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Amarillo Highway

How well does Houston music travel to the Panhandle?

On the Road

This past year my daughter moved to Colorado for college. Like a lot of young people striking out on their own, she decided she wanted to celebrate her first holiday away by coming back to visit. Last month her boyfriend drove her to Amarillo, and my wife and I made a weekend trek to retrieve her.

My kids are musicians and I'm a dad, so any time I've traveled outside Houston, I've burned a few of their CDs to hand off to puzzled but understanding strangers. Not once has anyone ever told me, "No thanks; I don't want your free music." We should all take heart in that.

Since I've been running with team Rocks Off, I've also felt responsible for alerting people to more of the city's musicians, not just the ones I raised With that in mind, I grabbed some CDs by local acts to pass along to anyone I met in need of an introduction to Houston music as we boomeranged from one corner of the state to the other.

The morning I met her, Christine was running the front desk at a Motel 6 in Amarillo, hard at work ensuring rooms would be ready for travelers who hadn't expected icy roadways and freeway closures. With her tattoos and cartilage piercings, she seemed cool. When I went to check out, she was on the phone apologizing to a rude asshole for not having a room available.

I admired her patience. The jerk wouldn't take no for an answer.

After that, I hoisted more weirdness upon her by asking if she knew anything about Houston music. Christine must have wondered why she wasn't having a simple Sunday morning of people quietly thanking her for leaving the light on. But she was game, and admitted she couldn't name any musicians or bands from Houston. I gave her the room keys and plopped a few CDs on the counter.

"You choose," I told her. "Alt-country, blues or singer-songwriter."

She picked As Yet Untitled, the 2013 release by Kristine Mills. By virtue of her selection, Christine was being introduced to a Houston Press Music Awards winner in songwriting and vocal categories. The busy desk clerk didn't know it yet, but Mills's jazzy and graceful work is sure to help her keep calm and carry on. A personal favorite from the album, the bluesy "Bump in the Road," is a great track to turn to on those days when nothing's going right.

Did you know there's a Memphis, Texas? Once I discovered there was, I made it my personal mission to leave some Houston blues there. I had a copy of the Moe Hansum Band's Poor Boys Long Way From Home waiting to become the property of one of its 2,200 residents.

There were few signs of life on the town's main drag, so I went to its most happening place — the Sonic drive-in. I ordered a vanilla shake and onion rings, which were brought to me by a young fella named Zane.

I wasn't sure if he was really the blues type. For one thing, he looked awfully young. The times I've caught the Moe Hansum Band live have been in bars like JP Hops House, where the audience's average age was closer to AARP than SAT. But good music wins people over, and the band throws down a fun mix of original Americana and tunes by blues legends that haven't been played to death.

Sure, Zane said, he'd take a free CD. (I didn't give him an option.) He thanked me and seemed way more stoked about getting the CD than the $2 tip I also gave him. As we drove off, my daughter croaked from the back seat, "I'll bet that guy is totally into Skrillex."

I found the working folks around the Panhandle easier to approach than the general public, maybe because they were looking for any diversion from the stream of holiday travelers.

At a convenience store in Riesel, I met Courtney. With no one at the counter buying Bugles or Slim Jims, we struck up an easy conversation that started something like this:

Me: "So, do you listen to music?"

Courtney: "Uh...no," she replied with an "Are you kidding?" look on her face. "Of course I don't listen to music." She pointed out a CD carousel near the counter, filled with discount versions of C&W's greatest hits.

"Try this," I said, and offered her Rosehill's Save a Life Tonight. Songwriters Mitch McBain and Blake Myers are so true to their local roots that they named their band after the Cypress road they grew up on. They're also one of the area's most promising acts, having worked with Radney Foster and shared gigs with the likes of Bob Seger and Kevin Fowler.

I told Courtney she'll be able to say she knew about Rosehill before they got really big and told her to check Marla Strange and Shfux, too, a couple of cool bands from her own neighboring towns. She thanked me and I ducked out without buying anything.

By the time we got home, having passed through towns like Electra and Quanah, I felt I'd given a few Texans something more to look forward to than the next gun show. Who knows, maybe Christine will even take a well-earned vacation from that front desk in Amarillo to attend one of Kristine Mills's gigs here.

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