Turnpike Troubadours Drop Country Music Knowledge On Los Angeles
Evan Felker swigs a beer from onstage at The Mint. Leaning into the microphone, he drawls, “They don’t sell Coors Light at this bar.”
The crowd boos. In response, Felker smiles a smile that’s part boyish charm, part genuine confusion. It’s the Oklahoma-based Turnpike Troubadour’s first time playing L.A., and a bar that doesn’t sell the preferred libation of country boys from Idaho to Texas has clearly thrown the frontman for a loop.
"Are y'all boo-ing me, or the bar?" he asks. "I don't know what to make of this."
It’s a light-hearted hesitation that Felker shares with at least one other bandmate. An hour before hitting the stage, bassist R.C. Edwards—a teddy bear of a man dressed in a pearl snap and trucker hat— stood under the L.A. twilight and explained that the group was, overall, feeling optimistic about the show. “It’s sold out, people begging for tickets…we’re feeling welcome already,” he said, sipping from a paper cup. But he immediately tempered himself: "We'll see how the crowd is."
As it turned out, there was no need to worry. The crowd had come primed: Cowboy hats rested on the heads of at least three men. Girls in fringed t-shirts, Daisy Dukes and weathered cowgirl boots sipped PBR. And when the band—which, truth be told, played with exactly zero hesitation—opened with the fiddle strains of “Long Hot Summer Day,” those same girls rushed the stage, twisting and smiling in an attempt to catch someone's eye.
When they wrapped the first song, Felker grinned out into the audience.
“Thank y’all for coming out,” he said. “We’re just so fucking happy to be here.”
The group then roared into the rest of their set. Taking swigs from a bottle of Jim Beam in between songs, they tore through their hits—“Every Girl,” “7&7” and “Good Lord Lorrie”—and lesser-known tracks off their freshman album. Their stage presence read like they were blowing the roof off an Oklahoma barn dance, and grinning back and forth at each other periodically with “fuck yeah” smiles, they proceeded to turn a legendary L.A. venue into a raging honky tonk.
And the audience, stumbling to keep up, gave it their all. There was no country swing dancing, which anyone who has attended a concert east of California and west of the Mississippi will know is par for the course elsewhere in this country, but there was singing. There was shimmying. At one point the guy standing behind me, a 20-something who had been waving his beer can proudly in the air like an American flag all night, ripped his shirt off in a fit of delirious country music joy and whipped it around over his head, hollering "hell yeah!!!!" from the depths of a jiggling beer belly.
By the time the band launched into “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” the thundering ode to living life to the fullest before skidding into the grave, the audience was fully ensnared; a group in front of the stage raised shot glasses and beer cans overhead and slammed them together in time with the chorus.
At the end of the show, the OK boys didn’t get far before the audience shouted for an encore. Felker came out first, playing an acoustic solo version of “Empty As A Drum” and a partial cover of The Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen A Face.” He then introduced Edwards, who, he said, would front the next song.
Since the time we spoke outside the venue till now, Edwards' demeanor had changed from restrained excitement to full-throttle confidence. The band had destroyed their set and left their local fans drenched in honky tonk happiness. There was no question that they could own L.A. From beneath his massive beard, Edwards grinned, and before launching into “Whiskey in My Whiskey” he bestowed the following stamp of approval upon the crowd:
“I never thought I’d have a reason to come to Los Angeles,” he said, smiling. “But you know, y’all’s all right.”