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The Flatlanders Bring Grassroots to Zankel Hall

by David Artavia


West Texas was alive and well Saturday night at Carnegie Hall, with The Flatlanders performing as part of WFUV’s Live at Zankel concert series. Before the show even started, the energy was palpable with excitement, as the trio imported loyal fans unlike I’ve ever seen lately at a concert. With decades of experience in the industry between them, the group welcomed the Carnegie audience like first timers—grateful and enthusiastic.

Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, and Joe Ely walked out on stage to roaring applause, and just by listening to the tone of their voices, you knew that The Flatlanders had experienced life and all its virtues. One might not think that this grassroots acoustic band would be able to make the prestigious Zankel Hall into something country, but they absolutely did. And, although each member has achieved success in their own right as pioneers in country music, the night was an homage to growing up in Texas together as childhood friends—a great reminder of how the genre was born.

The audience knew every word that they sang, and it wasn't long before Zankel became a county fair, full of “yeehaws” and screaming requests. During their first set they sang audience favorites like "Julia," "Not That Much Has Changed," and "Hopes Up High" with tremendous response. Afterwards, they came downstage and sat on bar stools—each with their guitars, of course. One by one, they told stories of the old days and played a number of their newly recorded songs.

Their persona as a group represents everything great about country music: charm, humor, and honesty, and from beginning to end, The Flatlanders pulled us into their world of remembrance; one could almost hear the echoes of laughter and music that they have built together. In fact, most of the audience didn’t need to hear, but remembered from their childhood the comfort that great music gave them.

The Flatlanders will always be one of the strongest collection of songwriters country music has ever seen, and it was quite a treat to witness this moment, with some of the most revered artists to come out of Texas playing better than they’ve ever had. The group continues to deliver the promise that their music will always be the benchmark that turned the grassroots sound into the symbol of a generation—achieving a place in history as big as the smile on their faces.