by: Thomas D. Mooney
You walk into Bar PM on a Sunday night. Game 2 of the NBA Finals has just ended. Down the block, you can hear No Dry County playing before actually seeing the open door.
They’re crammed on the small stage in the front–or as many of them as possible–it’s really only Matt Newsom and Dub Wood on the stage. The three remaining NDC members–Jonathan Dunlap, Trent Langford, and Bristen Phillips–are all standing in front wielding their six strings. If you’re sitting somewhere near the front, Wood is nearly as tall as Phillips, who’s standing in front of him.
The red neon glow lights up the otherwise darkened corner. For the most part, everyone’s face is just a mixture of shadows and red.
The front room of PM is packed with people sitting, standing, leaning. It’s a hot summer day in there. People escape it by walking into the empty adjacent room where the AC is on full blast. The bigger stage in there is vacant and would have probably been a better option, but oh well. It’s not that big of a deal for all parties involved.
NDC blazes through an efficient set of songs from their most recent album, The Night Before. As you’d guess, they know them like the back of their hand at this point.
Like most other weekends this year, they’ve been out on the road playing across Texas and neighboring states. This weekend, it was Red River, New Mexico and Farwell, Texas. Last weekend it was Austin, New Braunfels, San Marcos, and Spicewood. All throughout, Langford’s been hopping here, playing acoustic there during the week.
All Sunday afternoon and evening, they’d been driving down back roads around Lubbock and finishing up their upcoming music video for “Tupelo.” Pretending to be on the way to a show. Changing tires. Looking worn ragged and looking for a way to get to their eventual destination.
They take a break. Grab a beer. smoke a cigarette. Chit chat with whoever wants to talk. Another run of songs start up when Langford grabs his guitar and begins strumming. The band joins in.
Roughly around the new year, NDC went from a four-piece to a five. Phillips came on to add more guitar. Those first few months, it was more or less the feeling out each other out. Figuring what makes sense. Where to add and where to ease off.
It’s been most noticeable in the last month or so exactly what Phillips does for No Dry County. In a way, the four have taken just as many steps towards Phillips’ sonic vibes as he has towards to their guitar and tone. It’s been a work in process that’s just now really showing off how dynamic the possibilities can be.
He doesn’t fill in the cracks by just strumming the same things Dunlap or Langford is. It’s like adding another dimension to the band by playing in the space directly above them.
It’s at times, spacey. Others, it’s anthemic. But ultimately, it’s like adding a film score layer to the entire part. Intros, outros, and that often empty void between songs become miniature entities that float the line between being individual pieces and portion of a larger picture.
The sky in the panhandle is massive. With the mountain-less landscape, it takes up the majority of space. Like most West Texas songwriters, Langford’s compositions are about people wandering around near the ground. They’re honest, real, up close, and personal–grounded. Phillips helps pull NDC a little further into the ether.
A chunk of the crowd has vacated and headed home. By all means, it is Sunday night. A few folks from Local down the block come in and take their seats.
Another hour or so passes and they’re taking another break. Grab a beer. Smoke a cigarette. Chit chat with whoever. Another and final run of songs start up when Langford grabs his guitar and begins strumming. The band joins in.
It’s “Sheep in Wolves Clothes” by Little Hurricane. Langford sings it as though he’s actually the one who wrote the folky pop ballad. Song ends. They ask if anyone has a request. A few are thrown out.
They fake their way through one. A few back glances from Langford to whoever will make eye contact happen around the forgotten chorus. It’s alright. No one is giving grades tonight.
They go into a Garth Brooks song. A Sammy Kershaw song. A Garth Brooks song. A Blackhawk song. It becomes a ’90s country power hour. Why the hell not?
Hour ends. Grab a beer. Smoke a cigarette. Chit chat with whoever. Pack up and leave.