By Rita Ballou

(Nov/Dec 2011/Vol. 4 – Issue 6)

Rawhide 2It’s that time of year again for revisiting, rehashing, looking ahead, and — if you’re like me — cursing your terrible memory and reconsidering a ginkgo biloba supplement. Let’s put things into perspective: 2011 was not the worst year for the Texas/Red Dirt Music scene, but we’ve certainly had better. Either way, with everything from reality showmances to shark attacks, there was plenty to keep this self-confessed shallow, snarky Internet blogger busy!

As I scrolled through the more than 500 blog entries that I wrote on this year, I decided that the best way to condense it all into one “best of” column would be with my own holiday

“bragogram.” You know — just like those horribly cliched, overachieving family newsletters that clog our mailboxes every year come December. Admit it — you love those things as much you loathe ’em. So without further ado, gather all the kids, pets and grandparents around the fire, throw on Robert Earl Keen’s “Merry Christmas from the Family,” and let’s dig into this big ol’ Rita cheese log, shall we?

Dear Friends, Family and Cherished Loved Ones, 

I can’t believe this year has come and gone so quickly, but yes it is true. We are once again in the most joyous of seasons, and as a brand new year looms just around the corner, I look back at 2011 and I’m reminded how truly blessed we are! 

The first few weeks of the year found us all recovering from yet another amazing six days of friends and good times at the MusicFest in Steamboat Springs, Colo. Where else can you travel 742,468 miles to stand in 50-degree weather and spend $1,000 to see the same bands you can see 30 miles from your house for a $12 cover charge? Then, after everyone settled into their 2011 touring schedules, we all gathered around our televisions to watch Jack Ingram star in his very own Super Bowl commercial! It was such a special treat to watch Jack sing to the nation — or at least to the Texas viewing audience — about all those things he dearly loves about his home state. Well, everything except maybe literacy! Sure, we all know that you actually can “spell Texas without H-E-B,” but our Jack looked so precious drinking his Dr. B soda and singing for all those darling line dancers at Gruene Hall that we just couldn’t bare to tell him. (It was also news to me that they apparently now allow line dancing at Gruene Hall, but it’s nice to know that Texas’ Oldest Dancehall is keeping up with today’s hottest trends! It’s high time the Ballous paid the place another visit. Do they have air conditioning now, too?)

February found us all rejoicing Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction of an early spring as well as celebrating the Randy Rogers Band’s American Country Music Awards nomination for the coveted Rascal Flatts Award — aka, Top Vocal Group of the year! Sadly, when the awards were presented in April, Randy and the boys ended up leaving empty handed. I guess what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas — or evidently goes home with Lady Antebellum. No matter, though; we were just proud as punch to watch our home-state boys walk the red carpet at the MGM Grand and fill those seats, even if everyone else there just assumed Randy was Zac Brown.  

March certainly lived up to the “in like a lion” saying when Sunny Sweeney’s debut major-label single “From a Table Away” roared onto the Billboard country chart’s Top 10! That made Sunny the highest-charting solo female country artist to debut since Taylor Swift in 2007 and garnered her an opening slot of Brad Paisley’s World Tour. Unfortunately Sunny didn’t crack the Texas Music Chart’s Top 10, but maybe she will have better luck in the future. Here’s hoping! We are all rooting for Sunny down here in Texas, even if she is a girl. 

Around the same time, rumors began to circulate about a Texan country singer making the audition rounds of NBC’s new music competition show, The Voice, and we soon found out that these rumors were indeed a reality! With the help of Team Cee-Lo and Blake Shelton’s Hillbilly Bone, the entire nation was introduced to our very own, yet virtually unknown, Curtis Grimes. Due to the overwhelming popularity of this breakout hit, Curtis came into our living rooms with his good-ol’-boy charisma, boyishly handsome looks, a Southern Thread cock cap, and a prop guitar that he held as stylishly as George Strait. What an exciting time it was indeed! Unfortunately, poor Curtis was knocked off The Voice train on week eight after he took the stage with half a dozen scantily clad back-up dancers and a rather ill-advised Robert Palmer cover. It was revealed that even if we were all once “Addicted to Love,” apparently America was not addicted to Curtis Grimes. 

We didn’t get to see our little Rich O’Toole on national TV this year, but we sure got to hear him a lot on the radio, thanks to his “Cricket Song” that started chirping nonstop around springtime and gave Rich his first No. 1 hit on the Texas Music Chart. But although those crickets might have known where “love comes from and where love goes,” not one of them could tell poor Rich where his stolen Sunburst Telecaster ended up after it walked away from a show in Paris, Texas.  Meanwhile, in order to show his support for the troops — not to mention his “Sleeping on the Interstate” single — trooper Granger Smith made our entire music family proud when he went for a 100-mile walk from Austin to Fort Hood in combat boots and really did sleep on the interstate. Well, technically he didn’t REALLY sleep on the “interstate,” but I guess sleeping on a farm-to-market road is close enough. 

Just as the bluebonnets were beginning to fade (because as we all know, the bluebonnets are dead in the summer), we showed the British they weren’t the only ones that could throw a wedding fit for royalty! After a few years of courting, Miranda Lambert finally got around to making an honest man out of her beau, Blake Shelton. The two stars tied the knot in a beautiful Texas Hill country ceremony complete with deer antlers, Wrangler jeans and the Pistol Annies. Among the wedding presents was a lovely CMA Entertainer of the Year award nomination. It seems being Mr. Lambert comes with benefits!

Speaking of the Pistol Annies, Miranda’s newly formed vanity project that included herself and her two best gal pals Ashely Monroe and Angaleena Presley burned up the charts with their No. 1 album, Hell of Heels.  The trio’s infectious harmonies confronted the typical issues so many women of today can relate to, such as bills, pills, and trailer parks, all while wearing $1200 shoes. (Doesn’t every housewife usually take a few Xanax before mopping the floor of her doublewide wearing this season’s newest Jimmy Choo Viola sandals?)

