fame surrounds the statue of Buddy Holly–the Fame’s first inducted member–next to The Buddy Holly Center in the heart of the Depot District.

The 2016 inductees will be at the induction ceremony set for 6 p.m. Thursday, September 15 in the Lubbock Memorial Civic Center Theater.

The West Texas Walk of Fame has been honoring musicians, writers, and artists from West Texas over the last 37 years. With the addition of The Flatlanders, Bone, Cook, and West, the number of overall inductions rises to 72. This follows up 2015’s class of Natalie Maines and Jo Harvey Allen.

For more on The West Texas Walk of Fame, click here.

Watch/Listen to The Flatlanders, Ponty Bone, Terry Cook, and Sonny West below.

Burning Photographs: Ghost Towns

Photo Jul 19, 11 07 56 PM (1)by: Thomas D. Mooney

The new Lubbock songwriter did not show.

For all the high praise the proverbial Lubbock singer-songwriter is getting these days, there was very few of them in attendance last night when two of Lubbock’s critically acclaimed—Cary Swinney and Wade Parks—took the stage at The Blue Light. The show, billed as part of a Lubbock Legends series orchestrated by Brandon Adams and The Blue Light, was, in short, a string of phenomenal sets by Parks, Swinney, the opening Charlie Stout, and inbetweener spurts by Robin Griffin, a legend in his own right.

Call it an outlying, rare occurrence. Chalk it up to any number of reasons why. But really, they’re all excuses that are the same in the end. It’s a poor demonstration. A bad joke.

The “Well, I didn’t know” doesn’t work. For the sake of argument though, did you think a show called Lubbock Legends really wasn’t worth the five bucks at the door?

When everything’s a mouse click–or a finger swipe away–how can you not know? When the crowd is dominated by forty and fifty-year-olds, you can’t blame technology.

Swinney and Parks are, pound for pound, song for song, two of the absolute best singer-songwriters this town has ever seen or helped produced. It’s without doubt they don’t have the same name recognition as some of their contemporaries or those who came decade(s) after and only share the same humble Lubbock roots. But, they’ve thrown away songs better than most.

Before the doors opened and beer bottles were being served, Swinney, Parks, and Adams sat down for an interview. Before that, Swinney and Adams exchanged a story about a long, forgotten song of Swinney’s that he hadn’t played in seven or eight years. The reason? Because Swinney thought it needed something else. It wasn’t finished. Nevertheless, Adams was enamored by the song he heard Swinney sing in Parks’ kitchen one night on whim seven years back. He’s been chasing it ever since. Parks walks in five minutes later and has a similar story about another song. They’re like fishing stories.

Maybe it’s just a loss in translation. Something just doesn’t make sense for the newest wave. Maybe, it’s something they’ll never understand in Swinney’s and Parks songs. Maybe, for that, they just don’t give a shit. Maybe, it’s that the mirror they look back in only sees as far back as 2005. But even then, that’d be the year Swinney released his last album, Big Shots. Parks’ Tillers was just released four short years ago.

It’s difficult to admit how quickly time slips by. I’ve never believed in the notion of waves passing in the Lubbock scene. I always believed it was just one giant wave. But there’s something to it. Every four years or so, a new class of wannabe poets and hopeful drifters pick up pens, paper, and pawn shop guitars. And every four years, there’s a new class of ignorance. Sure, they’ll know the Abbotts, Greens, Bowens, and Buddy Hollys (Sadly, I can’t even say with confidence everyone knows The Flatlanders bunch and Terry Allen). But that’s only because they received some form of recognition that transcends the short wave. They realize they’re walking on sacred ground, but not the reasons why.

It’s no one’s fault they don’t. It takes an investment. It doesn’t happen overnight. It only becomes a problem when a class starts believing in their own bullshit without cause. Standing on the shoulders of giants when you didn’t realize you were.

By no means am I saying you shouldn’t pursue your craft with a vengeance. But maybe, just maybe, take some time recognize you’re petri dish is part of a much larger one that. Go reread Plato’s Allegory of the Cave (No, not the Mumford & Songs song). You’re not going to make it as the next big thing just because you put Lubbock on your mailing address. It doesn’t work that way.

Hard work isn’t the only reason for success. It’s, in part, because of legacy and paths and trails already blazed. Maybe give a little acknowledgement and thanks when you can. Listen and watch when you’re there. God knows you’ll be bitching about weekend crowd and kids these days when you’re down the line, if you end up down the line.

Still, I get it. Life gets in the way. Nights off can be a rare occurrence. But, why the lack of give a damn here and only now?

In saying all of that, we too must do a better job. Less assuming. More digging and explaining—to the best of our knowledge. By no means do I consider myself an expert on Lubbock, Panhandle, and Texas music. But, we’ll try.

They deserve better.



Homework assignments:

Listen, find, and buy Cary Swinney’s Human Masquerade, Martha, and Big Shots.
Listen, find, and buy Wade Parks Tillers.