Oklahoma is sort of the Bermuda Triangle of the Great Plains. We know there’s some magical stuff going on within those dusty borders, but we’re a little scared to head on in and check it out.
The musical magic is referred to as the “Red Dirt” scene, and a rich vein of that fertile ground runs right to Travis County. Some of our favorite artists carried a little of that dirt with them, folks like Ray Wylie Hubbard, Jimmy LaFave, Kevin Welch, Travis Linville, even Michael Fracasso, and Austin music is certainly the better for it. In truth, the rambling red dirt of Oklahoma is a close geological cousin to the cotton fields and caliche flats of West Texas. It spawns poets of uncommon insight.
There’s a new kid out on there on the airwaves, name of John Fullbright, and he seems destined to take us a little further into the dust bowl frame of mind. Pause a little before you venture into the world of Fullbright, because he will grab hold of you with a steely grip. Every song will take you somewhere you’ve never been before, and in every song you will learn something more about yourself. Woody Guthrie would be quite proud.
A child of Okemah, like Guthrie, Fullbright cut his teeth with formidable Red Dirt artist Mike McClure. His breakthrough year came in 2012. A stunning performance at SXSW in March, the main stage at Kerrville Folk Festival in June and the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in July. In the middle of all that he released his debut album, From the Ground Up, to much acclaim, and the boy from Oklahoma was on his way.
He storms the stage with piano, acoustic guitar and harmonica, his voice weathered and high. His appearance is earnest and rosy-cheeked, somewhere between high school history teacher and a budding televangelist. He exhibits the wisdom of a thinking man twice his age, channeling a jailhouse full of old souls. He navigates the killing fields of love and bites down on the eternal social issues. His words will cause you to pause, maybe even change your own tune a little.
John Fullbright is a troubadour in the best sense, spreading an enriching gospel of finding what’s right in each of life’s precious moments, and railing against the rest like an angry archangel…a foe to hypocrisy and a friend to what’s right. Expect much more in the years to come.
Three things to know about John Fullbright: (1) Townes Van Zandt was an important and early influence, (2) his first significant public performance was at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Okemah in 2005, and (3) in 2009, he released Live at the Blue Door, a great live album recorded by Travis Linville at the Oklahoma City club.