Lately, if I have made the trip across the D/FW metroplex to Fort Worth, the destination has been Billy Bob’s Texas.
It was more of the same this night, when the venue that is known for being the “world’s largest honky-tonk” was hosting one of the best bands in the state, The Dirty River Boys.
There was an opening band this night, and that was Crooks from Austin.
Admittedly, I didn’t keep up with their set as far as what songs they did, but I’ll hit the highlights of what I do remember.
They were playing the smaller Honky-tonk stage, and had already started by the time I got there.
They finished the song they were doing, at which point singer and acoustic guitarist Josh Mazour regaled the audience with a story about how it’s not a good idea to decide to pick up a stray cat and pet it. Evidently, that was something he had tried recently and learned the hard way why it’s not wise.
They had a truly authentic country sound, from the twang in his voice, to the upright bass Joey McGill played, and even had an accordion and trumpet thrown into the mix, which were played by Anthony Ortiz Jr. and Doug Day, respectively.
They did at least one cover during their time on stage (I don’t recall what famous country singer they covered, since country music is not my forte), but it was good. Their original stuff was even better, and you could tell the audience was liking by all the people that swarmed the dance floor and danced with their special someone’s.
Even the slower “Pull Up Your Boots” got some movement going, while a song that stood out to me was “My First Gun”. Granted, that was probably because of the story that accompanied it, which was Josh informing everyone that he wrote it about five years or so ago, when he was dreaming about killing his boss at the time. “…I never did anything to him or his woman, but I thought about it… A lot.” he said before they started the track.
Some of their final songs where just the core group of Josh, Joey, lead guitarist Ryan Goebel and drummer Rob Bacak, before Anthony and Doug rejoined them for their final few songs.
They were quite good. I can’t say I liked them to the point that I’d feel like I have to see them the next time they come through the North Texas area, though I am contemplating buying their record. So yeah, overall, I did enjoy Crooks.
They have plenty of shows coming up across Texas, including a return trip to Billy Bob’s on May 8th, plus a gig at Hat Tricks in Lewisville on March 28th. For their full tour schedule, go HERE. Also, you can find their LP on either iTUNES or BANDCAMP.
They were a good little warm-up act, but the real show was going to come when The Dirty River Boys took the main stage.
There was a thirty-minute break in between bands, which gave most of the people plenty of time to be shown to their seats at the sea of tables that cover the floor in front of the main stage.
By the time 10:30 rolled around and one of the staff members at Billy Bob’s came out to introduce the band, there were a surprising amount of people there. I saw surprising given the fact that The Dirty River Boys are still by all accounts a local band. They may do shows all over the country, but they’re widely known yet. However, the healthy fan base they do have is also a dedicated one, which was proved this night.
At 10:32 bassist Colton James, drummer Travis Stearns and the two singers and acoustic guitarists Marco Gutierrez and Nino Cooper stepped on stage.
“How we doing Billy Bob’s Texas?!” Marco asked, while Travis went ahead and gave the crowd some percussion by slapping his hands against the cajon he sat on.
Having seen them just barely a month before; I was expecting the same setlist, since most bands don’t switch things up that often. Then again, The Dirty River Boys aren’t most bands, and when Nino grabbed the mandolin, it became obvious that this wouldn’t be the exact same show I had seen last month, and that had me excited.
They wound up starting with “Boomtown”, and Nino jumped about at the start while he strummed the mandolin. The fans responded well to it, and it was an excellent opener, not only being one of their tracks that really gets people pumped up, but also one that shows how much talent resides in this band, as they handled some of the words in rounds, with Marco and Colton singing and harmonizing along with Nino. There was even a cool moment after the second chorus where Colton spun his upright bass around, while the feathers and raccoon pelt that hang from it twirled right along with it.
Once it was done, Marco led them right into the title track from their second EP, “Train Station”, which is another song with breathtaking harmonies. “…I fear I’m losing her again. My head’s on the horizon, my heart’s wherever the hell she sleeps!” Marco belted as the track sprang to life. It’s a song that blend beauty and heartache with some Rock ‘n’ Roll moments, and there was even a part where Colton played his bass with a bow, similar to how a violinist does.
