Kacey Musgraves and Reese Witherspoon have launched a new country music reality competition on Apple TV+. My Kind Of Country debuted on the streaming platform March 24 with the aim of increasing diversity within the genre.
“When we got together a long time ago, we were talking about how country music should stop limiting people and start opening doors,” Witherspoon says in the show’s trailer. “It’s music brought over from all over the world.” Adds Musgraves: “The bluegrass, the folk, the gospel. There’s so many threads woven through country music.”
Among the trio of judges for the show is gay country singer Orville Peck alongside Black stars Mickey Guyton, an Arlington native, and Jimmie Allen, putting an emphasis on balancing out the overly white, male, heterosexual country scene.
After the judges recruit contestants from around the world, the hopefuls head to Nashville to compete for the chance to win “a life-changing experience from Apple, including global exposure across the Apple TV+ and Apple Music platforms.”
Dallas native Granger Smith, also known by his alter ego Earl Dribbles Jr., announced on social media April 12 that he’ll officially put a wrap on his music career Aug. 26 after the final show on his Like a River tour. Granger says he wishes to pursue religious ministry at his church near Austin.
Granger’s tour, which began April 13, has more than 30 dates. His last two shows will be at Billy Bob’s Texas in Fort Worth on Aug. 25 and 26.
“I’ve felt a strong desire to pursue ministry, which doesn’t mean I’m going to start a church or a crusade or a revival. It means that me and my family are going to serve our local church,” the singer said, noting that he’s been attending Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to pursue his master’s.
Smith also announced the release of a book (scheduled for an Aug. 1 release) with a title similar to that of his farewell tour — Like a River: Finding the Faith and Strength to Move Forward After Loss and Heartache. Both pay tribute to Smith’s son, River, who tragically drowned in 2019 at age 3. The book will follow the emotional journey that Smith, his wife Amber and their children have gone through in the wake of River’s death. The family forged a stronger connection with religion as they journeyed through their grief, which Smith details in the memoir.
Smith was a student at Texas A&M and a member of the Corps of Cadets when he left College Station to head to Nashville to pursue a music career. He signed a contract in 1998 when he was 19 years old and published his first album, Waiting on Forever, the next year.
He returned to Texas A&M to complete his degree in 2005, where he continued to play music and penned the Aggie anthem “We Bleed Maroon” in 2006. Overall, he’s released 11 albums, including his most recent, last year’s Moonrise. Smith says he’ll continue hosting the iHeartRadio show After MidNite and the Granger Smith Podcast.
The students at Cunningham Middle School in Corpus Christi went wild for an educational program on Nov. 14, 1994. And who wouldn’t, when the presenter was none other than Selena Quintanilla Pérez? Now, previously unpublished photos uncovered by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times show the late singer in her element.
On the day in question, sixth, seventh and eighth graders gathered in the cafeteria to see the debut of a video, titled Selena Agrees, that promoted both Mexican American music and staying in school. But when the video had technical issues, the Grammy Award-winning singer got the crowd clapping as she sang a verse from her “Amor Prohibido” while the presentation was fixed. Local dignitaries and lawmakers also came out for the event, including Corpus Christi Mayor Mary Rhodes, who declared Nov. 14 Selena Day in the city.
“We’re excited that a celebrity of her stature would come to one of our schools,” Corpus Christi ISD Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra told Caller-Times reporter Diane Richbourg at the time. “Our kids relate to her. She’s a local young lady and she’s seen as a role model to the kids. Being here is our way of showing our support.”
The following February, Selena would perform in front of a record audience at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in her iconic purple jumpsuit. And at the end of March, she was gone, murdered by the head of her fan club. She’s now been deceased longer than she was alive.
The 58th Academy of Country Music Awards announced nominations April 13 for this year’s event, which to be held in north Texas — at the Star in Frisco — May 11. “Country Music’s Party of the Year” will be hosted by Dolly Parton and Garth Brooks.
Texas nominees include Miranda Lambert (Entertainer of the Year; Female Artist of the Year; Artist-Songwriter of the Year; and Album of the Year, for Palomino); Cody Johnson (Single of the Year; Song of the Year; and Visual Media of the Year, all for “’Til You Can’t”); Midland (Group of the Year); and Brooks & Dunn and Maddie & Tae, both nominated for Duo of the Year.
