And now, in the spirit of the Hunger Games, let us take a moment to honor the Fallen …
Comal County Blue, you did Jason Boland and the Stragglers proud. We admit, when we determined seedings at the start of our Ultimate Texas Country vs. Red Dirt Album Showdown, we had your older brother Pearl Snaps ranked higher — giving it a No. 1 seed and you, as Boland’s second album on the bracket, at a No. 10. But you lasted four rounds to Pearl Snap‘s three, beating Bob Childers’ Ride for the Cimarron, Stoney LaRue’s The Red Dirt Album and Mike McClure’s Everything Upside Down on your way to facing off against Cross Canadian Ragweed’s mighty Soul Gravy. That last match-up would prove your last, but you went down swinging. Your party here may be over, but you’re still more than “Alright” in our book, because you did your “Outlaw Band” proud.
And you, “Purple” one — aka Cross Canadian Ragweed — what a hell of a run you had. Like Comal County Blue, you got stuck with a much lower seeding than the No.1 Soul Gravy, but damned if you almost didn’t very nearly make it all the way to what would have been the Ultimate Ragweed Album Showdown. That would have been fun, yes? If only it hadn’t been for those damn kids in the Turnpike Troubadours with their Diamonds & Gasoline. But we will never forget your victories through the first three rounds: Brandon Jenkins’ Down in Flames? Doused. This Is Indian Land, by that other band with Cody Canada? Departed, thanks to you. Not even the No. 1 seeded Jason Boland and the Stragglers’ Pearl Snaps could slow your roll.
Reckless Kelly’s Wicked Twisted Road: “These Tears” are for you, buddy. Pitting you against Rollercoaster was “A Lot to Ask,” but you took on that challenge like a champ. Along the way to your final round, you vanquished both Kyle Park’s Anywhere in Texas and William Clark Green’s Rose Queen, not to mention Micky & the Motorcars’ Careless. Who’s gonna be sitting at the kids table at this year’s Braun Family Thanksgiving? Not you, that’s who. So hold that rattlesnake head of yours up high.
And lastly, Wade Bowen — take a bow, sir. As happy as we would have been to hold your beer and watch you take on your good buddy Randy Rogers in the semifinals, instead we raise our beers and toast you for making one hell of a run. Your Lost Hotel played the game more like a WIN Hotel, beating out not one but two monster albums by Pat Green (his duo album with Cory Morrow, Songs We Wish We’d Written, and the Texas blockbuster Carry On), and made quick, easy work of the Casey Donahew Band’s self-titled effort, to boot. And man, you came mighty close to getting “One Step Closer” to winning it all, falling to Ryan Bingham’s Mescalito in what proved to be the tightest matchup in Round 4 (57.3% to 42.7%).
Worthy contenders, every one of ’em. But on we march to the Final Four: Two albums left on each side of the bracket, and all four of them loaded for bear.
On the Oklahoma side, it’s Cross Canadian Ragweed’s Soul Gravy against Turnpike Troubadours’ Diamonds & Gasoline — literally, the two biggest bands in Red Dirt music of the last 20 years. Ragweed may have broken up years ago, but the band’s legacy is stronger than ever, carried on night after night not just by founding members Cody Canada and Jeremy Plato in the Departed, but by pretty much every young gun that’s come along in their formidable wake. Including, dare we say it, Evan Felker and the rest of the Troubadours — a band that’s already well on its way to spawning its own generation of diehard followers (and even imitators). Meanwhile, on the Texas side, it’s the Randy Rogers Band’s Rollercoaster vs. Ryan Bingham’s Mescalito. Rogers and Co., moreso than any other act on the scene in the last two decades, have demonstrated time and again that it is possible to make solid records in the Nashville system and still maintain and grow a massive Texas fanbase. And as for Bingham, how cool is it to have a guy vetted from the get-go by such songwriters’ songwriters as Joe Ely and Terry Allen still standing this far into the tournament? He may have a hell of a fight on his hands this round facing the most popular band in Texas Country by a mile, but … well, look at that badass hombre sitting in the middle of the road on the cover of Mescalito: Does he look all that scared to you?
Bring it on, mofos! And VOTE. Fast. Because the semifinals end at 3 p.m. (CST) sharp Wednesday, and then it’s on to the FINALS.
Semifinals: Tuesday, 5/31 at 3 p.m. — Wednesday, 6/1 at 3 p.m.
Finals: Wednesday, 6/1 at 3 p.m. — Thursday, 6/2 at 3 p.m.