By Roger Sharman October 2018
The 3rd annual Texas Music Takeover in London ended recently, a week long event across various venues in London, including The Roadhouse, The Borderline, Bush Hall, The Oslo & The Islington Café.
Every year the Texas Music Takeover team in conjunction with The Ranch & Texas Red Dirt Roads, Visit Fort Worth & other Sponsors bring across the Atlantic a selection of the finest talent that Texas has to offer. This year was no different. We had Koe Wetzel & Sam Riggs who regularly play to huge sold out events in the US, Vaden Todd Lewis (the lead singer with The Toadies) and Brandon Rhyder who have both been mainstays of Texas Music for many years. The former Voice USA contestant Austin Allsup who has four albums under his belt and has a rare & precious talent was also joined by another former star of The Voice USA, Luke Wade & a contestant from this year’s competition, Joey Green.
The remainder of the line-up was made up of Austin’s Jonathan Terrell, Grady Spencer Sean Russell, lead singer of Cut Throat Finches, Abraham Alexander, Lukas Jakobsson & last but by no means least, the beautiful Kylie Rae Harris, who has worked extensively with Texas legend, Radney Foster in the past, & is a great singer\songwriter in her own right.
The shows follow the song swap format Three or four artists at a time taking to the stage to play a song or two each in rotation. The other artists come out to support their peers & to mingle with the crowd, that’s how they do it down in Texas!
The week kicked off at the Roadhouse in Covent Garden. This was my favourite event of the week as I think the venue has a real American feel to it, the décor, the booths, you can sit & have a meal while the artists play. As it is their first event the artists are fresh & raring to go, and the crowd was buzzing, despite it being a Tuesday.
First up was Lukas Jakobsson, this young man has a big future. Having spoken to some of the entourage earlier, they all mentioned how great his soundcheck performance had been.
Sean Russell was next to sing, he’s the most British sounding vocalist on the tour. His band, Cut Throat Finches play rock/blues/pop with a cutting edge & sometime a political message.
Jonathan Terrell & Abraham Alexander made up the first quartet, if I were to compare Jonathan to anyone it would be an Avant Garde Ryan Adams. Incidentally, if you are an Instagram user & looking for someone to follow, Jonathan is always entertaining.
Abraham once again is an entirely different kettle of fish. You can tell from his music that he spent a considerable part of his youth outside the USA. Athens, Greece to be precise. He has a soulful voice and plays a different style of guitar from the other Texan artists.
Whilst these guys were playing I got the opportunity to catch up with Koe Wetzel. Koe is the hot new kid on the block in terms of Texas country music. He’s grown a huge following with his brand of Texas Red Dirt\Southern Rock. Born in the East Texas town of Pittsburg he’s been playing high up the bill at Festivals such as Larry Joe Taylor Fest in Stephensville in front of audiences of approximately 60,000.
Koe is a very likeable down to earth guy, with a humbleness and respect, which, in my opinion, is synonymous with the people of the Lone Star State. Whilst chatting to Koe I discovered that it was his first visit to London. He was excited to be on the trip and really looking forward to performing and doing some sightseeing.
After a brief interlude for the acts to change over Grady Spencer, Brandon Rhyder & Kylie Rae Harris took to the stage.
Grady Spencer and the Work’s song ‘Things To Do’ has become the anthem for the trip since being rerecorded in 2017. Having met Grady & his wonderful wife back in 2017, chatting to him was just like two old friends catching up. He is a family man and a gentleman. He loves to wander around London and do his own thing, taking in the sights, sounds and smells. We got on to the subject of Social Media, & how it has changed the life of an artist nowadays. Like many artists Grady doesn’t do his own, his drummer is on top of that, being younger than Grady: ‘it’s just so much easier for these young guys to take care of that stuff. It’s a second nature, they have grown up with it. I then asked Grady if like Londoners, the people of Fort Worth walk around with their noses in their phones all day, seemingly losing awareness of what’s going on around them. He replied ‘pretty much’. It seems to be the way we communicate these days.
Whilst on vacation in Fort Worth earlier this year, I was lucky enough to see Brandon Rhyder live along with Sam Anderson (lead singer of the Quaker City Night Hawks, who incidentally are supporting Blackberry Smoke here in November) at one of the Texas Crossroads series events, hosted by Justin Frazzell. Brandon is one of the most recognisable singer\Songwriters in Texas. He released his first album ‘Behind the Pine Curtain’ back in 2003 and he has been a near permanent fixture in the Texas Country charts ever since then. His critically acclaimed, eponymously named, latest album came after a four year hiatus and is produced by Texas legend singer\songwriter Walt Wilkins. This was Brandon’s first trip to London and when we spoke in Fort Worth he was very much looking forward to catching up with an old schoolfriend, whom he hadn’t seen in over twenty five years, as well as playing to a fresh audience. Incidentally, Brandon is another who doesn’t take care of his own social media!
