Country music never goes out of style. While Music Row's fortunes may wax and wane, the real identity of country music can always be found here in Texas. As Don Meredith used to say: "Texans do have a different kind of hitch in their get-along." If you want to know what makes a good song, if you want to experience the emotion that goes into country, listen to the songwriters, pickers and honky-tonk heroes in Texas.

Contrary to popular belief, Texas country music doesn't automatically mean Austin. The capital is getting so full of itself that it's become more West Coast than Third Coast. In case you haven't noticed, the original country scene around Houston has reached critical mass. If you want a true idea of just how much talent is bubbling up in the Bayou City, head to the River Oaks Music Festival during the Memorial Day weekend. For two days, on two stages at Blanco's, you'll be able to hear just about every player on the local country scene. Since the vast majority of these musicians are flying under the mass-media radar, it'll be like discovering a whole new existence.

The May 27 lineup, in chronological order, is Steel River, Melinda Mones, Kenefick, Brian Burns, Romeo Dogs, Kim Carson, the Earl Sanders Jr. Band, Kyle Hutton, Cooder Graw, Rusty Wier, Houston Marchman, Eleven Hundred Springs and Dale Watson.

The May 28 lineup, in chronological order, is the Stringbenders, Tequila Cowboys, Mark Zeus and the Thunderboltz, T-Roy Miller, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Jennifer Fitts, Clay Farmer, F Co., Jason Boland, Kevin Fowler, John Evans and Davin James.

The Optimist Club of Bellaire will set up a barbecue pit and a grill to provide brisket sandwiches, chili dogs and gumbo. And Blanco's kitchen will be open throughout. Why drive to the country on Memorial Day weekend when the country will be coming to you?

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Aaron Howard