The Legend of RRB and NYE 2004
It alternately seems like it was 18 years ago and just last week all at once. But, the latter is just beer soaked nostalgia and the former is the harsh reality. The best legends stand the test of time and the Randy Rogers Band have become legends in their own time over the past 22 years. This tale weaves in the facet of the other definition of legend - a traditional story sometimes popularly regarded as historical but unauthenticated. I'm here to authenticate the story of the night the RRB and its Choir fanbase invaded Erath County to welcome in 2005.
First, a little history lesson. The first non San Marcos/New Braunfels area gig the RRB ever played was in Stephenville. The current, long standing lineup of the band had yet to coalesce. Geoffrey Hill was the only non-Rogers surname to hit 281 north that cold November 2001 Friday afternoon. We stopped in Hico at the Koffee Kup. Uncertain of what might await up the road. Would anyone be at the gig? Well, there was a dedicated and hearty group of about 30 folks that came out that night. Thus began a strong relationship between Randy Rogers Band and Stephenville. Between LJT trips and City Limits gigs, Stephenville became a honey hole for the RRB.
In December 2004 though, Rollercoaster was just four months old, LJT invites had yet to happen and City Limits had yet to be sold out. But, the buzz was palpable. The RRB circuit had long grown from San Marcos, New Braunfels, Houston, Fort Worth and Stephenville to include just about everywhere in the south. Most nights were thin, but it was building. Rollercoaster was being found to be a genre and decade defining monumental album. The Galleywinter chat rooms were ablaze with plans to meet up in Stephenville for the New Years Eve RRB gig at City Limits in Stephenville.
Soon enough, a block of rooms had been organized by someone. People were coming from as far away as Oregon, Nevada, California and North Carolina. Expats who had caught the bug and wanted to come party 2004 away in the most premium Texas way of the day. Before you knew it, in the pre Venmo social media era ad-hoc roommates were being made, kegs were being ordered, designated drivers were being sought or ignored, dinner plans were set forth to a Mexican joint who didn't know what it was in for. In general, the set of Hank Jr's “All My Rowdy Friends” video was being placed into the Stephenville Days Inn with a RRB concert in the middle.
I was coming up from Waco with the Elm Mott gang and some of our Austin buddies. As you do when you're in your early 20’s, we were prepared to cram about 8 people into a double room. Air mattresses and cots at the ready. The most important part was that we were bringing about 2798309 beers and assorted liquor handles. Who needs some cheap NYE party favors when Keystone and R&R whiskey is on sale?
We hit town at about dusk and checked in. The parking lot was already hopping. I recall Ragweed's Wormy Dog album blaring in the parking lot. The middle aged man that handed me our room keys was already anxious, but his night was just beginning. He had a furrowed brow and a little black and white TV playing the Andy Griffith Show behind him. Mayberry would not be visiting Stephenville on this night.
It's fuzzy, no pun intended, but I don't remember how we all ended up at dinner. But we all ended up at the same place. And when I say all, it felt like the entire hotel was there. The waitress had kind eyes, broken English and was clearly overwhelmed by the rowdy clientele. It was only like 7pm. There was table dancing, sing alongs, and a general loud roar one would associate more with a bar than a mom and pop TexMex restaurant. I do know we tipped well and set about heading to the main event. As we exited, I noticed a couple guys in clown paint. I wasn't sure if they were ICP juggaloos out of place, rodeo clowns heading to work or just out for a good time.
My guess was confirmed when we arrived to the City Limits entry line and saw them in the parking lot. These dudes had come to party. They were accompanied by a rodeo cowboy who was pacing with a walking stick. He somehow convinced the door guy that he needed it for mobility, but we overheard him exclaim that it was actually his “power stick” and enabled him to “kick some ass, get some ass…or both if the night goes right.” This was definitely going to be a memorable night.
If you ever made it to City Limits you remember it had a rather funky layout. It wasn't conceived or conducive for live music, but somehow it worked. It was outfitted like any of your standard Midnight Rodeo/WildWest type joints but with a distinctive flair all its own. It was dark and long and had the same vibe found upon watching Bud Davis stalk Wes Hightower in Gilley's. Dark, dank, dangerous, familiar, smoky, stale, loud, fun. Those words describe City Limits on any given night, but were especially apropos on 12/31/04.
