The city of New Braunfels has a vibrant music scene that consists of many parts. Over the past few months, I have chronicled the purchase of Gruene Hall, KNBT-FM switching to the Americana format and the rise of Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett. This month I want to talk about the Red Dirt music scene that originated in Oklahoma in the Stillwater area.
The name comes from the color of the soil in Oklahoma and got its start in the bars around Oklahoma State University. A few years after Keen, Lovett, Pat Green and Cory Morrow made their mark in Lubbock and College Station, a new set of musicians were playing the bars in Stillwater.
Bob Childers, a local singer, songwriter, is known as the Father of the Red Dirt music scene. Childers lived in an old two-story house called The Farm on the outskirts of town. Local musicians would hang out together and write songs.
Childers recorded his first album, I Ain’t No Jukebox, in 1979 with his pal Jimmy LaFave. Steve Ripley, another Farm alumnus, was the first to use the red dirt name in 1972 when he called his independent label Red Dirt Records. In the early ’80s, bands like the Red Dirt Rangers, along with singers Jimmy LaFave and Tom Skinner were all hanging out at the Farm and developing their own style of music. Little did they know that they were creating a new genre of music, one that would spawn an entire generation of musicians and sell millions of records. Unfortunately, the old house burned down in 2003 but by then, the Red Dirt sound was permanently entrenched in the music scene.
My critics say that Red Dirt music is simply Americana music recorded by bands that originated in Oklahoma. I disagree. The Oklahoma Red Dirt sound was built by acts like Childers, Skinner and LaFave, then expanded to include a more southern rock sound.
Bands like The Great Divide, Jason Boland and Cross Canadian Ragweed were all influenced by the older artists but put their own spin on the music they created. It has been described as a mix of folk, rock, country, bluegrass, blues, Western swing and honky tonk, with even a few Mexican influences.
The late Jimmy LaFave once described the music this way:
“It’s kind of hard to put into words, but if you ever drive down on the Mississippi Delta, you can almost hear that blues sound. Go to New Orleans, and you can hear the Dixieland jazz. Go to San Francisco, and you get that psychedelic-music vibe. You hear the Red Dirt sound when you go through Stillwater. It has to do with the spirit of the people, there is something different about them. They’re not Texans, they’re Okies, and I think the whole Red Dirt sound is just as important to American musicology as the San Francisco Sound or any of the rest. It’s distinctly its own thing.”
Regardless of how you define the Red Dirt music, the important thing to note is the migration of several major acts from Oklahoma to New Braunfels. These acts — Stoney LaRue, Jason Boland and Cody Canada — all moved here from the Stillwater area and brought their music with them. For several years they were extremely popular and brought thousands of new fans to their shows here in town. They joined Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers to form a strong group of musicians.
These musicians were close friends and performed many shows together. They were all fans of classic country acts like George Strait, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen were also huge influences for these artists. They took all these music formats, mixed them together and created what many fans call the ‘New Braunfels’ sound. This new format in turn influenced an entire generation of young artists, many that live here in our city.
All these factors played an especially important part in making New Braunfels one of the most popular music cities in Texas and in America.