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From Willie to Selena: Texas Music Shines

January 25, 2023 Texas, Texas History, Rodeo

The rich musical heritage of Texas stretches from the sounds of country music legend Willie Nelson to rock and roll pioneer Buddy Holly to Tejano icon Selena to mega-Grammy winner Beyoncé.

“Texas music is truly unique. Spanning a broad array of genres, including blues, gospel, ragtime, jazz, conjunto, Tejano, country, zydeco, Cajun, rock and roll, and many others, Texas music, perhaps better than anything else reflects the rich history and tremendous ethnic and cultural diversity of the Southwest,” says the Center for Texas Music History at Texas State University.

Texas Has a Rich Tapestry of Musical Styles

Texas has a rich tapestry of musical styles that feature a cross-pollination of various genres.

The History of Texas Music by Gary Hartman says music is important to the Lone Star State as a means to “communicate information, ideas, values, and beliefs, and bond together as friends, families, and communities.”

Among the various genres found in Texas highlighted by Hartman in his book:

  • Native American music
  • Gospel
  • Blues
  • Ragtime
  • Swing
  • Jazz
  • Rhythm and blues
  • Conjunto
  • Tejano
  • Cajun
  • Zydeco
  • Western swing
  • Honky-tonk
  • Polkas
  • Schottisches
  • Rock and roll
  • Rap
  • Hip Hop

The Handbook of Texas Music says that “the musical voice of Texas presents itself as vast and diverse as the Lone Star State’s landscape.”

Casey Monahan, Director of the Texas Music Office, says: “To travel Texas with music as your guide is a year-round opportunity to experience first-hand this amazing cultural force.”

Icons of Texas Music

When it comes to the icons of Texas music, there are a lot of famous artists to choose from. Here is a short list of some of the names that made Texas a music haven:

  • Blues: Texas has a rich blues heritage, with artists like Lightnin' Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb. Hopkins was a singer, songwriter, guitarist, and pianist from Centerville and was ranked as one of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time by Rolling Stone magazine. Lipscomb was from Navasota, where an annual blues festival is held, and became noticed with his 1960 release “Texas Songster.”

  • Country: Texas has produced numerous country music legends:

o   Willie Nelson

o   George Strait

o   Waylon Jennings

o   George Jones

o   Larry Gatlin

o   Gene Autry

o   Tanya Tucker

o   Kenny Rogers

o   Miranda Lambert

o   LeAnn Rimes

o   Lyle Lovett

o   Lee Ann Womack

“Country music has been an important part of the Texan lifestyle since the 19th century and the rise of cowboy culture. As such, it should come as no surprise that Texas has produced many of the greats of the country music scene,” said Hello Music Theory.

  • Tejano: A genre of Tex-Mex music that blends Mexican and U.S. influences, with Selena (known as the Queen of Tejano Music) being one of its most famous artists. Selena was at the height of her fame when she was tragically murdered in 1995 at age 23, but her fame lives on in the hearts of her fans and the influence of her music on performers over the last two decades.

  • Jazz: Texas has been home to many jazz greats, including Ornette Coleman and Arnett Cobb. Coleman was a jazz saxophonist, trumpeter, violinist, and composer from Fort Worth and was the founder of the “free jazz” genre. Cobb was a Houstonian known as the “Wild Man of the Tenor Sax.”

  • Rock & Roll: Texas has been instrumental in the development of rock & roll, with artists like Buddy Holly, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Roy Orbison, and ZZ Top. Lubbock native Buddy Holly of “Peggy Sue” fame helped launch Rock and Roll into existence, while Dallas area Vaughan was considered one of the greatest guitarists ever. Orbison is a Rock and Roll Fame Hall of Fame member, and ZZ Top’s blend of boogie rock and southern rock has been entertaining fans for an amazing 54 years.