Lambert, the most-awarded artist in ACM history, received her record-breaking 17th Female Artist of the Year nomination (passing Reba McEntire with 16). Last fall, Lambert was presented with the ACM Triple Crown Award — given to an artist who’s won New Female Artist of the Year, Female Artist of the Year and Entertainer of the Year.
Johnson’s three nominations are the most ACM nods he’s ever received and make him the most-nominated Texas-born male artist this year.
Bob Dylan, the 2016 Nobel laureate in literature, includes several Texans in his new book, The Philosophy of Modern Song, in which the singer opines about his favorite 20th-century songs.
Dylan especially appreciates Townes Van Zandt, observing that “One way to measure a songwriter is to look at the singers who sing their songs.” He notes that Van Zandt has been covered by the best, including Neil Young and Garth Brooks, among others. Another measure, Dylan adds, is whether a person’s songs are still performed. “Townes’s are,” he writes. “Every night — in small clubs, in lonely bedrooms and wherever the broken-hearted watch the shadows grow long.”
In analyzing Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty,” Dylan selects the version recorded not by Van Zandt himself but by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard — two singers, he says appreciatively, who could “sing the phone book and make you weep.” In the hands of Nelson and Haggard, Dylan writes, this song is “an epic panoramic tale, beautifully sung and beautifully produced, featuring two of the most iconic singers in the modern era.”
Other songs given the Dylan treatment include Nelson’s “On the Road Again”; Billy Joe Shaver’s “Willy the Wandering Gypsy and Me” (“a riddle song,” Dylan says); Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou”(Dylan admires the song’s “operatic swoop”); and Waylon Jennings’ “I’ve Always Been Crazy,” which prompts Dylan to muse, “A love song can hide all sorts of other emotions, like anger and resentment.”
The Philosophy of Modern Song features Dylan’s commentary on 66 songs by other artists. It’s the first book he’s published since being awarded the Nobel Prize.
Lizzo enjoyed her own Coachella experience from the comfort of home this year. The singer, 34, took to social media platforms April 16 to share a video of herself relaxing in a pool while listening to songs by fellow performer Labrinth.
Coachella, the music and arts festival held annually in California’s Coachella Valley, runs until April 23. But Lizzo teased that she was having her own version of the festival at her Los Angeles home — Poolchella. The video shows her wearing a pink bikini while dancing and singing along to Labrinth’s songs, including “Jealous” and “Still Don’t Know My Name.”
Fans were quick to react to the video on platforms including TikTok, with some praising the singer and others expressing interest in scoring an invite to her next pool party. “You’re so real for this,” wrote one fan. Another commented: “Keep shining your light, goddess. Vibe on out for us all.” Still another was more succinct: “My queen.”
A number of local organizations in Laredo are joining forces to celebrate the beauty of the Texas–Mexico border with the Border is Beautiful Festival set to take place Saturday, April 22. The festival is a bicultural celebration of art, music and heritage set in the historic streets of downtown Laredo, featuring local talents, including the Grammy-winning Grupo Fantasma.
“We believe el rio es vida (“the river is life”) and is meant to unite us, not divide us,” the event announcement states, referencing the Rio Grande River. “Given the dynamic interplay of culture on the border and its power to connect, this festival seeks to create deeper cultural awareness and highlight lo mejor de lo nuestro (“the best of us”).
Founded in Austin — but bred through Laredo — Grupo Fantasma gained notoriety on the Texas scene for its energetic performances and unique sound, which draws from cumbia, salsa, old-school funk, reggae and more. The group’s reputation would soon lead to noteworthy gigs, including a spot as the backing band for Prince, who described the group as “Real musicians playing real music,” as well as a 2011 Grammy for Best Latin Rock, Alternative Or Urban Album for El Existencial.
In addition to the musical entertainment, the event will also host a vendor market, a live art installation, street performers from both sides of the border and an “Art As Medicine” exhibit by Eric Avery, M.D.
Kelly Clarkson’s latest “Kellyoke” segment on The Kelly Clarkson Show was a bit different from her usual approach. Instead of running through someone else’s hit song and making it her own in the process, the singer delivered a stunning debut live performance of her latest single, “Mine” from the forthcoming studio album, Chemistry, out June 23.
Played with her band Y’all, the ballad about karma coming back around took on a new form. Clarkson’s four background vocalists took over the chorus while she tacked on ad-libs about being blinded by love and closed with, “Someone’s gonna show you how a heart can be used, like you did mine.”