Kylie Rae is an artist I hadn’t heard of before the event. She has one release to date that I can find details of, a six track EP entitled ‘Taking it Back’ released in late 2013. I thought that she sounded similar to Sheryl Crow – which was confirmed when she covered ‘If It Makes You Happy’ at the Oslo, Hackney on the Saturday night. For myself and the audience (judging by their reaction) this was one of the highlights of the entire week. Kylie also performed a stunning mini set on Sunday at the Islington Café with tracks including ‘What the Heart Wants’ & ‘Waited’.
Luke Wade was part of the Texas Music Takeover in 2017 and returned this year. We’d met at last years event. He’s a great guy with a very soulful voice and a sharp sense of humour. This trip to London was an extra special one for him as he got married in the south of France on route to the UK. . Luke has released two albums to date. He first made his name on season 7 of ‘The Voice’ USA on team Pharrell eventually losing out to the season winner, another Texan Craig Wayne Boyd. Just like the title of one of his song’s Luke was ‘On Fire’ at the Oslo.
Joey Green has recently been wowing the audiences on the current season of ‘The Voice’ as part of team Blake. He has a voice as big as the Texas Sky. Through the Texas Music Takeover week, he wowed audiences with his version of The Who’s ‘Baba O’Reilly’, a song that perfectly showcased his lungs. His last Album, ‘The War’ is something to behold and before that ‘Natchitoches Blues’ from the album ‘Whatever lady’ is a song that I adore. I’m unsure of the title of a song that he performed at the Oslo, ‘Wheels Under Me’ (?) but it sent shivers down my spine and with his vocal range it was truly spectacular.
Austin Allsup, is a superstar in my eyes. I spoke of Joey’s vocal range, Austin has that range and some. He has charisma seeping out of his pores, he’s tall and handsome. Austin has a remarkable story too, but I will save that for another time & place. He’s been gaining the adulation of audiences across Texas & other southern American states for a number of years now. I will never forget the busking performance he put on at Tottenham Court Road station last year. I’ve seen Austin perform on a number of occasions now, and his voice never fails to amaze me, it just gets better & better every time I hear him sing. The man can sing anything anywhere, he’s that good. If I had to name my favourite performance of the week then it would have to be his rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’ at the Islington on Sunday afternoon. There was gasps of amazement from the crowd, and a few tears around the room. It was an emotional moment for many of us. This section is shorter than it normally would be, but I fully plan to write more on Austin and his amazing music at a later date.
Vaden Todd Lewis of The Toadies is quirky by his own admission. Quirky in music makes for an interesting sound. That certainly rings true with Vaden. He’s a wholehearted performer with an energetic style. I caught him at the Bass Hall, Fort Worth in September so I knew what to expect when it came to him performing on this side of the pond. Lead singer of the Alternative Rock band, The Toadies, a band that many Texans aged around the forty years old mark will have fond memories of from their youth. The Pixies & Talking Heads are still very big influences on the music Vaden still makes, with dark and humorous lyrics. If you want an example just listen to ‘Jigsaw Girl’ or ‘Possum Kingdom’.
Topping the bill with along with Koe Wetzel was Sam Riggs. There’s no doubt he’s hot property right now. Similarly, to Austin Allsup, he’s tall & slim and has a very cheeky smile. His biggest hits to date are ‘The lucky Ones’, released back in 2016, and ‘Hold on & Let Go’ from 2014. My own personal favourite is ‘High on a Country Song’. Sam is a really talented guitarist. Ray Wylie Hubbard taught him how to pick when Sam first moved from Florida to Texas. He lives life to the full & on the edge, he says ‘it’s the only way he knows how to live’. He played a new song at the Oslo which was outstanding called ‘Obsessed’ which I am sure will be a big hit in the future. Sam has the world at his feet right now.
To sum up the week, all the artists thoroughly enjoyed their trip to London, all the Dallas\Fort Worth natives that travelled over with the event had an absolute blast. The audiences were bigger than previous years, but not as big as next year’s event, which I am confident will be the biggest and the best ye. . It’s well organised and affordable. If you aren’t a Texas Country or red dirt fan or you don’t know much about it then this week is the perfect event to go to. For those of us that are fans then it’s a dream come true. I must congratulate the whole Texas Music Takeover team for putting on another great event.