by: Sarah Frost
Editor’s Note: Sarah Frost was on scene at Panhandle native Ryan Culwell’s Flatlands Album Release show in Nashville at The Jackalope Brewery on Saturday, March 07.
Walking into Ryan Culwell’s Nashville CD Release doesn’t really feel like most CD release shows in this town–it’s in a large back room at the Jackalope Brewery, full of mostly young families. There’s even a few kids.
It doesn’t look like most shows in this town, either–but a room full of metal seems fitting for Flatlands–Culwell’s first full-length record in eight years. It marks the first album he’s released since leaving the Panhandle for Nashville. The harshness of the surroundings seemed like it made sense for an album about surviving one of the most desolate areas of Texas. There’s also a random church pew. The symbolism seems more than coincidental given how so much of his homeland relies on family and God.
Culwell started his set with “Amarillo,” a haunting number with a surprising Springsteen-like percussion rounding out the end of the song. It’s obvious Culwell isn’t much for stage banter, opting instead to simply sing his love letter to the flatlands–though it may not seem like a love letter on first listen unless you’ve ever left home. You miss the things you hate sometimes just as much as you miss the things you love.
Culwell does manage to say a few words about what matters most to him, though–including an endearing comment explaining how the packed brewery is to him what Garth Brooks felt about his return to Madison Square Garden. It’s clear the room is full of his friends and family in Tennessee, some 900 miles from the Texas he writes about.
Culwell tells the story of the panhandle well to the room of people who are probably less than familiar with the area. Whether he’s describing how the Red River infiltrates everything–from the red clay to the history books–or the great big sky in “Flatlands”–the set was full of songs that presented his first home in a way that would warm any Texans heart and give strangers the Cliff’s notes version of what makes life in the flatlands what it is.
During the middle of the set, “Darkness” made its way into the set, beginning with a juxtaposition of the bright west Texas sun and the dark that seems endless once it sets. The melancholy number discusses the absence of wind and rain, while proclaiming, “we can live here forever.”
For those of us who have left the familiarity of Texas plains, “Won’t Come Home” brings the most emotions–“if you leave, you won’t come home, you’ll be someone else” sounds like something each of us have heard more than once and thought even more. Perhaps Culwell isn’t exactly the same person he was when he called Texas home, but it appears he’s made a new one in Nashville. They were all present in that room, each one proud of the album explaining why their friend became who he is. It was those plains and that dirt and the wind and the wells that shaped him, and he shared their stories with a level of detail anyone would appreciate – Texan or not.
(By the way–the kids were his–reinforcing the amount of community present at the show. It was clear Nashville loves their new friend.)
Sarah Frost is a Texas native currently living in Nashville, Tenn. Follow her on Twitter here.