At the end of the performance, Clarkson took some time to discuss her latest creative endeavor with her audience. “Many fans have been asking me for years about a new project, and I’ve been working on a new album. It’s just taken a minute,” she said. “That song is actually one of the first singles being released from the record.”
Clarkson promised the crowd that Chemistry isn’t all angst and anger but a range of emotions that capture what it means to have a connection to someone. “Having chemistry with someone is an incredible, and overwhelming, feeling,” she said. “It’s like you have no choice in the matter. You’re just drawn to each other. This can be good and bad. This album takes you down every path that chemistry could lead you down.”
To support the new album, Clarkson will be playing 10 shows in Las Vegas this summer, between July 28 and Aug. 19, billed as “Chemistry: An Intimate Evening with Kelly Clarkson.”
Robert Earl Keen was honored by the Texas House of Representatives in late March for his contributions to country music. Keen, who penned “The Road Goes on Forever,” announced last year he’d stop touring, although his recording career continues.
“RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives of the 88th Texas Legislature hereby congratulate Robert Earl Keen on his retirement from touring and honor him for his outstanding contributions to Texas music,” the resolution reads.
When Keen announced in January 2022 that he’d be retiring from touring last September, he also made it clear that only covered touring — not playing, writing or recording. “Quitting the road doesn’t mean I’m dead,” he said, “and it doesn’t mean I’m going to quit producing stuff.”
Indeed — Keen has released a new full-length album, Western Chill, out April 14, that includes a DVD of Keen and his band performing the entire recording, a detailed songbook and a 92-page, full-color graphic novel.
K.T. Oslin and Clay Cooper will be the 2023 inductees into the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in Carthage. The announcement was made April 4 by Tommie Ritter Smith, executive director of the Hall. The induction will take place during the 26th annual Classic Country Music Festival in Carthage, set for Aug. 11–13.
Oslin’s induction comes posthumously after her death in 2020 from COVID-19 complications. Originally from Arkansas, Oslin moved to Texas at an early age and attended Lon Morris College in Jacksonville, where she majored in theater. “An unusual thing about her is that she didn’t release her first album until she was 45 years old,” Ritter Smith says. Oslin produced her first hit, “80’s Ladies,” which climbed to No. 7 on the Billboard country chart and won Song of the Year at the 1988 CMA Awards. Oslin’s accolades include winning the 1988 Country Music Association’s female vocalist of the year, edging out Reba McEntire, who’d won the previous four times.
Cooper was born in Wylie, Texas, and began performing locally at age 14. He released “A Little Ground in Texas” in 1989, which went to No. 60 on the Cash Box Charts. He currently runs the Clay Cooper Theatre in Branson, Missouri. “His Branson show is very successful and has done a lot to keep traditional country music alive and well,” Ritter Smith says. “He’s been a great ambassador for Texas.”
Cecilia Abbott, wife of Gov. Greg Abbott, was among those who dedicated the Broken Spoke in Austin as a Texas State Historical Marker April 12. During the ceremony outside of the famed barn-style music venue, Abbott celebrated the history of the legendary honky-tonk and emphasized the importance of keeping Texas history and traditions alive.
“For 59 years, the Broken Spoke and the music, stories and legacies of its artists have delighted and inspired us,” Abbott said. “Places like the Broken Spoke are crucial touchpoints with our Texas culture, connecting us with our heritage and with each other. We must remember the importance of our legendary Texas dance halls and the culture, history and traditions they keep alive. I’m honored to dedicate this historical marker here at the Broken Spoke as we ensure this institution remains a Texas treasure for generations to come.”
Established in 1964 by James White, the Broken Spoke is a bastion for traditional country music and considered one of the “last of the true Texas dance halls.” The marker recognizes that.
However, there’s more work to do. The state historical designation was only part of a long process to protect the land upon which the dance hall sits. On April 25, the Austin City Planning Commission will vote on whether to grant the land historical zoning status, which offers protection against demolition and also property tax abatement after rehabilitation. The White family hopes to apply to list the Broken Spoke on the National Register of Historic Places next.
In the meantime, Dale Watson, a fixture on the Broken Spoke stage for years, says, “The Broken Spoke may not be the ‘last of the true Texas dance halls,’ as James White claimed, but it’s certainly the last of the true Texas dance halls in Austin, and is thus certainly worthy of such a designation.”
Cover photo courtesy Apple TV+