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Lauren Alexander: Earning Her Own Scars

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By Johnny Griffith

Lauren Alexander is breaking your rules. Just listen to her latest album “Smoke Signals,” and she’ll tell you. Obsessed with music from an early age, Lauren was surrounded by opportunities to explore, educate, and express herself in a myriad of genres. Once the Bullard native had a taste of the stage she never looked back, but don’t call her a Country artist; she’s much more than that box can hold. Crossing her “twangy country roots” with “soul driving classic rock,” she sprinkles on a healthy dose of folksy Americana for a unique, expressive, soul-bearing blend of original music and lyrics that invites you to break the rules along with her.

In between traveling and her latest project, a new song release “Sleeptalking,” Lauren caught her breath long enough to answer some questions about where she’s been, what she’s doing now, and where she’s headed.

Johnny: When did you first develop an interest in music?

Lauren: I was always around music growing up. My dad is a sound engineer and plays guitar so there were instruments and equipment lying around all the time, and my parents were cool about letting me be super loud. Having that freedom early on led me to be very comfortable in a creative mindset.

Johnny: Do you remember when and where you first performed in public?

Lauren: My very first performance was at church when I was just six years old. From there I performed at fairs and festivals around Texas, pretty much anywhere I could. I remember being so nervous early on. I wanted to be up there singing, but I didn’t want anyone to look at me!

Johnny: How integral was your family in helping you develop that early interest?

Lauren: I think I would have found music at some point no matter what, but my family is the reason I was able to get started so young. They drove me all over Texas to play at festivals and dive bars, and every other Sunday we would drive to Fort Worth for yodeling lessons. I knew very early on that music wasn’t just a hobby for me. It is a blessing that I’ve been able to focus primarily on my music, and I have to credit so much of my success to my parents and the family of people that have been so supportive of my vision.

Johnny: When did you make the decision to start writing your own music?

Lauren: I’ve always been a little shy, which has led me to feel misunderstood a lot. Songwriting was the best way I found to communicate without having to say a word. It’s easier to express your feelings when they’re tied up with a melody that carries half of the weight. Writing songs is like another part of my language now that helps me to organize all of my thoughts and feelings. I have to write for my world to make sense.

Johnny: Has the writing process evolved as you’ve become more experienced in the craft?

Lauren: My process is different every time, so I can’t say that it has changed. My creative headspace is definitely different than it used to be, but I think that mostly just comes from gaining new experiences and being comfortable with who I am and what I have to say.

Johnny: Your sound is quite a unique tapestry that has threads of several different styles and artists weaved into it. How do you describe it, and who are the artists you looked to for inspiration in the evolution of your sound?

Lauren: The evolution of my sound has been very organic. I grew up singing country music, but as I got older and began to develop my own musical appetite, I didn’t limit myself to being just one kind of artist. As I’ve transitioned into the sound that I have now, and writing for “Smoke Signals,” I’ve listened a lot to The Black Keys, Grace Potter, and Lana del Rey, as well as Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, and The Beatles. I think you will always be able to hear whispers of my country music upbringing in everything I do.

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Johnny: You grew up in Bullard and have played all over East Texas, but you’ve spent a lot of time in Nashville as well. How much of the time is split between the two these days, and what kind of professional challenges does a move like that bring?

Lauren: I lived in Nashville for about a year and a half. There’s music going on all the time, and I found a really great community of people that were really into what I was doing. But I missed having the freedom to travel. I missed my band. At one point I was working three part time jobs, playing shows at night, and still paying for groceries with spare change and calling home for money. I got into a really dark place being stuck there. I had to make the best decision for my career and myself, which was to move back home to East Texas and have more freedom to go and play shows wherever I want. I’ve been lucky to find cool music communities all around Texas, Colorado, and California. I joke a lot that I basically live in my car; it feels like it sometimes!

Johnny: Your debut album “Smoke Signals” is a great release, and the production value is out of this world for a debut from an independent artist. Who did you work with on this, and what has the response to the album been so far?

Lauren: Thanks! “Smoke Signals” is one of my greatest accomplishments. I’m so incredibly proud of that record and all the great people who were involved with it. I worked with Rosewood Studios in Tyler where I’ve been recording since I was 12. They’re the best, and people seem to really love it. I’ve gotten some radio play on several songs from that album, which is one of the coolest feelings in the world.

