Musicians from the Coastal Bend talk to Inspire about the importance of supporting local artists and the business of Texas country.
By: Jessica Dusek
“Corpus has always had a pretty strong country Texas scene,” says local operating manager, Mark Schaberg, of Brewster Street Icehouse. Schaberg’s 15 years of booking talent at the famous Hang em’ High Saloon (later Buffalo Billiards) in Austin contributes his expertise to the Corpus Christi venue. Drawing patrons across Texas, “We probably do six to 10 Texas country shows per year,” he says. “One of the things that’s led to the longevity of these artists and this kind of music is accessibility.”
“These artists work harder than any other genre,” describes Schaberg of fulltime musicians. “Why people should support (local) is the venues, lifestyle and festivals. Everything they bring to the music scene is a lifestyle.” Local advertising and support of Corpus Christi’s independent radio stations are essential to their success.
Country musicians sit down with Inspire to talk music, what’s on the horizon and inspirations from Corpus Christi.
Jake Ward was the headliner at Corpus Christi’s famous Texas Throwdown Thursday at Brewster Street Icehouse on Aug. 10. This represented quite a feat for Ward, having attended concerts as a kid at Brewster Street. Playing tunes from his album, “Sound with Intention,” Ward and his band also wove in some songs from his second album – due for release October/November of this year.
In 2013, Ward and his bandmates began by frequenting local Corpus spots such as the Executive Surf Club and Sandbar. Playing during intermission for other musicians, “We would just get onstage on breaks – sometimes with permission, sometimes without,” he laughs. Many times they would be invited back.
In college, Ward wrote, “Hit the Road,” and received airtime from a local DJ in Corpus Christi. “People started wondering where and when we were going to play,” he says. “It snowballed together, and now here we are.”
His second album has developed his talent, themed with Red Dirt/Americana sounds. “I grew up a lot during that process – as an artist, songwriter and as a person.” Dedicated fans meet him in varying cities, including San Antonio and Waco. “Hitting the road and cutting my teeth,” he describes of touring the state. “That’s one thing I love about Texas: people support local or regional artists.” Ward’s Corpus roots and fan base have provided his foundation as an artist.“ Without people coming to shows, it’s impossible to make it,” explains the local artist.
Appreciating his “fans from the beginning,” Ward says his parents are also musicians. He gives praise to his bandmates, accompanied by Owen Fitzsimmons (fiddle), Paul Teltschik (guitar), Conner Church (drums) and Mitchel Williams (bass). “I give them full credit,” he states.
Studying songwriting in Nashville with songwriter and cousin, Kris Bergsnes, Ward develops his craft. “Writing with my cousin, Chris, is really eye-opening for me.” Bergsnes is known for writing Tim McGraw’s “Somebody Must be Prayin’ for Me,” among other popular hits. Focusing on uplifting sounds, Ward also draws inspiration from upbeat classics like Elvis, the Bee Gees and folk artists.
Inspired to become a fulltime musician? Ward’s advice: “Play as much as you can. Write as often as you can. But value yourself as an artist – and a person. Value yourself, and prove it to the people that don’t think you are [valuable].”
“I began playing at a couple of shows in college – it was really me just sitting in the corner of a barbecue restaurant,” laughs Roger Creager, of his early music days. The Corpus Christi native began singing and playing the piano in 1997, while acquiring his agriculture and accounting degrees in College Station at Texas A&M. “They let me play every Sunday afternoon at Buffalo Joes,” he recalls. Growing Sunday crowds would soon build his career as a country music singer.
Releasing his song, “Having Fun All Wrong,” caused a large response for fans. “It was something that struck a chord for college kids in Texas,” Creager says. “Having fun all wrong – when you get your heart broken, and all the things you do wrong.” Like most country musicians, Creager dedicated a great deal of time and effort to producing meaningful music. “I worked really hard,” he says. Booking his own gigs and playing music, his path toward music began to pay off pretty quickly. “I count myself lucky in that regard,” he says.
Country and college fans
Playing at neighboring college campuses such as Steven F. Austin, University of Texas and Texas State, Creager has taken those fans with him over the past 20 years to Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. In recent years, he has gained popularity in Chicago, Washington D.C. and New York City.
He often reunites with loyal fans on the road, many of who are indeed Texans. “They show up in their Shiner Bock T-shirts – it is an absolute blast,” describes Creager with enthusiasm. “People tell me, ‘it’s so cool having you here. I’ve been here for six years, and if feels like I’m back at home.”
Nine albums later, Creager ultimately focuses on taking his music to the next level, bringing a piece of Texas on the road. A few of his favorites include “Late Night Case of the Blues,” “Surrender” and “A Little Bit of Them All.” Creager explains of his craft, “You hope that the more you do it, the better you get at it.”
Creager’s advice: “The harder you work, the more likely you are to succeed. That applies to an accountant, a salesman – and country singers.” Join Creager at his 2018 South of the Border event with Kevin Fowler. The event will be held in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
Not many folks know that Stoney LaRue’s roots began in the Coastal Bend, as he was born just a short trek from Corpus Christi, in Taft, Texas. With some family in the area, “I always feel this overwhelming sense of home there,” he describes of the sparkling view of the Gulf Coast waters. “It evokes an emotion.”
Playing for Texas crowds, LaRue maintains a loyal fan base. “They will be the first ones to tell ya that if you don’t like it, you can go somewhere else,” he laughs, amused. “Texas protects its culture. It’s their life-blood. I’m really quite blessed.”
Singing at 3 years old, LaRue picked up the guitar and harmonica around 10 years old. “My dad was a base player,” he explains of early influences. Country music from the ‘70s and ‘80s inspired the musician. In his teens, LaRue searched for a community that could provide a depth he was missing in his home life. Submerged in a subculture called Red Dirt Music, native to Oklahoma’s country music roots, the Red Dirt Music culture offered a type of “sanctuary” for LaRue.
Moving to Stillwater in 1993, LaRue grew his talents rooming with other musicians. “We became exposed to a ray of inspiration, including Jason Boland, Cody Canada and Mike McClure from the Great Divide.” With his first gig at the Wormy Dog in Oklahoma, getting to auditions was creative at times, either taking the bus or train. “I didn’t have a car, but I had a girlfriend with a car,” he laughs wittingly.
Now, some 19 years later, LaRue has upgraded to his tour bus, also traveling across the globe, from Alaska to Australia. His eight albums have developed his trajectory. “I always felt like there was something to say,” he explains. “I want to know about different kinds of animals, culture and food – find out the similarities. Beauty is in the smallest things – everything. I’ve taken some time to differentiate, a bee or a flower, watching a kid pick up a rock and throw it. Instead of someone wanting now, now, now.”
Authentically connecting with his fans, he explains, “It’s not so topical. It’s more existential.” Releasing his next album, he hopes to share with fans his “monumental piece of work.”
LaRue’s advice: “Anybody doing anything involving a gift would do as such: Treat it like a gift,” he says. “Be proactive about it. It’s as perennial as grass.” Above all, he concludes, “Strive to be happy.” Catch LaRue on his 2017 tour!
Brewster Street Icehouse
Photos courtesy of Natalie Rhea, Jay Trevino, Roger Creager