When a band first catches your ear, it's for a reason. Could be you heard their song on the radio and dug it. Could be that you caught them live opening for someone and their live show was on point. Could be because a friend told you to check them out. Or it could be a combination of all that and more that leads to your checking them out on an unseasonably cold day in Key West, FL.
A severe cold front had blown into the Keys and people were scrambling to cover up their beach laden gear for something more substantial. Against our better judgement and despite our middling clothing options, our group trudged down to Sunset Pier to check out the most buzzed about band of the 2022 Mile 0 Fest, Alabama's own Red Clay Strays. The windswept wooden planks were roaring with the breeze and swaying with the beats. Lead singer Brandon Coleman was swiveling his hips like Elvis on TV in 1956 and drummer John Hall was bashing away on his kit like a cross between John Bonham, Keith Moon and Ginger Baker. The rest of the band, guitarists Drew Nix and Zach Rishel, along with bassist Andrew Bishop played their parts perfectly. All told, I was sold within 30 seconds. The air was frigid, but their performance was straight fire.
The buzz that began in January 2022 in Florida spread across the south and settled squarely in the middle of our Texas/Red Dirt scene. The boys from south Alabama had made fans in person and it was translating region wide due to social media and word of mouth. I hadn't heard people give the unsolicited "you must check out this band!" speech this often since Turnpike circa 2010. For good reason. There's just something different about the Red Clay Strays. Our Uber driver asked us to describe them on the way to last night's show and they're kind of label-less. Country, sure. Rock, yeah. Rockabilly, a tad. Gospel, at times. Folk, Americana, Texas, Red Dirt, you bet. Damn good is probably the most apt description.
Which brings us to last night. The last time these boys did a big Texas run, we caught them at tiny venues or big venues with a tiny crowd. In late July 2023 though, the Strays are strapped to a rocket ship pointed toward the big time and were playing their second trip through Billy Bob's Texas to a near capacity crowd. Coleman even remarked at one point how their first show in Fort Worth was a few years back at the old Magnolia Motor Lounge "in front of maybe 20 people...and tonight there's 2,000 of you!" The ton of folks in attendance last night weren't passive listeners either. They were screaming along, dancing (as much as Billy Bob's allows), hollering, clapping and generally having a good time.
Being a fan of an ascendant band is tricky. They go from being yours to everyone's in the blink of an eye. The Strays are right on the edge of breaking into the national consciousness a la Zach Bryan, Turnpike, Tyler Childers, Shane Smith & the Saints, Whiskey Myers et al. They're that good and they're getting that big. It happens fast. It happens even faster when you write phenomenal songs and perform the hell out of them.
Brandon Coleman cuts a striking figure on stage. He's tall, lanky and mysterious. You can tell he's a tad shy and just enjoys singing his songs without all the hoopla that surrounds fronting a band. But, once the music starts he can't help himself. The hips start moving, the legs start shaking, his voice starts booming and before you know a full on throwback rock star is in your midst. The aforementioned Elvis moves permeate his standing behind the microphone with a guitar set up. Yet, he also does a chunk of each show seated behind a piano. He bangs away with a tasteful zest that would make Jerry Lee Lewis and Leon Russell proud. All while singing his ass off. Drew Nix will chip in some lead vocals from time to time and did so last night. It's at those moments you realize how truly great the band is. When Coleman goes into support mode, the greatness of the whole presentation is evident.
The shrieks for songs that were surely on the set list but not played yet were consistent throughout the night. "Wondering Why" is the band's most streamed tune and was the one the ladies in our section were calling for most of the night. The boys saved it for the encore and a thousand person choir helped Coleman belt out the lyrics. They saved it for the end because the show was peppered with at least five brand new songs that culminated in Coleman beginning the encore solo acoustic with a song titled "God Does". That's as much of a hit song on the nose that I've ever heard on first listen. It's going to be on speakers nationwide soon enough. "Stone's Throw" and "Good Godly Woman" are always good for a stomp along/sing along and were no different on this occasion. The crowd's rambunctious supportive spirit led Coleman to remark "You folks get rowdy up her in Fort Worth" said with a halting Matthew McConaughey-esque cadence that blew the roof off the place.
What started in southern Alabama and landed in Key West, Florida has ended up dominating Texas. The Red Clay Strays are a band on the verge. See them now before they're only in arenas and stadiums. It's coming. RCS has the songs, the show and the passion to take it to the top. Climb on board for their ride, it's going to be a fun one.