Friendly Advice on Just About Anything from the Hill Country’s Happiest Songwriter

By Al Barlow

(Nov/Dec 2011/Vol. 4 – Issue 6)

Hi Al,
It was good to see you at that Robert Earl Keen CD-release show at the Texas Music Theater back in late September. Singing “Merry Christmas from the Family” along with you and the rest of the crowd got me thinking — what is your funniest Barlow family Christmas story? I’m sure you’ve got a bunch of ’em! Happy holidays! — “Cousin Rita,” San Marcos

Dear Rita,
Happy Holidays, Rita! Wasn’t that Robert Earl Keen show fantastic? My favorite time of the year to go see Robert Earl is during the holidays, because his Christmas shows seem to really put me in the spirit of the season.

One of my most memorable Christmas experiences happened at the Greyhound Bus Station in New Braunfels several years ago. My cousin was to arrive at the bus station around midnight on Christmas Eve to spend the holidays with my family and me. It was bitter cold that night and drizzling rain, but I was managing to keep warm in the bus station, which also happened to be a laundromat. There were several people huddled inside, some waiting for their bus to arrive, and some waiting for theirs to leave.

Well, here it is — Christmas Eve -— and the place was silent, except for the clothes dryers spinning and humming in the background. No Chrismas music. No decorations. Silence.

Then, it suddenly occurred to me that I had a string of lights in the trunk of my car, and I just happened to have my guitar with me! So I got up and went outside and dug around in the trunk until I found that set of colorful twinkly lights, grabbed my guitar and headed back into the bus station. There were a dozen or more bleary eyes looking at me, and nobody said a word.

Just like I owned the place, I marched myself over to the nearest outlet and plugged in the set of lights. The old boy setting next to the outlet offered to lend me a hand with stringing the lights across the windowsill, and suddenly the place started feeling real “Christmassy.” Then I pulled my guitar out and started singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” or something like that, and before you know it, everybody in the whole place was singing and celebrating and having fun!

It wasn’t long before my cousin arrived at the bus station, and he ended up celebrating with all of us for another hour or two. We had the best time!

Dear Al,
Many of the biggest stars in country music are women. But women artists sure seem to be in the minority on the Texas and Red Dirt music scene. There are certainly some very talented women making music here, but if you look at the lineups of most Texas music festivals and concert series, you’re lucky to find one woman for every 10 men. What’s up with that? Do you have any insight on why female artists seem to have a harder time breaking through on this scene?
— Sarah, San Antonio

Dear Sarah,
Good question, Sarah! I’ve noticed the same thing, that there just aren’t as many women performers at music festivals and stuff. It almost defies explanation. But I’ll say this: What the female artists may be lacking in quantity, they more than make up for it in quality! We’ve got the best female musicians in the world right here in this part of the country, and for that — I’m thankful!

Dear Al,
It’s that time of the year when music critics (and fans!) like to make lists of their favorite records and concerts of the last 12 months. So, as a music fan, songwriter, and man of good taste, what were your favorite albums you heard in 2011? And while you’re at it, what as your favorite concert you attended? I wanna know what rocked Al Barlow’s world this year.
— List-O-Holic, New Braunfels

Dear List-O-Holic,
This year has been a phenomenal year for Texas music! It’s difficult to choose my favorites because we live in a region where the music is so rich and plentiful. But, in the spirit of the season, I don’t mind sharing some of my faves with you.

Robert Earl Keen’s new release, Ready for Confetti, is one of the finest albums I’ve ever listened to. This collection of songs is one of his best efforts — ever. It’s genuine, heartfelt, and pure REK! Susan Gibson’s new CD, Tightrope, is powerful and arguably her best effort ever, too. Another CD that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed is the new one by the Kinfolk, featuring Daniel Thomas Phipps. I’ve about worn the grooves out of my copy, because I listen to it almost every day. However, I must admit that my favorite CD of 2011 is Owen Temple’s masterpiece, Mountain Home. I’ve listened to that CD at least 10,000 times, and I never get tired of it!

The best show I’ve seen in 2011 was the show I saw at Gruene Hall featuring Shelley King, Michael O’Connor, and Lisa Morales. It took place on an unassuming Tuesday night, and it proved to be the best show I’ve ever been to in my life. Three of my favorite musicians, doing what they do best. I’m so thankful to live in the Lone Star State, and to have access to such awesome performances!