Oklahoma is a lesser-populated state, but it has produced an impressive number of internationally-celebrated roots music artists. Chet Baker, Garth Brooks, J.J. Cale, Vince Gill, Woody Guthrie, Lee Hazelwood, Toby Keith, Reba McEntire, Leon Russell, Blake Shelton, and Carrie Underwood hailed from the Sooner State. As the list continues to grow, add to the list Turnpike Troubadours, an alt-country band formed in 2005 in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
Why categorize Turnpike Troubadours as an alt-country band rather than a conventional country music band? Maybe because the band’s music hearkens back to a traditional country sound rather than the country pop that is more prevalent these days. For 90 minutes, city folk at the Beacon Theatre got a taste of Oklahoma’s old-fashioned Red Dirt music scene.
After five studio albums, Turnpike Troubadours went on hiatus in 2019 and regrouped in 2021. The band presently consists of vocalist/guitarist Evan Felker, fiddler Kyle Nix, guitarist Ryan Engleman, steel and accordion player Hank Early, bassist R.C. Edwards, and drummer Gabe Pearson. The band will release its sixth studio album, A Cat in the Rain, on August 25.
At the Beacon Theatre, Turnpike Troubadour introduced no new music. The two songs the band performed from the forthcoming album, “Mean Old Sun” and “Chipping Mill,” were released earlier as advance singles and were familiar to the fans in the audience. Instead, the band focused on catalog, particularly 2010’s Diamonds and Gasoline, from which the band culled eight songs.
The set galloped at a speedy pace, keeping the show energetic and exciting. Every arrangement was calculated tightly and meticulously to avoid wandering interludes. Felker was the axis on which the band spins, yet each member was equally integral to the band’s performance. Fortunately, the venue’s advanced sound system cleanly spotlighted each musician’s valuable contributions, from Nix’s wild fiddling to Engleman’s rocking, gritty guitar licks. Although he hardly spoke to the audience or even opened his eyes, Felker’s mild and tempered vocals and his charming lyrics were most the engaging aspect of the concert.
Only a handful of years ago, Turnpike Troubadours slowly imploded, gaining an uneven reputation in its live performances. As demonstrated at this New York City concert, the first of two sold-out nights, Turnpike Troubadours is musically in top form. Felker, now sober, remarried and joyful, is fit to bring the band back to the mainstream – even to city folk.
7 & 7
Before the Devil Knows We’re Dead
The Bird Hunters
A Tornado Warning
The Winding Stair Mountain Blues
Mean Old Sun
Good Lord Lorrie
Gin, Smoke, Lies
Whole Damn Town
Kansas City Southern
Diamonds & Gasoline
You Show Me Your Heart (And I’ll Show You Mine) (Tom T. Hall cover)