As the weather warmed up and we were all squeezing into our jorts and slipping into our tubes to test out the waters of the Guadalupe River, Mark McKinney officially threw his trucker hat and new tattoo into the ring and announced his candidacy from president of the United States of Texas was in full swing. His progressive platform showed promise — cheaper beer, breakfast taco appreciation — and he was technically the only candidate running, but the polls so far have been discouraging, with five percent of eligible voters pointing out that there’s no such thing as a president of the United States of Texas and the other 95 percent responding with “who the hell is Mark McKinney?”

As always, summer in Texas meant unbearable heat, all-day music festivals and the ever popular “Hold My Beer and Watch This” acoustic tour by BFF’s Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers. Not to be outdone, trend-setting innovator Josh Abbott and former Nashville recording artist Pat Green buddied up for an acoustic jaunt of their own. Together, they sold fistfuls of tickets to feisty cougars that couldn’t wait to dance to “Wave on Wave” and young gals that were puzzled about who the old guy onstage was and whether or not Josh was going to stop sucking up to him long enough to sing “She’s Like Texas.” 

The dog days of summer also brought the release of This Is Indian Land, the long-awaited debut of former Cross Canadian Ragweed frontman Cody Canada’s new project, the Departed. The album, which featured Cody and friends (including Texas guitar-slinger Seth James) paying tribute to songs by some of their favorite Oklahoma songwriters, sold well and received some glowing reviews by critics, but fans were pissed that the Departed didn’t cover “Carney Man” or “Boys from Oklahoma.” Guess we’ll all just have to wait for the next album, if not for the Cross Canadian Ragweed reunion in a year or two. I know, I know — the Ragweed guys will probably tell you that will never happen; but hey, didn’t Mike McClure and the Great Divide always say the same thing? 

While Ragweed fans don’t always get what they want, Redneck Messiah Kevin Fowler can always be counted on to keep his followers good and happy. After a bumpy road on two now defunct record labels, Kevin was finally able to release his Chipping Away album on Average Joe’s Entertainment. As proven by such Man Fan fist-pumping anthems as “Pound Sign” and “Hell Yeah, I Like Beer,” Fowler’s still preaching the gospel of delivering the same three songs over and over. I say, “Amen!”

After six years, 739 band members, and two live albums, Stoney LaRue finally went into the studio to record his newest 10 track-masterpiece, Velvet. We’ve all given Stoney a lot of flack of the years for taking so long, but really, if you do the math, that only averages out to around 219 days per song.  Best of all, Stoney packed the CD in a lovely lint-brush case. When it comes to removing doggie hair off the couch, that bad boy is the best thing to hit the Ballou household cleaning closet since the ShamWow. 

On a personal note, thanks to the popularity of Texas-themed reality television, the population of Ritaville has grown by leaps and bounds. Each week more readers paid us a visit to catch up with the rowdy shenanigans of CMT’s Texas Women and to follow our own Texas gal (from Florida) Ali Dee throughout her struggles to make a name for herself in the music scene.  In the season finale the entire nation tuned in to celebrate Ali’s EP release party that was complete with live music, cocktails, and merchandise. The only thing missing from this shindig was the actual EP, since it doesn’t technically exist yet. 

Also new to the tube was the “docudrama” Troubadour, TX, which took an in-depth look at the Texas music scene by focusing on the hardships of struggling artists. Sadly, despite all the major buzz leading up to the premiere, the show’s popularity has yet to take off quite like that of Texas Women — most likely due to the fact that none that the featured characters, including Lincoln Durham and Ryan Beaver, are shown wearing string bikinis and launching themselves down a Slip ’N Slide. But the first season isn’t over yet and you never know what wild things can happen on the road with traveling musicians, so stay tuned!

Oh! And let’s not forget about Roger Creager’s infamous shark attack! Don’t worry, Roger and his nibbled finger are doing OK. Thank heavens! And thank that poor little 14-inch black tip shark, because without him, the whole year could have blown by without any of us remembering Roger at all!

Of course the biggest music news of the fall had to be the night Texas legends like Willie Nelson, George Strait,  Lyle Lovett and many more donated their time and talent to play the “Fire Relief: The Concert for Central Texas” event at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin. The benefit was put together to raise funds for the many folks who lost their homes in those horrific wildfires in September. It was such a great cause that Courtyard Hounds sisters Martie and Emily were even able to sniff Natalie —sans mane — out of the Hollywood Hills for a very special Dixie Chicks reunion. The gals played a good half-hour’s worth of their favorite material, and rocked the stage so hard that we forgot all about whatever it was we were supposed to be mad about them for. Was it something they said at a Monday Night Football game, maybe? Whatever. Bygones! In the end, the concert raised a whopping $725,000, and not even the 1,000-plus first responders and Bastrop country residents that lost their homes to the wildfires seemed to be offended by the irony of George singing his classic song “A Fire I Can’t Put Out” during his own set. 

And with that, it’s time to wrap up my little “Year in Ballou.” There’s no telling what exciting events are still to come in November and December that I’m going to have to leave out here, so you’ll just have to ride out the rest of the year with me over at Right now, I’ve gotta run out the door to the post office, and also hit the mall and Wal-Mart to beat those annoying holiday crowds so I can start shopping for the perfect gifts for me and mine. So happy holidays, y’all!  It sure has been a busy, busy year with many new experiences for our close little family! We can only hope each and every one of you will work to make 2012 as wonderful an rewarding as 2011 was for us!  

Love and Blessings to all,

Rita Ballou