Winnsboro Center for the Arts was set ablaze Oct. 7 – by the sheer force of two men, their guitars, one harmonica and a baby grand piano.
Sparks first flew when Garrett Owen of Dallas stepped up to the microphone and laid down some of the most original chord progressions, guitar licks and tunes we’ve heard in a while.
Although he was born in San Antonio, he was raised by missionary parents and spent a great deal of his childhood in Tanzania (eastern Africa). The family later moved to South America. Owen returned to Texas when he was 19 and has been finding his way, both musically and personally, since then.
Owen came to the attention of WCA Board Member Shannon Monk when he opened for Parker Millsap at The Kessler.
“I was immediately taken in by his unique stage presence, cutting wit in his songwriting and mad guitar skills,” Monk said. “Since that night, he has been nominated for four Dallas Observer Music Awards. His star is definitely on the rise.”
Owen’s songs are bittersweet, always with a twist and a little jazz chord tossed in at a most unlikely time.
As Monk mentioned, Owen’s mastery of his instrument is remarkable. Not sure I’ve ever heard such a clear tone or seen such blazing – or effective – picking before on an acoustic. He found riffs, sounds and tones so pure they took your breath away. For real.
Owen lit a fire in the room with 7 songs, including “Tonight Will Be Fine,” a Leonard Cohen song he rewrote. That takes guts, and this kid has them in spades.
Of his Winnsboro experience, Owen said, “The Bowery stage was quite a surprise. A wonderful listening audience in a darkened room in a town with some of the nicest folks you’ll ever meet. It was a kind of a blind jump to play there just because Shannon seemed like super nice people and for the opportunity to open for John Fullbright, but it ended up being a beautiful night. John mentioned that he felt like it was a strong show. Those are my favorite kind.”
Shannon and her husband, Michael, offered their RV to Owen and his girlfriend, Amy.
“They brought us coffee in the morning, made us breakfast, we joined them for church,” Owen said. “Turned into a nice weekend to be away from D/FW for a minute.”
After a brief intermission – just long enough to let the smoke settle and the blaze die down a bit, John Fullbright took the stage.
“Until tonight, I called myself a guitar player,” Fullbright said as he stepped up to the microphone, paying homage to Owen’s intricate picking. “Tonight, I’m just a guitar owner.”
Fullbright, the Grammy-nominated Okemah native, fanned the embers Owen left on the stage with his own performance of 19 songs, including originals and covers by Hoyt Axton, Waylon Jennings, fellow Okie Jimmy Webb and a gospel tune by Lieber/Stoller that raised the roof.
Fullbright’s music belies his young age. He’s just 29 and has been a traveling troubadour since he first appeared at the Woody Guthrie Festival while he was still in high school.
He released his first record, “Live at the Blue Door,” in 2009. His first studio album, “From the Ground Up,” earned him a Grammy nomination for Best Americana Album. He was given the ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Artists and Publishers) Harold Adamson Lyric Award in 2012, which was presented to him by fellow Okie Jimmy Webb.
Also in 2012, the Americana Music Association nominated him as Emerging Artist of the Year.
In 2014 Fullbright was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame and won its Rising Star Award.
Since the release of his third record, “Songs,” Fullbright has maintained a full touring schedule, earning a loyal following, some of who showed up Saturday night from Austin, Oklahoma and the state of Washington.
Someone in the audience mentioned that they had seen him at a song swap with some pretty well-known musicians a few years back. She said, after a while, the other artists just sat back and let Fullbright shine because it was obvious that he was on another level with his songwriting.
Take the lyrics to “Satan and St. Paul.”
Don’t tell me that you love me
I’ve got nothing left in turn
Except this empty bag of promises
And second degree burns
On the tips of my fingers
From touching certain fruit
That I never should have touched in the first place
Well the sky’s raining fire
But I think I’ll go to bed
Because there ain’t much you can do
When it burns down on your head
Except pray and beg for mercy
From this hell that you created
On the corner of Satan and St. Paul
And my cup it runneth over
And it runs down in my eyes
Maybe when I’m a little older
I won’t tell myself so many lies
Well it took me twenty years
Just to find myself a pen
For to write down all the words
Just to scratch them out again
I could use another twenty years
To fix the last fifteen
But it never seems to work to my advantage
Now I’m walking here on rusted nails
With broken wings and battered sails
I told you that I’m leaving
But I’m probably telling lies
If only I could make it out
To Denver, Colorado
I’d book it out of Satan and St. Paul
That, my friends, is poetic imagery on the level of the late, great Townes Van Zandt and Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan.
In rare interviews, Fullbright has stated the songs of Townes Van Zandt were part of the reason he got serious about his craft. He covered Van Zandt’s little-performed “The Catfish Song” with such beauty and grace that I know the ghost of the man himself was smiling down from snowy Raton Pass.
After a couple more tunes, Fullbright took off the guitar strap and sat down at the piano. His years in church really paid off. He reminded me of a young Leon Russell in the way he handled the ivories. It’s like those 88 keys are an extension of his arms. If you’ve ever heard a great gospel pianist, you know what I’m talking about. That kind of talent can’t be taught. It has to be deeply felt.
He covered a couple of great Hoyt Axton tunes, including “Jealous Man,” then he turned to Waylon Jennings in a cover of “The Wurtlizer Prize.” While Jennings didn’t write the tune, he and Willie Nelson rode it to the top of the charts in 1977 with their album, “Willie and Waylon.”
He also offered up a beautiful cover of Webb’s 1977 hit, “If You See Me Getting Smaller.”
Then, he closed the show with “The High Road,” a tear jerker that left the room stunned and sniffling.
For an encore, he took us to church as he lit up the keyboard for a rendition of “Saved,” made popular by LaVern Baker in 1961. He was on fire – and so were we. Saved!
When the smoke settled, the stage was in tact and the building was still standing, but just barely. Owen and Fullbright had performed an evening of barn-burning original music that none of us will soon forget.