“He played, Fire on the mountain, run boys run”
The fiddle jumps in the musician’s hands as he wades into the crowd while playing the familiar strains of arguably Charlie Daniels’ best known hit.
“The Devil’s in the house of the rising sun!”
To the delight of onlookers, the fiddle player climbs up on the nearest table as he keeps playing while the rest of the band sings.
“Chicken in a bread pan pickin’ out dough!”
The crowd cheers him on as he balances precariously on the less-than-sturdy-table.
“Granny will your dog bite? No, child, no!”
As the band finishes the song, fiddle player still perched atop the wobbly table, the crowd erupts in applause, simultaneously appreciative of the performance and the fact that the fiddle player didn’t crash into their dinner. That fiddle player is Ryan Pierce, the band is Dagnabbit, and the crowd this time is the Pilots & Sponsors Party at the Great Texas Balloon Race.
Dagnabbit has been helping people satisfy their fix for live music since 2006. Originally started by Pierce, Ricochet bassist Greg Cook, and local drumming mainstay Terry Salyer, the musically-diverse collective has had various members since it’s inception, but the core line-up for the past few years has been Ryan Pierce on vocals/fiddle/guitar, Chuck Dowden on guitar/vocals, Tim Smith on bass guitars, Johnny Griffith on keyboards/vocals, and Joe Rodriguez on sound. The drummer on this particular night was Marcus Jones, a newcomer to the group with only a couple of shows with the band under his belt.
To describe the Dagnabbit band musically would be a challenge, as they will tackle just about anything, across any genre, in order to entertain at the particular event they’re playing. They play weddings, fundraisers, private parties, as well as local venues like Leon’s Steakhouse and Saloon in Longview or the Back Porch in Kilgore. If you had to pin them down to a summary description, they’d be a party band that specializes in good times wherever they go. Just as comfortable tackling Charlie Daniels as they are taking on Jason Aldean. Equally as proficient with such funk classics “Play That Funky Music” as they are with R&B hits “Purple Rain” and “Easy Like Sunday Morning.” As likely to play Garth Brooks as they are the Rolling Stones or Elton John, Dagnabbit setlists are designed to move with the mood of the crowd and play toward how they respond. Sound engineer Joe Rodriguez says, “The vibe that the guys have on stage is a feeling that anything is possible at any time, so you don’t know what might happen next. It certainly keeps me on my toes at the sound board.”
The ability to be such chameleons on stage is a byproduct of a talented lineup of musicians, each one accomplished and seasoned on their respective instruments from years of playing in local, regional, or national acts. Pierce, 40, who pulls the majority of the typical “front man” duties has played with such National Acts as Neal McCoy and The Oak Ridge Boys. In addition, he was the house band leader for the Reo Palm Isle, at one point performing with Miranda Lambert early in her career. Ryan started playing music seriously around the age of 18 and studied music in college before starting to play in bands. Bassist Tim Smith started playing at age 11 in church and has played with regional acts such as Mark Cooke, Waylon Pierce, and various other bands. Joe Rodriguez, 47, started playing guitar around 14, mixing audio around the age of 25, and has gigged with several bands and churches in the area. Johnny Griffith, 42, began studying classical piano at the age of 5 and continued into college, performing in churches and by 13 was playing in local restaurants and open jam nights. Chuck Dowden, 54, began guitar at 8 and started playing in bands in his 20’s and has recently taken up steel guitar. Marcus Jones started drumming around the age of 10, having played in churches and bands in the Austin area before moving to East Texas in 2012.
Despite their cumulative experience, or perhaps in large part due to their time in other bands, Dagnabbit has a decidedly casual feel on stage. It’s obvious as one watches the band interact with each other and the crowd, they’re having as much fun, if not more, than the people watching them. While they are one of the more polished bands you’ll find in the area, they embrace the inevitable curve ball and mistake, laughing them off and many times working it into the bit in a way that makes you wonder if it was even planned that way. “It’s pretty obvious if a band isn’t having fun with what they’re doing when on stage, and the crowd responds accordingly,” Pierce says. “If a band has tension, or just views it as another gig, then it’s hard to draw the crowd into what you’re doing. We look at it as getting to hang out with five of your good friends and make music while joking around and making a hundred or so new friends over the course of the night.”