Those were two of the older songs they did this night, and while more would come, their primary focus was on the material from their forthcoming album. They had worked in a few more new tracks than they were doing the last time I saw them, and Travis counted them in on the first new one of the night, which was sung by Colton.
“Billy Bob’s, what’s going on?!” Marco asked, seeming gleeful to even be there. The fans did their part at making some noise, while he went on to say they’d be playing a lot of new songs this night. “…This one’s an old one.” he finished, as they tackled the lead track from “Science of Flight”, “Dried Up”. Apart from doing lead vocals, Marco also played the harmonica when it was called for, but that wasn’t the only add-on this song got.
They’ve been known to throw in portions of cover songs into their music, and while I’ve heard them do one of Bob Dylan’s songs before, it hasn’t been on this specific song before. “…Everybody knows that baby’s got new clothes…” he sang during the lull that came before the final chorus, then moved along to the chorus of that Dylan hit “Just Like a Woman”. “She takes just like a woman. She makes love just like a woman. And she aches just like a woman.” Marco crooned, softening his voice as each sentence ended, before getting louder when he sang, “But she breaks just like a little girl.” The crowd was roaring at that point, as they got back to their original and finished it up, before moving directly into their next number.
“This song’s about a union painter that Nino met several years ago.” Marco informed everyone, while Travis played some soft, though sad notes on his harmonica. “…I’m surrounded by others, but I’m always alone. When the paint and time comes, I jump back on the train. Spend all my green dollars just to poison my veins…” Nino sang rather somberly on “Union Painter”, which sounded like it was even a little more low-key than the album version. That’s to say it just sounded like it was more acoustic. Nino also made a little change to one of the lines, catering to where they were this night as he sang, “…I’m still searching for freedom beneath Fort Worth skies…”
Afterwards, it was time for them to bust out another new one. They might be an Americana band, with dashes of country, but above all, The Dirty River Boys are a rock band. This song was a fine example of that, and it packed a punch; while also being one of the songs that Colton used an electric bass on. Speaking of that, his playing on it was pretty slick, particularly on the chorus, as he quickly moved his hand up and down the fretboard.
“…This is what we call a Chinese fire drill.” Marco stated before leaving his post and sitting on the cajon. Travis took up the mandolin, while Colton grabbed a banjo, as Nino began to play some soaring notes. “…The louder you get, the crazier this bad boy gets!” shouted Travis as they had some fun before their next song. Marco just added a bit of drums to the start, before taking over on the upright bass for the short sing-along that is “Lookin’ for the Heart”. “But I’m just growing old with a whole deep in my soul. Won’t you give me back that heart you took from me?” sang Nino on the track that is far more upbeat than you would guess just based on the subject matter.
They reverted to their normal positions when it was done; and Marco started setting up their next song, saying on their last album they had covered a Townes Van Zandt song. “…We don’t do it too much these days…” he said, noting they had decided to this night, though. The song they covered is “Lungs”, and it’s a favorite of mine from “The Science of Flight”. They give it a real dark, ominous quality, which in turn puts a good spin on it; and while they might not play it much anymore, I’m glad they did this night.
Another new one was due now; but first Marco mentioned how lucky they were to come across Colton James and add that fine talent to the band. He [Colton] again assumed the role of lead vocalist on this one (which was one I don’t think I had heard before), though it sounded pretty good. “Take it away, Nino!” he said at one point later on in the track, as Nino ripped into a guitar solo. I have to say, acoustic guitars were not meant to sound like that. At least I’ve never heard another band make them sound the way Nino and Marco do. The guitar solo he did was amazing, and it was more electric sounding than most electric guitars are.
The audience went to clap, but had no time to, because as the final notes rang out, Nino started singing “My Son”. “I don’t know where you’re going my son. Taught you to walk, but you learned how to run.” he sang before all of his band mates joined in, again forming some incredible harmonies. “How you gonna find your way back home? The roads you knew they’re paved and gone.” Sang Nino on the first chorus, changing it slightly before sticking with the chorus from the album version the second time around, “How you gonna find your way back home? The maps you drew they’re burned and gone.”
