by: Thomas D. Mooney
“Look out boy, I’m a rolling stone.” –Gillian Welch, “Wrecking Ball”
It’s nearing nine in the evening. A definitive line is assembling and snakes down the sidewalk lengthening with every passing second. It hugs the railing and gently curves with the end of the block.
From outside, you can hear William Clark Green soundchecking with shortened versions of “Next Big Thing.” A pair of black sunglasses sit atop his head. They’re prepping at the bar racing back and forth between the back coolers and the bartop. A few boxes of various t-shirts and a few copies of Ringling Road and Misunderstood are stacked side stage.
The doors open and slowly the line begins diffusing into the wide, open Blue Light main room. Tables towards the far side begin getting claimed. Lone Star bottles and whiskey Cokes act as their flags of declaration. Folks who’ve never been to the storied venue scope the place out. They eye the massive head-dressed Indian painted on the wall as they make their way towards the bar for a drink. They size up the room looking for the best spot to stand while they wait.
“I think I’ll wait another song before going on stage,” says Stephenville singer-songwriter Jon Young. “I mean, I don’t want to start playing right after a Ryan Adams song.”
“Gimme Something Good” is blaring out the house speakers. Young is wearing a Grateful Dead shirt–one that’ll serve as an ice breaker for multiple conversations throughout the night. The tall Texan is a mountain of a man with a soaring voice that matches. His hands dwarf most others; they’re like bear paws.
“Gimme Something Good” fades out and Jason Isbell’s “24 Frames” begins. There goes Young’s gamble. He lets out a laugh with an accompanying “Well damnit.”
By the time Isbell goes into the third chorus, Young is on stage and throwing his guitar strap over his head. A few groups of onlookers begin inching towards the stage as he begins strumming his guitar. Young’s no stranger to the BL stage and certainly has a growing fanbase that’d happily claim Young as their own.
He’s been prepping and recording a debut album, Ashes of Dreams of Fire, for the better part of the year. It’s finally coming down the final stages with Young contemplating an Autumn release date. It’s sure to be worth the long wait.
Green and guitarist Josh Serrato make their way on stage. The crowd is a giant sweltering pit. Ass to elbows. Sweat collects on the brows of everyone. No one cares enough to leave the spot they’ve carved out for themselves. The fans overhead are rotating as fast as crop-dusting plane propellers. They move the hot air around in an attempt to cool the crowd. Luckily,
most everyone is wearing today’s proper application of deodorant and antiperspirants.
A shriek of hollers and a round of clapping are let out by the mob as Green greets the crowd for the first time. “What do you want to hear?” he asks the crowd. “We’re going to play what you guys want so let us know. We’ll go ahead and start it off with this though.” They go into “Rose Queen” and they’re off to the races.
The crowd is rowdy. They join in on the chorus time and again throughout the night. Scattered between radio chart toppers and deep cuts, Green goes into rambling stories behind the next song or why he loves Lubbock and Blue Light so damn much. Typically, they go hand in hand. Sometimes, they aimlessly go off the subject as they’re led by the last Apple Burn or tequila shot.
At times, it’s a massive singalong. The bar’s singing can surely be heard echoing down the corridors of The Depot.
It’s been a long, long time since such a large group of Lubbock musicians and songwriters stay this close to the stage for this long. Dave Martinez, Benton Leachman, Cleto Cordero, Jerry Serrano, Bristen Phillips, Dub Wood, Randall King, Laura Houle, among others crowd the side. Their trips to the bar are less frequent than usual.
Green goes into “Still Think About You,” the co-penned Kent Finlay song that ends Ringling Road. Green speaks about the recently deceased Texas songwriter and his immeasurable importance in the Texas music scene. He tells the crowd about it being the last song he wrote with Finlay.
(Quick Note on “Still Think About You”: Last April, Green said he’d written the chorus on the Three Guitarrristas Tour with Randy Rogers and Sean McConnell. Both passed on writing on it. When he brought up the chorus idea with Finlay during Steamboat, he loved it and they finished it there.)
“This song, my good friend Dustin Six requested. Let’s see if I can remember all the words,” says Green. “I wrote this with Charlie Shafter–if you don’t know who Charlie Shafter is, you really need to go buy his records. He’s a hell of a songwriter from Lubbock.”