An evening with Dagnabbit also comes with a few audience perks along the way, other than just getting to hear a quality band with a diverse catalog. It’s common for Pierce to prompt the audience for requests, and equally as likely a person gets invited on stage to help sing or play an instrument. Speaking of instruments, one of the regular bits the band does include is getting a volunteer from the audience to become “the newest member of the Dagnabbit band” while playing a cowbell during the funk portion of the set. There routinely are wigs, dance competitions, crowd sing-a-longs, and a long list of guest artists pulled on stage to showcase their own talents with Dagnabbit acting as a backup band.
Despite the band playing between 30 to 40 shows a year, they insist this is just a side hobby as they each have careers outside of music. “We’re not that type of band, trying to be something bigger than what we are right now,” band patriarch Chuck Dowden explains. “We don’t need to play somewhere every weekend to make a living, and I think that reduces the stress level quite a bit that comes along with trying to gain exposure for a larger platform. It allows us to relax and just play the gig in front of us at the moment.” Dowden, originally from Henderson, moved to Longview in 1981 and started Dowden Supply Company in 1983, opening a Tyler location in the mid-1990’s. Pierce started Alpha Construction in Longview in 2001 and Blackwater Oilfield Services in 2014, while Tim Smith owns TS Construction out of Liberty City. Rodriguez has worked for Mundt Music for several years and has done sound engineering for several churches and private events, while Johnny Griffith is Operations/Sales Manager for Tejas Hydraulics in Longview, and newcomer Marcus Jones works for Aramark Services, also out of Longview.
Dagnabbit has been steadily gaining fans and gigs for the past several years as new opportunities present themselves, but according to keyboardist, Johnny Griffith, their biggest fans, as well as toughest critics, continue to be their families. “Everyone in the band has a family, and we wouldn’t be on stage without their support. Family is the most important thing to each of us, but we have been blessed with spouses who understand how important the music is to us also. Somehow they still continue to come out to our shows, even after hearing the same material hundreds of times.” Each member of Dagnabbit is a father and will routinely bring the kids out to family-friendly events, adding to the intimate atmosphere the band has fostered to this point. Griffith says they are perfectly content to play gigs within an hour or so of Longview so that “everyone can sleep in their own bed at night.”
Indeed, a night with the Dagnabbit band is more like a night out with a bunch of your buddies, watching them joke, antagonize, and marvel at each other on stage over the course of the evening. As the night progressed at the Great Texas Balloon Race, at one point Pierce steps up and sings the phrase, “Come on, come on, get your good times on!” while motioning the typically subdued Smith toward a mic. Smith simply grins and declines the invitation, yet once the mic is safely away from him smiles, yelling out, “All I’m saying is a 20 is a 20, player!” – the band laughing as if some inside joke has just been shared between them, and they know the best time to be had that night, was happening on stage.
(In case you are wondering, “20 is a 20” vaguely references a saying that implies “there isn’t much I won’t do for a 20 bill” referring to you’d have to pay for Tim to talk on the mic.)
Dagnabbit can be found at www.facebook.com/dagnabbit.yall. Upcoming Shows:
- September 9th @ Leon’s Steakhouse, Longview, 8:30pm
- September 10th @ Leon’s Steakhouse, Longview, 8:30pm
- September 17th @ The Back Porch, Kilgore, 8pm
- October 8th @ Get Rowdy Get Loud, Hallsville ISD Education Foundation Fundraiser, Hallsville
- October 15th @ Dawg Fest Motorcycle Rally, C.A.S.A. benefit, Mt. Pleasant
- October 21st @ Leon’s Steakhouse, Longview, 8:30pm