ROBERT EARL KEEN & AMERICAN AQUARIUM
Live at Whitewater Music Amphitheater | New Braunfels, TX | 7.13.2019
Review & Photos by: Brad Coolidge
When the Turnpike Troubadours abruptly announced that they were taking a hiatus, it left several venues needing replacements for already announced show dates. One such venue was the Whitewater Amphitheater, near New Braunfels, TX. Two back-to-back shows had been announced for the 12th and 13th of July with the Turnpike Troubadours and Robert Earl Keen. Unfortunately, the 12 July date was canceled, but to the delight of many fans (including myself), American Aquarium stepped up to fill the 13 July spot.
There are so many things you could say about American Aquarium, but I prefer to just sum it up by saying that they are a group of bad-ass, hard working, and very talented human beings, deserving of every bit of good fortune that comes their way. Every time I’m invited to shoot one of their shows they go beyond what’s required of the normal pleasantries extended to most media/photographers. That probably has a lot to do with the sense of small-town hospitality that front man BJ Barham grew up around in his rural hometown of Reidsville, NC. BJ keeps one foot firmly rooted in that small town upbringing while the other is constantly on the road, incessantly touring. In fact, American Aquarium is one of the hardest working bands I’ve come across, consistently touring/playing around 200-250 days out of the year.
American Aquarium’s seventh studio album, Things Change, debuted in early 2018 at #24 on the all genre Top Album Sales Chart, #6 on the Billboard Country Albums chart, and #3 on the Americana chart and seemed to imitate it’s own title with a completely revamped lineup and a new record label, New West Records. Recorded at 3CG Studios in Tulsa, OK and produced by John Fullbright, the album has reaped extremely high marks from music journalists and fans alike.
Saturday night’s show at the Whitewater Music Amphitheater mirrored the deserved high praise of the album. Fans packed the 5000+ capacity amphitheater and screamed along to every song, including the crowd favorite, I Hope He Breaks Your Heart. It also marked the first show for new bassist Alden Hedges, who replaced Ben Hussey.
Robert Earl Keen, who has a ranch not too far away from the Whitewater Amphitheater in nearby Kerrville, closed out the night and did so in pure Texas Hill Country fashion with the Guadalupe River as his picturesque backdrop. I’ve seen Robert Earl Keen in concert more times that I’ve been able to keep track of in the past 20+ years, and I’m always drawn to his quick wit delivery and rich character-driven storytelling. He never fails to impress me, over and over again. I’d even argue that he seems to get better each time. Even the short stories or lead-ins between songs draw you in and compel you to pull up a rocking chair, sit back, and listen to a cunningly crafted story on Keen’s front porch (which tonight is the Whitewater Amphitheater stage).
It’s a rare sight to see someone at a Robert Earl Keen show NOT singing along. In fact, many of Keen’s songs seem designed for it. A Robert Earl Keen concert is the type of event where audience participation is not only encouraged but in many ways, required. Cuts like Gringo Honeymoon, the inescapable Merry Christmas From the Family (sometimes referred to affectionately as just The Christmas Song), and Amarillo Highway just beg for the masses to join in... which they happily did on Saturday night. It was a Hill Country chorus that cut through Texas night. Keen has marked his now decades long career with intensely clever writing coupled perfectly with infectious melodies and as one of his most famous of them goes, “The road goes on forever…. (say it with me)…. and the party never ends!” I think I speak for everyone when I say, I’m glad it never will.
American Aquarium’s upcoming tour dates can be found here: American Aquarium Tour Dates
Robert Earl Keen’s upcoming tour dates can be found here: Robert Earl Keen Tour Dates