Texas Country's 10 Best Live Acts

The Josh Abbott Band can start a party like nobody's business.
The Josh Abbott Band can start a party like nobody's business. Photo by Gary Dorsey/Courtesy of Shore Fire Media
Whether heard in a massive honky-tonk or a dingy old college-town bar, Texas Country is the best kind of drinking music. The state’s music scene has staked an entire reputation on its live performances, known for producing acts that really know how to get a hard-boozing crowd going. As a result, it’s easy enough to find an excellent band playing in any number of small bars off the beaten path.

Texas Country may not have found a way to dominate the Nashville sound just yet, but when it’s paired with just the right amount of cold beer, nobody in this state could care less that the state's biggest acts haven't gotten their due on the national scene. It’s a testament to just how strong Texas’s live-music culture really is. In a field packed to the gills with excellent talent, these ten artists represent the best that Texas’s rootsy, hard-partying music scene has to offer, from the icehouses of Lubbock to the honky-tonks in Houston.

Say what you will about Abbott’s proclivity for Texas stereotypes, this is a guy who knows how to get the party started. Regardless of how much you hate that “She’s Like Texas” song, Abbott’s later work on Front Row Seat (especially "Amnesia," which is super-complimentary to Abbott’s vocal range and live performance style) is good enough to keep country traditionalists sticking around if they can survive the throngs of boozed-up twentysomethings.

As one of the few prominent women in the Texas Country scene, Bri Bagwell is the definition of a road warrior. Always playing shows at venues across the state, she’s a fierce performer with an impressive catalog of songs that didn’t get the radio play that they really deserved. If you happen to catch the reigning queen of Texas’s honky-tonks live and in person, get ready to hold onto your hat — she’s got a set of killer pipes.

They’re not technically from Texas, but there is no more entertaining act on the regional music scene than the Turnpike Troubadours. Together, they have this insane, almost frenetic energy that is intense enough to keep a crowd of 5,000 partying their hardest until last call. Not to mention that “Gin, Smoke & Lies,” arguably the band’s best-known track, is just a textbook-perfect honky-tonk song.

If you happen to see Jason Eady on a bill near you, drop everything you’re doing and get thee immediately to the bar. His presence is a little quieter than most, but Eady’s impressive baritone is one of the best and biggest voices in Texas country. For proof, look to his gut-wrenching 2015 track “Whiskey & You,” which also found its way onto Chris Stapleton’s Traveller. Eady’s wife and frequent collaborator, Courtney Patton, is a killer songwriter in her own right, which only improves an already impressive live performance.

God bless Mike & the Moonpies. There is no Texas Country act that works harder or is scrappier than this Austin-based six-piece. Ever dedicated to country-music traditionalism and a good time, these guys are just impossibly fun to watch. Pay particularly close attention to pedal steel player Zachary Moulton, who looks a bit like a biker but plays slick and smooth country solos that Buddy Emmons would sit up from his grave to listen to.

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Amy McCarthy is a food writer and country music critic who splits time between Dallas and Houston. Her music writing is regularly featured in the Houston Press and has also appeared in Texas Monthly, Salon, VICE, Playboy, and Pitchfork.