“…The only way that you can be found is through your footsteps in the cold, dead ground.” the four guys sang, before Nino went into another brief guitar solo, which only made the song even better.
They gave a quick shout-out to their friends in Crooks for getting the party started, before firing up an instrumental piece. It was soulful and bluesy sounding, and I highly enjoyed it. I assumed it was the intro for another one of their new tracks; and they amped it up, sounding like they were about to break into whatever it was, before pulling back on it. Then the chords for “Draw” came into being; and since that was a song that was absent from their last show I caught, I was ecstatic.
It was a bit of an alternate version, and was more toned down than what their fans have to come to know from the album. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t still a great song, though. “If you’re alive, make some noise!” roared Travis during one of the breaks, as he made sure everyone was still feeling very much a part of the show/experience.
They were still far from being done, and while Colton again swapped over to his electric bass, Nino mentioned that the next song they would be doing was one that The Ranch (95.9FM) in Fort Worth had been playing, and thanked them for it.
There’s a reason why “Desert Wind” is their newest single, and one they’ve already released for public consumption (i.e. on iTUNES), and it’s made known every time they play it. “Lately, I’ve been thinking, and I just can’t seem to get you off my mind… Lovely lady, where you are. I hear your voice and I feel your scars…” he sang on the sweet and powerful track. The drumbeats are mixed in perfectly, giving the song as much kick as possible; and he got so into his drumming on this one that – for the second time this night – he knocked his hat off.
“If you know it, sing it.” Marco told the fans as he moved things right along to their next number.
“Carnival Lights” got one of loudest reactions from the fans, as well it should. It was another song they put an alternate spin on, doing a slow version of it. Actually it was pretty much just Marco until after the first chorus. “…With her poison inside medicine bottle, filled with nothing but her own shortcomings. She leans her head back; she puts ‘em down and they taste alright…” he softly sang, before Travis interrupted the pause. “Y’all still with us?!” he asked. Of course, everyone was. Marco then continued, “Please, just try to stay conscious tonight.”
Now the full band came in, just in time for the even more emotional second verse of this spectacular tune. “Billy Bob’s, this is your time to shine.” Marco told everyone before the final chorus, making the song into a genuine sing-along. It was cool moment to say the least, but they weren’t done yet.
That Dylan cover has been tacked onto this song in the past, but with it having already been done, I was wondering what, if anything, they might add to “Carnival Lights”. They did have something planned, and Colton took his cowboy hat off and hung it on the scroll of his bass for it.
“…Now I’m so happy, no sorrow in sight. Praise the Lord, I saw the light.” Marco added, which was just one of several lines they did from Han Williams’ “I Saw the Light”.
They went right into another new song; again one that was sung by Colton, before Marco took over on the next one. In between those, they chatted with their fans, though.
“Are y’all having a good time so far?” Marco asked, before saying he couldn’t stress enough what an “honor” it was to be on this stage (this was their first ever headlining show at Billy Bob’s). Then, upon finishing that song he did, he shifted the focus to their new album, which they recorded during this past December and January. “…We can’t wait to get this new music out to you all…” he said.
They only had a couple of old songs left this night, and rather surprisingly, the balled-esque “Riverbed Wildflowers” got one of the loudest reactions from fans. I mean, it should because it’s a fantastic song, even if it deals with the heartache of having feelings for someone who doesn’t feel the same. “…Well, these riverbed wildflowers are dying now; and I’m through waiting around on you…” Nino sang towards the end, before they added a little extra something to the song, repeating part of the chorus an extra time or two at the end, adding some truly lovely harmonies to it.
“This song’s about life on the road.” Marco stated, after he had again thanked everyone for making it out to the show, during which time Colton switched back to his electric bass. This song is easily the best one from their new batch of music, and even just in general. It does depict the life of touring musicians (“…Well, we work all night just to drive all day…”) and it’s more rock sounding than most of the true rock music that you hear.
