Saturday Night: Old 97's at Sam Houston Race Park

Old 97's Sam Houston Race Park April 6, 2013

So, very rarely is it possible to see a decent band for six bucks. However, it was entirely possible to do so at the Sam Houston Race Park this past Saturday night.

Oh, and not only could you see a band for way freakin' cheap, but that band was the Old 97's. I adore them, with their twangy, rowdy, country music about time bombs and mustangs, and that made the whole $6 cover charge even more flippin' badass.

In case you aren't familiar with the 97's, they're this percussion-heavy, punk rooted alt-country band that reps our neighbor (Dallas) as their hometown. Fronted by Rhett Miller, with Murray Hammond on bass, Ken Bethea on guitar, and Philip Peeples on drums, the 97's were some of the early pioneers in the '90s alt-country movement, and they're a pretty rad country band, if I do say so myself.

So I was stoked to be able to see a band that I really enjoy, but I was slightly wary of going to the race park to do so. It's a great place to bet on ponies with cheeky names, but having never been to a concert at the Sam Houston Race Park, I was a little confused on the logistics of how this was going to take place. I half expected to have to jump a fence or be assaulted by the smell of horses the entire concert.

After I lost my ass betting on my dirty-named ponies, I ventured out to see what this race park meets concert venue was all about. As usual, it turns out I had nothing to be wary about. (I should really stop this whole making-assumptions thing and start trusting the professionals. They probably know what they're doing.)

The folks at SHRP have this sweet little setup that they've put together outside, with plenty of room to park your rear by the stage. There's even a grassy area for those of you who tend to prefer the lawn seats at Cynthia Woods.

Tons of folks had dragged in blankets to chill out on after all the cheap beer. I followed suit and roughed it on the grass, sans blanket, and I'm glad I did. Sitting under the stars, graced by Saturday's awesome weather, listening to the Old 97's was awesome.

The Old 97's are known for putting on a really great live show, and they did just that Saturday night. They opened without a ton of banter; Miller and company launched right into their mellow, story-filled country music, throwing out "Won't Be Home" and "Dancing with Tears in My Eyes" back to back.

The 97's weren't big on anecdotal interludes on Saturday, preferring to let the music communicate for them. They didn't make much time for the asides you often have during live shows; they filled the time onstage with their songs instead.

They introduced one band member or another during the breaks between songs, but didn't get much more personal with the audience. Even so, being able to be so close to the band given the size and setup of the venue in conjunction with the small crowd in attendance made for pretty personal interaction for the audience.

Miller's voice sounded crisp and wise (for lack of a better term) during most of the songs, and Hammond's personality shines as he plays alongside Miller. Standouts were when they launched into the melancholy yet sweet number, "No Baby I," and the quicker-paced "Victoria." "Timebomb," the band's most mainstream hit, closed the show. Damn, I love that song, in all its punky, bouncy country glory.

There were a couple of moments that I was keenly aware that I was at a concert at the race park; a couple of rowdy members of the crowd (who'd indulged on too many 50-cent beers, I'd imagine) appeared quite out of place when they tried to start a fight. I mean, really. Who gets riled up with mellow alt-country as your backdrop?

For the most part, though, the audience seemed just as content as I was to sway, bounce, and at points completely chill out along with the Old 97's at the race park, strange choice of venue be damned.

For six bucks and a few bucks lost on the ponies, you could sit under the clouds and the stars and listen to some really decent Texas country music. Not much more you could ask for, really.

Personal Bias: I have been known to play "Timebomb" on repeat a time or two.

The Crowd: I'm not even sure how to explain this crowd; some fans and some folks who fell down into the concert area by way of convenience.

Overheard In the Crowd:"Freebird!!!" about a zillion and a half times. That has never been funny, ever.

Random Notebook Dump: I was surprised at how small the crowd was. I really expected to see more people out there. Great for me, not so great for you if you missed it.

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