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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
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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.

A little heavier than most Texas Country mainstays, Whiskey Myers is a Southern rock band for a new generation. These East Texas boys play fast, hard and loud, and front man Cody Cannon will wear you out with his endlessly strong vocals. The band’s earlier work isn’t as impressive as their most recent album, but listening to them rock out on songs like “Mud” is worth the inflated cost of music-venue beer.

It’s pretty much impossible to be a more likable and charming live act than these veterans of the Texas music scene. With two-step-friendly tracks like “Kiss Me in the Dark” and crowd-pleasers like “Tonight’s Not the Night,” the Randy Rogers Band brings equal parts good music and good times to every stage they grace, not to mention an immeasurable amount of energy. Should you ever find yourself in a good position to shout out a song request, ask Rogers to play his cover of Ryan Adams’s “Come Pick Me Up.” It’s a killer.

He’s debuted at the Grand Ole Opry and played on Conan, but the cozy sweater that is Wade Bowen’s scratchy tenor is best enjoyed in a dimly lit Texas bar. With a musically impressive catalog that goes back more than a decade, a solid selection of cover songs (like Dave Loggins’s “Please Come to Boston,” which might actually be better than the original) and plenty of honky-tonk experience, Bowen is Texas Country’s consummate professional.

Both stunning talents in their own rights, the first couple of Texas Country make real magic when they come together. Even if you’re only interested in watching Robison perform a gorgeously stripped-down version of “Travelin’ Soldier,” the No. 1 song he wrote for the Dixie Chicks, or maybe “Angry All the Time,” this duo’s lush harmonies will keep you begging for more. Willis’s strong and rich alto balances Robison’s more quiet presence, and their chemistry together is just a beautiful thing to watch.

The O.G. of Texas’s music scene, Robert Earl Keen hasn’t become any less fun to watch in his decades out on the road. Likely many Texas music fans’ first show, REK remains the genre’s elder statesman and keeper of the flame, and nobody in the entire state puts on a better show. No matter how many times you hear “The Road Goes On Forever” when you’re drunk at a bar or music festival, it somehow just keeps on getting better.

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