They made something special with that song, and the same can be said about their next one, which Nino dedicated to the man they co-wrote it with, Ray Wylie Hubbard. “…It’s about the violence south of border.” he said, as they began to sing about how their hometown of El Paso, as well as those towns over in Mexico, have changed.
“You cross that dirty river and you never come back.” Marco sang at the end, then Colton and finally Travis, before Nino took back the reins. His band mates harmonized with him on the last line, “If you cross that dirty river then you’ll never come back.”
After one of their earlier songs (“Draw”), Marco mentioned it was just one of a few songs they had about whiskey. Well, now they got to another, which was yet another new track. “…There’s nothing like a whiskey drunk on a Friday…” he sang on the cheery tune, which will surely become a sing-along once they get their new album released.
The end was in sight now, and while Nino went over to stage left and grabbed the mandolin, Travis spoke to the crowd.
“After four and a half to five years of being a band, our van finally hit two hundred and fifty-thousand miles!” he exclaimed (a moment that was documented with the footage being posted on the bands Facebook page).
He then asked how many people had seen them before. Most everyone in attendance had, though there were still plenty of first timers. “Y’all know how we like to do it!” yelled Travis, speaking to those who were familiar with them. “…So, are y’all ready to raise some hell?!” he bellowed.
Moments after that, he got everyone to stand up. I have to say, the seats were detrimental to the energy out in the crowd. Not that everyone wasn’t enjoying the show, but you just can’t really get into the music (or at least I can’t) when you’re sitting.
With that said: once everyone rose out of their seats and began clapping, singing and stomping their feet along to “Raise Some Hell”, the mood changed immensely. In that moment every fan was one, as they were completely immersed in the song and were having the time of their lives.
That was how their 88-minute long set ended, but the celebration wasn’t done yet.
They never left the stage. Instead, Travis mentioned that they’ll celebrate fans birthdays every time they can, but there are only, at most, four chances a year that they can do shows and celebrate the birthday of one of their own. Tonight was one of those nights.
Nino Cooper was genuinely surprised when a birthday cake was brought out and handed to him, and everyone in Billy Bob’s helped in singing “Happy Birthday” to him.
“Are y’all ready to rock out another one or what?!” Travis asked after a few minutes went by.
“Crooks, we need ya.” Marco said, calling on their friends, who soon joined them on stage. Then Nino appeared, having traded his cake in for an electric guitar.
It was very appropriate for their final song, which was a cover of The Rolling Stones “Honky Tonk Woman”. I stand by what I said about their rendition of the song the last time I saw them; they do it better than The Stones; at least in comparison to the recorded version.
Think what you will of that statement, but it’s the truth, and once the song came to an end, Travis stood up from the cajon, tossed one of his drumsticks in the air, caught it and then struck right through the skin of one of his drums. Because if you’re going to end a show, you might as well end it in style, right?
This may have been their first ever headlining show at Billy Bob’s, but I don’t think it will be their last.
Okay, the place wasn’t sold out like some of the other acts that come through are capable of doing; but there were a lot of people out, and they were loving every second of the show.
Then again, how could you not? There are so many layers to The Dirty River Boys, from the harmonies, to the emotion-filled lyrics, to the awesome rock numbers, of which there are plenty.
I absolutely love this band. I may be a new fan, but they won me over from the start, and each time I see one of their shows (this was the fourth one I’ve caught), that love I feel grows.
They are, without question, one of the best bands that resides in Texas, and it’s not going to be long before the world takes notice.
They have plenty of tour dates scheduled up through July, and they can all be found HERE. That includes show in Texas, Oklahoma and even Louisiana. As far as North Texas shows go, they’ll be up in Denton on March 27th at Dan’s Silver Leaf. They’ll be at the Iron Horse Pub in Wichita Falls on March 29th, and then April 25th will find them at the Granada Theater in Dallas. They’ll also be back in Fort Worth on July 24th.
Go see ‘em if you can, and if you can’t, check out their music in iTUNES.
It was a great night of music here in Fort Worth; and while the drive there and back were both long, The Dirty River Boys were more than worth it.