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The Flatlanders are still flat out good

The Flatlanders (from left to right), Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock, performed at Tower Theatre in Oklahoma City on Tuesday night. It was the trio's first stop on a 15-city tour. [PHOTO BY ED GODFREY/THE OKLAHOMAN]
The Flatlanders (from left to right), Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock, performed at Tower Theatre in Oklahoma City on Tuesday night. It was the trio's first stop on a 15-city tour. [PHOTO BY ED GODFREY/THE OKLAHOMAN]

At one point during Tuesday night’s performance at Tower Theatre, Jimmie Dale Gilmore said the Flatlanders were going to perform a song from their first album and joked it was 100 years ago.

Not quite, but it has been almost 50 years since the three Texas troubadours from Lubbock became The Flatlanders. Gilmore, Joe Ely and Butch Hancock – three talented singers, songwriters and longtime pals – have been making music together so long that their first album came out only on 8-track.

The trio went on to have more commercial success individually than they did as The Flatlanders and didn't reconvene until 1998 to record music for Robert Redford’s movie, "The Horse Whisperer." Since then, The Flatlanders have toured regularly between individual projects and released three more studio albums.

On Tuesday night, the three critically acclaimed artists who can take some credit for pioneering alternative country/Americana music, started their “Borderless Love” tour with the first stop at Tower Theatre in Oklahoma City. The Flatlanders, along with guitarist Rob Gjersoe, will be performing in 15 cities in November before winding up in Dallas at The Kessler on Nov. 23.

For almost two hours Tuesday night, The Flatlanders entertained fans with ballads and stories of beer drinking in Texas oil fields, fried chicken restaurants and the late great poet, singer and songwriter Townes Van Zandt.

Ely on Tuesday night once again shared the story of how he first met Van Zandt, who was hitchhiking through Lubbock in 1970 after traveling through the Mojave Desert with a backpack full of albums, one of which he left behind for his new pals from Lubbock on the way to Houston.

Ely, Gilmore and Hancock each took turns telling a story about Van Zandt, which segued into their performance of the Van Zandt song “Tecumseh Valley,” one of the highlights of what was billed as "An Evening with The Flatlanders."

They opened the show with “Dallas,” a song written by Gilmore that has become a staple in The Flatlanders' live sets, along with “Borderless Love,” a song that resonates in today’s political climate more than ever.

The trio apparently didn't stick to the pre-arranged set list on Tuesday, calling some audibles on stage.

Gilmore’s twangy rendition of “I Am So Lonesome I Could Cry” might be second to only Hank Williams himself, and Ely went solo on “Cold Black Hammer,” a song from those Texas oil fields which he said often turned into the local watering holes on Saturday nights in west Texas.

Tuesday night's show included Flatlander standards in live sets like “Waving My Heart Goodbye,” "I Had My Hopes Up High" and “Right Where I Belong.” Hancock brought Oklahoma’s own Nellie Clay to the stage, who he met at Woodyfest in Okemah, and the pair harmonized on “Long Sunsets,” a song Hancock wrote in the aftermath of Van Zandt’s death.

It was a small crowd Tuesday night at the Tower Theatre, but it made for an intimate gathering, the kind of setting where the artistry of The Flatlanders can truly be appreciated.

Ed Godfrey

Ed Godfrey was born in Muskogee and raised in Stigler. He has worked at The Oklahoman for 25 years. During that time, he has worked a myriad of beats for The Oklahoman including both the federal and county courthouse in Oklahoma City for more... Read more ›

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