The band had just finished a very credible version of Merle Haggard's classic Workin' Man Blues [which is playing in the background as I type this...the newish version featuring Willie Nelson and Merle's son Ben] and I mentioned to friends how great it was that young musicians continued to pay tribute to the greats of country music.
The band was from Abilene, and consisted of five young men, the oldest of which was perhaps 25. Through the course of the evening, they did covers of musicians as diverse as Johnny Cash, Dwight Yoakam, and Johnny Paycheck. While they didn't necessarily improve on the originals, they also didn't embarrass themselves or discredit the sources, and a good time was had by all.
But back to the conversation with friends. One of them recalled a time "about thirty years ago" when she attended a tractor pull at the Ector County Coliseum. During intermission, she said a young band hauled their gear into the middle of the track, and started playing. The sound was bad - too soft to be heard over the well-oiled tractor crowd - and a few people started booing.
Someone found the right switch and the music got loud enough to be heard, and someone yelled out, "hey, ya'll quiet down...that feller's pretty good!" The youthful band managed to capture the crowd's attention and hold it for a couple of songs, which is all the time they were given, and they even got a good ovation when they finished. Without fanfare, they dragged their equipment across the dirt and out of the Coliseum.
My friend had a big grin on her face as she revealed that she had been fortunate enough to be present at one of the earliest public appearances of a guy who turned out to be a fairly successful country musician. You might recognize the name: George Strait.
George has gone on to make music history, recording more #1 songs (58) than any artist in history, in any genre, and he's showing no signs of slowing down. His most recent album, Here For A Good Time, is a showcase of his sometimes under-appreciated range of styles. Strait manages to keep country tradition alive without slipping into by-the-numbers stereotype. I wouldn't go so far to say that he's the anti-Jason-Aldean, but if you're tired of the over-produced pop-oriented Nashville sound, here's your Strait, man.