Houston’s “Honky Tonkin’ Daddy” Johnny Falstaff and his friends want to invite the audience to step back into the past to a time of big hair and wide collars with a fancy countrypolitan event complete with well-dressed dancers and country crooning over elegant string arrangements.
“It’s more than just a show,” says Falstaff of the event. “I wanted this to be more than just a beer joint gig and bring about a bit of country swank,” says Falstaff enthusiastically. “I’ve always wanted to do a big countrypolitan thing but it's quite a challenge to put it all together.”
The VIP experience includes an Avonak Distillery bourbon tasting with an intimate and acoustic performance by Falstaff before he takes the stage later in the evening with his orchestra.
Western cocktail attire is required to complete the classy feel of the event which will fit in perfectly in the beautiful and historic Rockefellers venue. “That is something other than your jeans and tennis shoes,” specifies Falstaff. “We are actually wanting to get the peacocks and the peacockesses out there.”
Countrypolitan music was an attempt from Nashville’s music producers and artists to cross over into the mainstream pop scene of the ‘60s as classic country was being pushed out of rotation by rock and roll and the competing Bakersfield country sound.
Artists like Glen Cambell, Tammy Wynette and George Jones were guided by Billy Norris Sherrill and Glen Sutton, the architects of the movement and producers in the studio to create the polished and layered sounds of the genre.
“I would say a short way to describe it is Ray Price goes Frank Sinatra,” says Falstaff when asked to describe the movement to someone who may have never heard the term before.
For Falstaff, the switch from his usual rocking country flavor to a countrypolitan format will be a welcomed change of pace for the fast playing frontman and a perfect way to spotlight his low and resonant voice. This will be the first time ever that Falstaff will be backed by an orchestra.
“I wanted to set down my guitar, pick up the microphone and show off my pinky ring like Elvis did.”
Falstaff couldn’t have picked more appropriate performers for his Honky Tonk Soirée as Digby and James both personify classic country and a time when artists real singing voices took center stage with their emotive range.
“I picked them because they come from a serious honky tonk place and to quote an earlier saying, if it floats me down the whiskey river, I’m in. They've got the honky tonk soul in them and it's like the perfect ghost,” says Falstaff.
Digby is originally from Tennessee but now calls Houston home. She grew up in a musical family and as a child was surrounded by the very sounds and artists that have shaped her career as her relatives worked with Ronnie Milsap, Connie Smith, Loretta Lynn and many more.
Texas City based Jason James personifies classic country in every fiber of his being. His 2019 release Seems Like Tear Ago is a perfect testament to his dedication to preserving the country sounds of his heros.
All three artists have dedicated their careers to celebrating their musical inspirations while adding their own flare. At a time when so many old honky tonks have sadly closed their doors to the waltzers, it’s nice to see an event with like-minded artists pushing old sounds to new audiences.
“I think with honky tonk music there's still die-hards that do it and put it on but when was the last time you saw a countrypolitan act with an orchestra? Probably never,” says Falstaff. “They just don't do that anymore.”
The Honky Tonk Soirée featuring performances by Amber Digby, Jason James and Jonny Falstaff with the Sky Ranch Orchestra will take place on Saturday, June 11 at Rockefeller's, 3620 Washington. Doors at 7 p.m. $25-50.
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Gladys Fuentes is a first generation Houstonian whose obsession with music began with being glued to KLDE oldies on the radio as a young girl. She is a freelance music writer for the Houston Press, contributing articles since early 2017.