Written by Brett Gibbons
Ever since I moved to Texas, the country music scene here is something I’ve been fascinated with. It’s a living, breathing industry that is fully contained within the borders of Texas. The outside world is aware it exists, but unless you really put forth effort or live here, it’s difficult to understand just how immersive the subgenre really is.
Chances are, I lended your time because you’re interested in Texas country music. If you’re looking for the 101 course on it, you’ve come to the right place.
Note: Texas country music has an incredibly rich history and the industry is very proud of it. This crash course will touch on that history, but focuses on modern and up-and-coming artists. If traditional country is your thing, there’s plenty of information on that.
What is Texas Country?
There’s a distinct sound (or, more accurately, sounds) that set Texas country music apart from other subgenres of country. Typical characteristics include prominence on fiddle and steel guitar and less emphasis on drums. You can hear a fine example of what I mean here:
Granted, Texas is a massive state; there’s many regions of the state that dictate the way music sounds. The above example, Kansas City Southern by Turnpike Trobadours, is heavily influenced by their East Texas roots– much of which includes cajun culture from neighboring Louisiana (see: Shreveport by Turnpike). This explains why Texas country exists, and we’ll dive into the regions later.
It also doesn’t exist on mainstream radio. Tune into any country station north of Oklahoma City, east of Beaumont, or west of Albuquerque, and you won’t find Roger Creager on the airwaves. Texas country radio is so prominent that they have their own charts, many names of which appear on it that would send a Tennessean’s head spinning.
It was founded on the back of outlaw and cowboy culture– mixed heavily with Mexican culture and the aforementioned bayou culture. It’s a blend of what Texas is; it’s a melting pot of cultures.
Categories of Texas Country
As mentioned, Texas country music varies and is heavily influenced by regions of the state and the cultures of those regions. However, think of these categories in terms of sound rather than geographic location. Artists often step over into other categories despite being born elsewhere.
These are the legends. They created these categories and blazed a trail for Texas country music. Basically, this list is to shine light on legends who are from Texas:
- George Strait (Amarillo By Morning, Check Yes Or No)
- Waylon Jennings (Highwayman, Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys)
- Willie Nelson (On The Road Again, Georgia on My Mind)
- George Jones (The Grand Tour, He Stopped Loving Her Today)
- Ronnie Dunn (Of Brooks & Dunn)
The bottom line is, Texas is loaded with country music legends.
“East Texas” refers to the area of land east of Dallas and north of Houston, stretching to the Arkansas and Louisiana borders. Music from East Texas takes on two forms in itself, depending on if the artist comes from the swampy bayou of Beaumont or the northeastern woods of Texarkana. Artists from East Texas and who fall into the regional genre:
- Kolby Cooper (Tired, It Ain’t Me, Take It From Hank)
- Turnpike Troubadours (Good Lord Lorrie, 7 on 7, Every Girl)
- Koe Wetzel (Sober Saturday, Something to Talk About, Good Die Young)
- Kacey Musgraves (Space Cowboy, Biscuits, Butterflies)
- Chris Colston (Five Beers, First Dirt Road, Bombs Away)
- Grant Gilbert (Denying Desires, Hub City Shakedown)
Think of the Hill Country as Central Texas– Austin, San Antonio, and the surrounding areas. It’s subtle, but artists from this region have a unique style and theme in their lyrics that’s influenced equally from cowboy culture and Mexican culture, with tones of both shining through. Artists from the Hill Country are heavily influenced by nature and the geography of the area.
- Randy Rogers (Kiss Me In The Dark, San Antone, You Me And The Bottle)
- Wade Bowen (Sun Shines On A Dreamer, Acuna, West Texas Rain)
- Josh Abbott (My Texas, She’s Like Texas, Oh Tonight)
- Wilder Blue (Palomino Gold– formerly known as “Hill Country”)
- Parker McCollum (Pretty Heart, Hell of a Year, Young Man’s Blues)
- Flatland Cavalry (A Life Where We Work Out, Sleeping Alone)
- Mike Ryan (Other Side Of The Radio, Damn Good Goodbye, New Hometown)
Cowboy country originates from everywhere in Texas– from Houston to Amarillo– because rodeo is so prominent in the state. Cowboy country is heavy with fiddle and that heavy Texan accent. It’s derivative from the outlaw genre put into motion famously by Waylon Jennings with the cowboy influence of George Strait. The best examples of cowboy country include:
- Cody Johnson (Dear Rodeo, Me And My Kind, Dance Her Home)
- Aaron Watson (Outta Style, Freight Train, July In Cheyenne)
- Randall King (Dent In It, She Gone, Hey Cowgirl)
- Wynn Williams (Hide The Whiskey, Yeah Buddy, Tornado)
- Logan Samford (Good Lies, I’m Your Fool)
- Triston Marez (That Was All Me, Fort Worth, Darlin’)
The local legends haven’t reached heights of King George or Willie Nelson, but they have enormous influence locally, including often making appearances in current artists’ lyrics. These guys sit in the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame, but might not have the same pull in Georgia.
- Pat Green (Take Me Out To A Dancehall, Texas On My Mind)
- Jack Ingram (Times Like These, Why Me)
- Robert Earl Keen (Feelin’ Good Again, Corpus Christi Bay)
- Roger Creager (The Everclear Song, Gulf Coast Time)
- Mark Chestnutt (Bubba Shot The Jukebox, Goin’ Through The Big D)
There’s plenty more, but you get the idea. These guys frequently headline the biggest and best festivals in the state.