  • R&B: How can you define Houston native Beyoncé and her music style which spans R&B/Pop/Soul/Hip Hop and has resulted in more than 200 million records sold worldwide and 28 Grammy Awards? Influential R&B and soul singer/songwriter Barry White was born in Galveston.

  • Hip Hop and Rap: Houston has been home to more than just Beyoncé and her talents with Travis Scott and Megan Thee Stallion hailing from the Bayou City.

Texas Dance Halls, Honky-Tonks, and Musical Festivals

Texas not only has legendary musicians but has fantastic music venues to catch today’s top acts and local musicians from dance halls to honky-tonks to music festivals.

Many of the Lone Star State dance halls date back to the 19th century with stalwarts such as Gruene Hall on the outskirts of New Braunfels and Luckenbach Dance Hall, made famous by Waylon Jennings's No. 1 hit country single.

Newer to the state are venues such as Billy Bob’s Texas in the Fort Worth Stockyards, billed as the world’s largest honky-tonk, and home over the years for everyone from George Strait to ZZ Top.

Today, Austin is arguably the heart and center of Texas live music with the capital playing home to several important music festivals:

  • Austin City Limits (ACL): This festival has grown to 9 stages, 100+ performances, and two weekends (Oct. 6-8 and Oct. 13-15, 2023) at Zilker Park. The star-studded 2022 line-up included: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pink, SZA, Carly Rae Jepsen, Lil Nax X, Diplo, and Kacey Musgraves. Founded in 2002, the festival has seen Willie Nelson (2016), Paul McCartney (2018), George Strait (2021), and Kendrick Lamar (2016) among others.

  • South by Southwest (SXSW): March 10-19, 2023. More than 300 acts from around the world play each year at SXSW music fest which dates back to 1987. In 2023, announced performers include New Order, Killer Mike, and Tangerine Dream. SXSW is known for putting the spotlight on little-known acts that become famous such as the White Stripes (2001), Amy Winehouse (2007), Katy Perry (2008), The Strokes (2001), Foster the People (2010), Arctic Monkeys (20076), and Bon Iver (2008).

  • Levitation: Founded in 2008, this 4-day festival (Oct. 26-29, 2023) is held in the Red River Cultural District and East Austin with over 40 local and national artists showcasing their talents over Halloween weekend.

Other Texas music festivals to catch in 2023 include:

  • Kerrville Folk Festival: May 25 to June 11, 2023: Founded in 1972, it is a must for the Texas songwriting community.

  • UTOPIAfest: The laid-back festival (May 5-6, 2023) with music on two stages in Burnet at Reveille Peak Ranch features a BYOB, family-friendly vibe with free camping and parking along with mountain biking, disc golf and yoga.

  • Float Fest: This 2-day festival in Gonzales in July features festival goers on tubes in the San Marcos River. Last year’s line-up was star-studded with Marshmellow, Vampire Weekend, Cage The Elephant, Deadmau5, Chvrches, and Chance the Rapper all playing.

  • Texas Music Revolution: A 2-day event scheduled for June 2-3, 2023 in historic downtown McKinney features a blend of blues, bluegrass, country, folk, and indie acts.

  • Ubbi Dubbi: Set at Panther Island Pavilion in Fort Worth on April 22-23 with 45+ dance music acts.

  • Old Settler’s Music Festival: The 26th annual Old Settler’s is set for April 20-23, 2023 in Dale, just outside of Austin. The festival includes Americana/Roots music along with camping and family fun.

  • Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo: This giant show, set at NRG Park from Feb. 28 to March 19, 2023, rivals ACL and SXSW for the most iconic music festivals in Texas. Each night an act, usually a superstar, takes the stage for a month. The 2023 line-up includes Parker McCollum, Brooks & Dunn, Zac Brown Band, Jason Aldean, New Kids on the Block, Ashley McBryde, The Chainsmokers, Machine Gun Kelly, Kenny Chesney, Chris Stapleton, Cody Johnson, Brad Paisley, and Luke Bryan. Past acts range from Elvis Presley to Selena to George Strait.

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