It Happened in Tulsa: The Turnpike Troubadours Reunite
Do not worry anymore. Oklahoma boys are fine. In fact, they are a little better than good. And around 9:50 p.m. Tulsa time on Friday, April 8, they officially reunited at the corner of Easton and Main at Cain’s Ballroom stage. Everything a fan could have hoped for happened. Nothing we feared materialized. The Turnpike Troubadours have reclaimed their place as the biggest band in country music right now, one of the biggest live bands you’ll ever see, and spearheading the independent music revolution that’s helping to save country music.
It is not hyperbole to say that some physically cried. Detractors, roll your eyes all you want. This pair of eyes was there to see it for itself. Hell, the 15-second clip of them stepping out on stage and launching into “Every Girl” has people getting lonely with their eyes burning. That happens. Again. And all is well in the world, let alone when it comes to the Turnpike Troubadours.
The moment the Turnpike Troubadours took the stage at Cain’s Ballroom, officially ending their hiatus. pic.twitter.com/bCeZmOyYFu
— Save Country Music (@KyleCoroneos) April 9, 2022
For years, fans of the Turnpike Troubadours have viewed with surprise and bewilderment the group’s enduring, but measured and subdued name recognition and success in country music. Fans knew the Turnpike Troubadours were the biggest country band in the world, and they couldn’t understand how not everyone had realized that fact yet. Even more baffling is how it took the band’s slow and painful descent, disillusionment, and indefinite hiatus amid an existential crisis for the band to finally achieve the recognition we all knew it deserved.
None of us here in the present have any idea that hell is going on here. Of course, there’s the naturally pent-up appetite for a band that hasn’t toured for a few years. But due to COVID, this is by no means mutually exclusive to Turnpike Troubadours. Yes, we were all forced to heed the idea that there might never be Turnpike shows or music again. But it wasn’t like they were selling large rooms coast to coast before all of this.
Now the Turnpike Troubadours are one of the most popular tickets in music. Fans were apoplectic when they couldn’t get tickets to the band’s announced first shows at Red Rocks in Colorado. They shut down ticketing servers and websites after announcing a second round of shows. Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth has brought in massive stars during the pandemic – Hank Jr., Thomas Rhett, Miranda Lambert, Kid Rock. The arena and the amphitheater act to shout aloud. But demand for Turnpike Troubadours tickets far exceeded them.
You had to know though, when it was Turnpike’s first show, the only proper place was in Tulsa, on the corner of Easton and Main, at Cain’s Ballroom.
According to Cain’s, some 70,000 individual requests were received for tickets when they announced their first two dates would be April 8 and 9 at the historic venue, which has been a 90-year-old dance hall. When Saving Country Music stopped at 11:00 a.m. there was already a line of customers waiting to enter. They already had their tickets. They just wanted to be there first. Arkansas’ Matt Forrest was on the front line. He had driven there with his friend Matt Westerman who had driven 11 hours from Minnesota. Also in line were two brothers Rye and Fin Hewitt who had flown in from Vermont. At 6:00 p.m., and an hour before the doors opened, the line snaked around the block.
1,800 tickets were sold and each of those 1,800 people were there early to get in. They didn’t miss a second of that experience. When the doors swung open, the line for merchandise stretched the length of the Cain Ballroom floor and into the restaurant.
Hungry Turnpike Troubadours fans didn’t need the frenzy, but it didn’t hurt that the Vandoliers were on hand to help lubricate the gears, and who better to start a party than these guys with their roots punk-infused country punctuated by trumpet blasts. Super tight after opening huge shows for Flogging Molly, they were the right fit for the night, and one of many opening bands benefiting from this growing Turnpike phenomenon.
Then Turnpike came out himself, launching into “Every Girl”. The roar both before and after – and at other times during the set – was louder than any experienced at any other live musical event, at least for this pair of ears. The ears are still ringing, and it’s not from the sector. It’s a crowd. Even the guys from Turnpike looked at each other with big smiles and amazement. They expected a warm welcome. Nobody expected that.
Naturally, one of the biggest points of interest is how Evan Felker pulled it off. After all, it was his combination of stage fright and booze that put Turnpike in jeopardy in the first place. He was lively, energetic and, above all, healthy and happy.
Evan Felker was never meant to be a superstar. It all happened because of the resonance of his lyrics and the amazing kinship forged with his bandmates. He’s a poet, a farm boy, an Oklahoman. But there’s something about the way he’s able to put all of our lives into words and rhyme that definitely deserves to be elevated to the highest level. Because it is medicine for so many of us, and should be medicine for so many others.
But the reason this group does so well – and eventually found its place among the hottest bands in music – is that they are a supergroup in their own right, which became evident during their pause. Evan Felker is the soul of the band, but bassist RC Edwards has always been the beating heart, as well as the other songwriter who some forget to give credit for, including writing some of the band’s biggest songs like “Easton and Main”. He also has a side project, RC and the Ambers.
Fiddler Kyle Nix proved during downtime that he himself could be a solo artist, songwriter, and bandleader at any time. We knew he was the steady rudder of Turnpike, who didn’t hesitate to crank up the energy when Evan started to falter. Smart and talented, Turnpike wouldn’t be Turnpike without him. Ditto for lead guitarist Ryan Engleman, who provides the essential sound of the Turnpike Troubadours, which is distinctly country, but with that critical rock edge that makes them unique.
“Hammerin'” Hank Early is perhaps the best instrumentalist of the lot, switching from steel guitar to banjo to accordion with skill and determination. And old Gabriel Pearson, of whom we never do enough, and of whom few pictures have surfaced since he’s been behind the cymbals and drums (including here), he’s just doing his thing, who in a country band, it is do not to be noticed as a drummer. But he’s the one who holds it all together and drives it forward with energy and feeling.
As for what they played, you can find the full track list below. It started strong and it never stopped. Even though the set was loaded with some of their greatest hits, the energy never waned. The crowd knew every song and sang along. RC Edwards took a turn on the mic singing his signature “Drunk, High, and Loud.” Some have wondered if Kyle Nix could sing a few, but not yet. It was a Turnpike Troubadours show, with a similar approach to those you may have seen before the break, but with an energy and chemistry that was sometimes lacking before, except it was more intense than ever before.
And no, there were no new songs being played. Although at one point Evan Felker – who said very little other than a few thanks – seemed to hint that new music might be on the way at some point. But they will announce such things in their time and as they see fit. This will undoubtedly happen, although it may be closer to 2023 than tomorrow.
In the meantime, the Turnpike Troubadours have big comeback shows at Billy Bob’s Texas, Floore’s Country Store, Red Rocks and many festivals and other appearances nationwide scheduled for this summer. If what happened at Cain’s Ballroom was any indication, fans have a lot to look forward to.
But the biggest benefit of this experience is to never lose hope. In anything. Whether it’s your favorite band getting back together, or that person in your life that you love to finally find the balance in life to stay on track. Life is tough, especially for the brightest and most creative among us. Love is often messy. But the Turnpike Troubadours persevered. Because the brotherhood and chemistry that this group has forged just can’t be torn apart, and it’s something very unique in this world.
Without any effort of embellishment, what happened in Tulsa will go down in history – for Cain’s Ballroom Historic Site, for the Turnpike Troubadours, for indie country music, and for country music in general. It was so primordial and so profound.
All the girls
Easton and Main
A tornado warning
Good God Lorrie
The bird hunters
something to cling to
don’t pay rent
Gin, Smoke, Lies
Diamonds and gasoline
Drunk, Stoned, Loud (RC Edwards)
Long hot summer day
City of Bossier
Long drive home