The following artists were born and raised in Texas, might even still reside there, but have adopted mainstream country sounds:
- Miranda Lambert (Gunpowder and Lead, Bluebird)
- Granger Smith (Happens Like That, Backroad Song)
- Maren Morris (Bones, The Middle)
- Midland (Drinkin’ Problem, Cheatin’ Songs, Check Cashin’ Country)
Note: There’s a ton of artists I missed, including guys like Neal McCoy, Kevin Fowler, Stoney LaRue, Jon Wolfe, Reckless Kelly, Cross Canadian Ragweed, you get the idea. If I don’t mention them here, I’ll hear about it. Just know there’s too many to count.
Where to start
You’ve combed through the dozens of names we listed above, but where do you actually start? As much as you’d love to listen to every song and every artist, you just don’t have that kind of time. To make it easy, here’s a couple cured lists depending on your taste to start you off:
Mainstream Country fan: Parker McCollum, Koe Wetzel, Granger Smith, Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves
Traditional Country fan: George Strait, Pat Green, Aaron Watson, Waylon Jennings, Turnpike Troubadours
Fans of alternative music: Wade Bowen, Flatland Cavalry, Mike Ryan, Kacey Musgraves, Wilder Blue
Personal recommendation: Cody Johnson, Parker McCollum, Turnpike Troubadours, Kolby Cooper, Randall King
Like all other music, you have to keep an open mind to delve into the Texas country music world. Nothing will get you into the music like seeing these artists live. There’s so many acts spread all throughout Texas every day of the week– it’s not hard to find a show.
But with so many options, who do you pick to see and where do you see them?
Four recommended shows
To preface this list, these don’t count huge acts that you’ll have to drop hundreds on to go see at AT&T Stadium. These are local guys whose tickets go for $10–$30 and are usually contained in more intimate venues. Remove that, and the list is George Strait, Kacey Musgraves, Miranda Lambert, and others.
Cody Johnson– To believe his voice, you have to hear it live. CoJo brings plenty of energy to his shows and couples it with incredible vocal talent. He’s been a household name in the state of Texas, and nothing beats seeing him at the Houston Rodeo.
Mike Ryan– He’s an everyman with killer songs. Mike Ryan has a strong stage presence and his songs about everyday life just make you feel good. He’s also a rare artist that plays electric guitar as the lead singer. His songs are easy listening and make for a great concert experience.
Parker McCollum– The genius to Parker McCollum is his songwriting, which is some of the best in country music. His shows are a little off-the-wall, but Parker is an entertainer through and through. If you’re lucky enough to see an acoustic show, jump on that opportunity.
Wynn Williams– Get out and see Wynn and his band now, because a major blowup is coming. He’s one of those guys you’ll be able to look back and say, “Wow, I remember I saw him with 100 people at The Backyard Waco.” He has a great stage presence and no one has a more fun band than Wynn’s band.
Four recommended venues
Cheatham Street Warehouse (San Marcos)– If intimacy is something you want out of your concert venue, then Cheatham Street is your place. It fits only about 250 people and, really, it’s just a bar. The stage is only raised a foot or two, and if you’re in the front row, you might as well just be a part of the act. Tickets are cheap and some great artists find their way there. It’s owned by Randy Rogers himself and George Strait frequented there back in the day.
Greune Hall (New Braunfels)– Gruene Hall is the Oldest Dancehall in Texas and is one of the most renowned venues in the world. It’s really a piece of history and has seen incredible acts like George Strait, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Garth Brooks. Even if you can’t make it to a show, Greune (pronounced “Green”) is a great town to visit and the hall is a must.
Bill Bob’s Texas (Fort Worth)– It’s the World’s Largest Honkeytonk and sits right in the middle of the Fort Worth Stockyards. Billy Bob’s hosts national acts for a reasonable price ($18-$35) like Riley Green, Midland, and Josh Turner. There’s a ton of history in the venue, including handprints of everyone who’s performed there. Everyone has performed there: Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Glenn Campbell– you name it (and it’s worth finding their handprints).
The Mule Barn (Justin)– First of all, the Mule Barn has great food and it’s recommended you show up hungry. Secondly, it’s just a sports bar. However, the place has surprisingly good acts if you’re deep into the industry. Chris Colston and Randall King have recently graced the stage and Roger Creager has graced the stage in year’s past. It’s a small place, too, and absolutely worth visiting.
Now that you know all you need to know about Texas country music, it’s time to get listening, get out to concerts, and create or follow playlists. It’s not hard to get in the Texas spirit– there’s hundreds of songs about Texas. Here’s the first five songs directly about Texas I’d recommend to get you going:
- She’s Like Texas, Josh Abbott Band
- My Texas, Josh Abbott Band
- Lonely Lubbock Lights, Aaron Watson
- Texas on my Mind, Pat Green
- West Texas Rain, Wade Bowen
Once you’ve got the idea, queue these next ten songs and you’ll be on your way to becoming a Texas country super fan:
- Understand Why, Cody Johnson
- Like a Cowboy, Parker McCollum
- Merry Go Round, Kacey Musgraves
- She Gone, Randall King
- Take It From Hank, Kolby Cooper
- Take Me Out To A Dancehall, Josh Abbott Band
- Long Hot Summer Day, Turnpike Troubadours
- Follow Your Arrow, Kacey Musgraves
- Me and My Kind, Cody Johnson
- Lonesome Ten Miles, Parker McCollum