Johnny: Behind every successful singer at some point is a solid band. Do you have a regular cast of musicians taking the stage with you?

Lauren: I’ve been touring with my guitar player (and husband) Richie and my drummer Jeff for about six years. My bass player Stacy has been with us for about two years. We’ve all got a really good thing going on. I feel comfortable knowing that they’ve got my back on stage, and I think that’s really important.

Johnny: What do you feel has been your biggest milestone to this point in your career?

Lauren: Releasing “Smoke Signals” was huge for me because I worked so hard on it, but I’ve also gotten to play a lot of cool stages and travel to so many beautiful places; so it’s hard for me to pick just one big moment.

Johnny: Where does Lauren Alexander go from here?

Lauren: My plan is to keep doing what I’m doing: playing shows, writing songs, and putting out music. I’ve got another album in the works that I’m very proud of, which will be released in 2018. I’ll also be having a baby in February, and I can’t wait for the new adventure and challenge of touring with a kiddo.

Upcoming Shows:

  • October 13th and November 17th: Eagles Bluff – Bullard
  • October 14th: The Grove – Tyler

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Bands

Guitar On Fire: Reece Malone

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By Johnny Griffith

Hendrix, Stevie Ray, B.B., Eddie, Slash, T-Bone Walker, David Gilmour, Duane Allman, Derek Trucks.

Their names, along with countless others, are etched into our brains and into the history of music along the way.  The guitarist. That captivating centerpiece of modern music that constantly amazes us with their creativity and a certain amount of swagger.  There are millions of people that day-dream about being a guitarist on stage. Even amongst the tens of thousands of garage guitarists and local legends who play every weekend there are few who possess the chops and that “it” factor who will ever get the opportunity to perform at the next level.  But then you have musicians like local guitar prodigy Reece Malone who has packed a lifetime of experience into 16 phenomenal years.
The Longview native and Spring Hill ISD sophomore has been burning up stages since his debut 8 years ago with a resume of performances and endorsements under his belt that would make some of the most seasoned guitarists get excited. A working musician since 10, he’s been part of several projects and is currently chief shredder for Salvation From Sundown. I caught up to him this past month and was able to have a conversation to get to know him a little better.

Johnny: What is your earliest memory of music?

Reece: I remember growing up listening to Van Halen, Deep Purple ,Jimi Hendrix,Ozzy and people like that. I also remember one of my first concerts was seeing ZZ top and Aerosmith and getting to meet the guys from ZZ Top in person! 

Johnny: Was guitar the first instrument you picked up?  When did you start learning? 

Reece: Guitar was the first instrument I picked up and started playing but I started learning by ear at about 6 or 7 years old. The first things I would pick up was stuff like smoke on the water and simple songs like that. 

 

Johnny: Do you play any other instruments currently or is your primary focus guitar? 

Reece: My primary focus currently is guitar but I do like to try to play other stuff like drums,bass, and piano.

 

Johnny: When did you realize you had a true gift for music?

Reece: After playing for the first time in Dallas, realizing how much everyone liked it and thought I was good. As a result, about 8 years old I started taking it more seriously. 

 

Johnny: When and where was your first public performance?

Reece: I remember playing in Lewisville at a place called Coach Joe Avezzano’s Hat Tricks with Lance Lopez when I was around 8 years old. 

 

Johnny: Who have been some of your most significant personal, and musical, influences thus far?

Reece: Lance Lopez has been a huge guide for me in my musical career but people like Jimi Hendrix, Philip Sayce, Eric gales, Derek Trucks & Marcus King are some of my biggest influences.

 

Johnny: So the first time I saw you perform live was probably the 2016 T Bone Walker Blues Festival in Longview and you were on stage with Lance Lopez and Salvation From Sundown.  How did that relationship with Lance and those early years with SFS help shape you into the musician you are now?

Reece: Lance helped with music genre, songs and has even been in the band at one point so he has been a huge influence on me. The band name Salvation From Sundown originates from one of Lance’s albums as well. Lance has introduced me to several people in the industry and given me many opportunities through the years. 

 

Johnny: For someone your age, you’ve got more experience on stage than some people get in a lifetime, what have some of the challenges been along the way with managing the things a teenager has to navigate and chasing the dream most musicians have?

Reece: I haven’t had many things to hold me back. I’ve been super blessed with my school working with me and my parents helping me along the way and all of my friends are understanding when I can’t do stuff with them. My parents are understanding with me doing stuff with my friends also so I’ve had great opportunities to do stuff musically and socially!

