Wert will be bringing his one man band from Kerville to Houston’s Mucky Duck on Friday, April 16 for his first show since everything shut down last year when he was scheduled to play the same venue.
“This will be interesting,” says Wert. “I won't lie, I feel a little rusty outside of playing either streaming or just around the house with the family. It’ll be fun to shake off the dust.”
Wert is sure to shake not only the dust off his stomping boots but also the small and revered stage of the Mucky Duck with his intense and passionate on stage energy. Like so many artists, Wert was just beginning to tour in support of his well received 2020 release, As We Go Wandering.
“Boy let me tell you that was a punch in the gut. We got an album out, it was charting and getting radio play. We were so anxious to go out on tour and promote that album. You can't really bellyache about it anymore because the brakes get put on, but you just keep moving forward.”
Wert, a special education school teacher from Florida who has been growing and raising his family in the Texas Hill Country, is a true DIY artist who began his musical career as a way to add income to his family.
"You can't really bellyache about it anymore because the brakes get put on, but you just keep moving forward.”
Despite being a very independent artist, Wert is always thinking in terms of “we” and looking for ways to improve the lives of not only his family members, but his community and education in Texas and beyond.
A teacher for 13 years, Wirt is a long time and vocal advocate for education in Texas. He helped create the nonprofit Big Seed in Kerrville aimed at providing teenagers with opportunities in the arts not always found in schools.
It’s not that surprising that Wert was raised in a Mennonite community as his music is clearly meant to spread a message of unity and love through his intense blend of Americana, Punk Rock and Bluegrass sounds. Though he is a one man band, onstage he carries the energy of a hundred men and his performances leave audiences with a lingering feeling that they have been touched by a higher spirit.
When asked if it was his upbringing which has kept him in the “we” versus “me” mindset, Wert says, “It definitely was in the foundations of the Mennonite community. Growing up in the church like that, everything was very ‘we’ centered.”
In 2015, Wert and his family took a year off to travel and raise awareness around the issues facing special education in Texas. The year was meant to provide some respite from the exhaustion of the classroom and allow Wert and his family to live on the road while he performed and advocated when he was approached by a filmmaker Todd Tue to document his journey.
The film, When It Breaks, was released last year and though his non profit, music and the film are all different projects, they share a similar mission which Wert describes as “Utilizing the arts to make a positive impact and to do community development through the arts.”
The film is named after a song from As We Go Wandering where Wert pushes listeners to confront their own options of where they will go when it all fails. The song could be about anything really, but it serves as a poignant reflection of the struggling public school system and daily fears on campuses across the United States due to gun violence and exposure to COVID-19.
After so many years of working in and for special education in Texas, it’s clear that Wert has not lost one ounce of passion or purpose in his work and though he initially meant to keep his musical project separate from his career as a teacher, he can no longer separate the two.
“I definitely think that there are songs that specifically speak about advocacy and education but many times the themes are about just lifting your voice together and finding the power or finding themes that we can all connect to.”
Wert has admittedly always taken his time to release new material and though he has written at least an album's worth of songs during the pandemic, he is characteristically in no rush to put anything out.
“It’s amazing how many families this has affected so what I find myself writing even more now is about understanding, loss and trying to build compassion and love and persevere.”
“I think the songs we write are all about the struggle so if it’s related to education, it's about the struggle. If it's related to loss and love, it's about the struggle and I don’t get tired of doing that. I think that’s good for me. That’s my outlet that keeps me balanced. That's why the music is important whether it's in the house or here at the Mucky Duck on the 16.”
Possessed By Paul James will perform at 9:30 p.m. Friday, April 16 at McGonigels Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk, $30-180.