He goes into the making of “Drunk on Desire” and his many failed attempts at convincing Shafter into co-writing a song or two. It’s the beauty of a co-written song that happens more rarely than you’d think. Typically, if the two writing parties record versions of the song, they aren’t usually that different.
Green and Shafter’s may as well be two different songs. Green’s is a brooding, depressing dark drinking ballad while Shafter’s is a mandolin infused folk song–granted, they do have two different second verses and a word change here and there. Shafter’s is like evening drinks on the porch while grilling dinner while Green’s is post-bar bottle of whiskey in hand drinking while chain-smoking cigarettes in the twilight.
It’s a Ray Wylie Hubbard quote: “The days that I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations, I have really good days.” Green is treating tonight with those same sentiments. He loves that stage. Those people. He talks about those who made The Blue Light stage The Blue Light stage and not just another stage in Lubbock. He praises them–Josh Abbott, Wade Bowen, Brandon Adams, Charlie Shafter, Red Shahan, etc etc etc–as much as he’s excited about the next crop of songwriting upstarts that are making their own waves in town. Dalton Domino, Benton Leachman, and Cleto Cordero of Flatland Cavalry are all William Clark Green 10 years ago in one way or another.
He invites Cordero on stage to play a song. You can see the wide-grinning Flatland Cavalry frontman shake the nerves out as he grabs Green’s guitar from him. He goes into “Summertime Love,” the radio single dominating 105.3 the last few months.
When we first debuted “No Shade of Green” from FC’s Come May back in early May, Green text me that afternoon about the band and how impressed he was with it. Now, he’s standing in the rear of the stage smoking a bummed cigarette gushing with admiration. He leads the clapping once Cordero finishes.
Fellow Texas songwriter Bri Bagwell joins Green on stage. Earlier, she played down the block at The Cactus Theater as well as joining Green, Cordero, and Leachman at Nick’s for West Texas Live. Before going into “Hound Dog,” jokes that she has known Green since his days as a nobody–you know, because he’s the next big thing.
And that’s really what sets Green apart from his contemporaries. Sure, there’s plenty of people out there working hard and who are thankful for every little ounce of praise they receive. But Green, it’s tenfold. He’s still working as though he’s still playing shows down at The Recovery Room on a regular basis and sleeping on people’s couches.
It’s those little things–like cutting a couple of songs from his set and giving a couple of other songwriters five minutes when he didn’t have to–that make the world of difference. No one excepted him to do such a thing. It’s a working man’s mentality to share the wealth with other hard-working individuals.
He goes into “Ringling Road”–a song that was nearly cut from the album twice. It’ll never be released as a single. But it could change the direction of Texas radio. It has a different mindset and attitude that the present norm. We’ll see if it transitions from fan favorite to radio requested.
What I mainly mean by “changing” would be A) Be a non-released single without radio promotion that skips that part of the business and charts strictly because of requests and DJs taking the leap of faith and B) Other songwriters releasing some of their non-traditional material as singles because of that presumed success. I think it’s safe to say that people are looking for something that can be a catalyst for breaking the dirt road, buddy drinking songs.
About an hour later, he’ll be rounding out the set and shaking hands, snapping Instagram photos, and speaking with those from the crowd that seek him out. He’s engaging with everyone who approaches.
It’s old fashioned. But mainly it’s reassuring.
For more on William Clark Green, read our last in-depth interview with the Lubbock songwriter about Ringling Road here.
01. Rose Queen
04. Dead Or in Jail
06. Still Think About You
07. Run (George Strait cover)
08. Hanging Around–>I Won’t Back Down (Tom Petty Cover)
09. Drunk on Desire
10. Summertime Love by Cleto Cordero of Flatland Cavalry
11. Hound Dog by Bri Bagwell
12. Going Home
13. Ringling Road
14. Sticks & Stones
15. It’s About Time
16. Fool Me Once
17. Final This Time
18. Old Fashioned
19. She Likes the Bealtes–>With a Little Help From My Friends (Beatles cover)–>Start Me Up (The Rolling Stones cover)–>She Likes the Beatles
20. Next Big Thing
21. Wishing Well