 

Johnny: You’ve had some pretty cool opportunities the last year or so with the Crossroads Festival and I’ve heard about this private event hosted by Gibson where you got to open for a couple of okay guitar players, want to talk about your experience with that? 

Reece: I was very excited to be chosen to open up a private event with some really good friends playing all Gibson guitars opening for people like Slash, Don felder, Billy Gibbons , Rick Neilson, Celisse Henderson, Lizzy hale, Jimmy Vivino and several others. Eric Clapton’s Crossroads was also an amazing opportunity to be one of the only local guitarists invited to play the festival. I also performed on the Gibson stage at Winter NAMM in January and while in California I was invited to participate in a charity event Dark Side of the NAMM and played with Steven Perkins(drummer Jane’s Addiction), Stu Hamm (Bass player for Joe Satriani, Steve Vai) Gilby Clarke (Guns N Roses), and Vernon Reid (Living Colour). 

 

Johnny: What are some other highlights of your young, but productive, career?

Reece: At the age of 13 I was invited to play at a halftime show at a Knicks game at Madison Square Garden. I was asked to represent Texas so I played a ZZ Top song. I’ve also had the opportunity to sit in with Marcus King in Dallas at The House of Blues. I’m the youngest guitarist to ever be featured on the cover of Buddy Magazine,which is the oldest music magazine in the state of Texas. I’ve also been professionally endorsed by Gibson Guitars, Ernie Ball Strings & Homestead Amplifiers. I truly have been fortunate so far in my music journey to be surrounded by amazing people and experiences. 

 

Johnny: What is on your radar for 2020 that we should keep our eyes open for? 

Reece: I will be playing at the Dallas international guitar festival, Bedford Blues festival, Gibson sponsored events and also many other shows throughout the year. You can look on our band page for more dates!

For more information about Reece and what he’s got going on, follow him on Instagram and Facebook at Reece Malone Music.

 

 

 

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Rescheduled: Oct. 20th, 2020 Red Dirt BBQ & Music Festival

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The 2020 Red Dirt BBQ & Music Festival Returns to Downtown Tyler

The new date has been set for Sunday, October 11th. It will be the same setup as normal, just on a Sunday:  https://facebook.com/events/s/2020-red-dirt-bbq-music-festiv/1332463773558598/?ti=icl

May 2nd October 11th, the 7th annual Red Dirt BBQ & Music Festival presented by Hyundai of Longview will be held in Downtown Tyler, and with it comes the best of barbecue in Texas and top of the line music all day. 

The Red Dirt BBQ & Music Festival has proven to be one of the most premier and unique music and food experiences in Texas. The festival takes place on the brick streets of the Downtown Square in Tyler every May, with the 2020 edition featuring at least 30 of the most celebrated barbecue restaurants in Texas. Music happens for nearly 12 hours on two stages, with the main stage highlighting the biggest names in Texas and Red Dirt Music. 

This year’s festival will also feature the state’s most celebrated barbecue restaurants providing samples of their smoked meats to attendees. Barbecue joints from as close as Tyler and as far as Amarillo converge on the Rose City to showcase their smoked meats to thousands of barbecue enthusiasts, while thousands more pour onto the brick streets for the concert. 

Performances this year feature Parker McCollum (10pm), Josh Abbott Band (8:15pm), Jason Boland & The Stragglers (6:45pm), Charley Crockett (5:15pm), and Chris Colston (3:45pm).

“Top to bottom, I don’t think there’s ever been a Red Dirt lineup we’ve been more excited about. Having these names join our incredible barbecue joints was a huge honor for our sixth festival,” Red Dirt promoter Chase Colston said. “We’re expecting an even faster sellout this year and can’t wait to get back on the brick streets for another great Red Dirt BBQ & Music Festival.” 

The festival is sold out. Watch reddirtbbqfest.com in case any more tickets are released.

The Red Dirt BBQ & Music Festival is presented by 101.5 KNUE, East Texas’ No. 1 country music station, “Radio Texas, LIVE! With Buddy Logan,” and Hyundai of Longview.

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Bands

Dagnabbit: Get Your Good Times On!

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dagnabbit-10By Reid Kerr

“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-13Dagnabbit 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.”
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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.”

dagnabbit-7An 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

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