Eli Young Band RodeoHouston, Reliant Stadium March 5, 2012
Texas country fans ain't your average, run-of-the-mill country fans. We're not referring to country lovers who live in Texas, either. When we speak of Texas country, we're talking about the strain of country music that's reared on the small-town farms of the Lone Star State.
We know a thing or two about Texas country fans because we lived in Huntsville for four years. They're dip-totin', hemi-drivin', beer-drinkin' folks who are adamant about Texas secession and even more adamant about their local music.
During the time we were in Huntsville, countless Texas country artists came through town to the Jolly Fox or Shenanigans, including Monday's performers, Eli Young Band, who recorded their live album at the Fox in 2006.
They, like many other Texas artists, had humble beginnings. Mike Eli and James Young formed an acoustic duo as freshman dorm mates in Denton, Tex., where they attended the University of North Texas. After writing and performing a few songs together as Eli & Young, they expanded and soon became The Eli Young Band.
Mionday was EYB's second time performing at the Houston Rodeo, and they damn near filled the stadium.
They opened with "Always The Love Songs," the second single from their 2008 album, Jet Black and Jealous. It was this album that brought them to fame and spawned two singles to put the record at No. 5 on the U.S. country charts.
Lead singer Mike Eli did most of the talking during the night. He seemed to be in awe that his band had made it to this point in its career.
"I grew up in Tomball and dreamed of playing the rodeo since I was a kid," he said. "If you work hard, write a few songs, work harder, and follow your dreams, you could be standing on this stage tonight."
We think what he meant to say was that you could probably be standing on that stage in a few years, or maybe more depending on your talent.
They played a little old and they played a lot of new, promoting their most recent release Life at Best. EYB played a few cuts from this record, including "Even If It Breaks Your Heart" and the love song "Say Goodnight." They revisited some of their old hits as well, and each time they would transition into one of their old songs, we could hear the audience's screams clearly even from the press box.
We also must add that before they played "When It Rains," they were jamming out to "Rhiannon" by Fleetwood Mac. As they were doing so, Eli was talking about "the song that brought them where they are now" and we actually thought they might do a cover.
When they played "Oklahoma Girl" we were 99 percent sure that Mike Eli forgot a few of the words. He improvised pretty well, though. It still reminded us of that incident at the Chiefs and Broncos game when he forgot the words to "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Maybe it reminded Eli of that incident as well, because the next song was "Skeletons," a song about making mistakes.
Eli Young Band is still a young country band. They have room to make mistakes and keep their fan base. The fact that a band from Houston/Dallas is being nominated for Academy of Country Music Awards and gaining national exposure is a powerful thing.
Especially for small-town Texas; almost every small town in Central and East Texas can draw inspiration from EYB.
Personal Bias: To know more about Mike Eli and James Young is to appreciate them more.
The Crowd: Hardcore Texas country fans, y'all.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Overheard In The Crowd: "I'm drunk! I'm cold! WOO! I'm not drunk! My feet hurt!"
Random Notebook Dump: The binomial band name reminded us that Zac Brown Band is actually really, really good. We need to listen to more ZBB.