I don't recall there being an opener. Well, besides a fist fight. While the house DJ was still spinning Reckless Kelly and Pat Green tunes, and buckle bunnies were dancing with each other under the mirror balls as the bar lines snaked into the umpteens long, two dudes got cross. Surprisingly it wasn't the power stick guy. But, it did send a buzz and energy through the crowd as the guy in the orange Ragweed shirt got bested by the guy in the Jack Ingram Adair's shirt.
My crew had been an early Jaeger promoter and adopter upon seeing a Metallica documentary back in the mid 90’s where they espoused its transitive qualities. Our thinking was if this stuff can make James Hetfield feel as if he's time traveling, what can it do for us? We quickly found our answer and began spreading the gospel of jaeger bombs, Vegas bombs and the like. Semi-cold flasks were being passed, rounds were being bought and hardly any mind had been paid to the stage until some activity was noticed and the dull roar began to grow from a murmur to chanting. Just as Robert Earl Keen and Pat Green had worn before him, Rogers was being greeted with a profane middle name mantra.
As was standard in that era, the show began with “Somebody Take Me Home” and it was game on. This was the first time I'd gotten to see this many people screaming along to these songs. These same songs me and a handful of people first heard in their infant stages at places like Saengerhalle, Clubhouse Concerts and Cheatham Street. And, living rooms for that matter. Now, they were fully formed and strapped to the back of a zeitgeist grasping rocketship that was piloted by the RRB live show. Rollercoaster was getting airplay with “Tonight's Not the Night” but it was the live show that was making the Randy Rogers Band a true phenomenon.
As it is now, it was then. Brady Black's blistering and frenetic fiddle playing stole the spotlight, but it was the engine of Johnny Chops and Les Lawless that kept the train on tracks while Geoffrey Hill riffed and grinned his heart out. At the forefront was Rogers singing the songs he wrote with his now standard gravel-soaked gravitas. It was a true moment in time. By the time they launched into “Down and Out”, it was pretty much pandemonium in the crowd. Jostling, shouting, visible steam. Power stick guy, the rodeo clown guys, shrieking college girls. Trucker caps and cowboy hats bobbing in rhythm together.
The set continued and the collective BAC rose while the collective IQ lowered. Risk avoidance had made way for adventure seeking and memory making. Crowd surfing to “Like It Used To Be”...why the hell not?
And so it went for the entirety of the set. Gary Stewart covers, familiar songs and deep cuts rang out until midnight and then we went some more. Then, somehow the lights were coming on and Randy says from the stage, “We'll see all of you back at the Days Inn.”
He meant what he said. A few minutes after that declaration, seemingly everyone from the club was milling about the parking lot and courtyard of the Stephenville Days Inn. People were making up, making out, fighting, arguing and singing along to Charlie Robison. There had to have been at least 400 people there. Didn't seem too loud in the moment, but someone else must have thought different.
Here we were thinking that Stephenville's finest surely had better things to do. Everybody at this hotel was here for the show. Nobody was driving (anymore). It was New Years Eve in a college town and the home of Larry Joe Taylor. What else were we supposed to be doing? We thought we were doing it right. In hindsight, I know we were.
Well, Mayberry Man had other ideas. If he had to be miserable on New Years Eve, then so did we. I recall Brady had his fiddle over here. An acoustic guitar was being passed around over there. It wasn't that cold out. Everyone had their hotel doors open facing the courtyard. People were mingling in and out of each other's room for booze and snacks like some sort of dignified hotel Redneck Woodstock. Strangers had become friends. Even the power stick guy was relaxing. He hadn't been successful in either of his predictions as of yet.
I was having what I'm sure was a very in depth and accurate college football conversation when I thought I heard sirens. Someone was playing Ryan Adams songs nearby and I glanced to my left to see Randy holding court with a gaggle of folks and we made eye contact. He bolted into one of the open doors. The sirens were getting closer.
I'd had plenty of experience running from cops at HS pasture parties and college keg parties, but I wasn't running in this instance. We weren't doing anything wrong, for the most part.
The red and blues were reflecting on the windows and two burly good ol’ boy Buford T. Justice types strutted up to greet us. The taller one asked , “just who's in charge of this shindig?’ That opened the door for one of my close acquaintances to holler from about 20 yards away in one of the rooms, “Me motherf*cker! Take me to jail!” The Bufords hastily made their way to that doorway to find it locked and closed by the time they got there. When they turned around, the entire courtyard area was scattering to rooms, vehicles and hiding spots of all types. Then the catcalling began. Buford 2 said “We can stay here all night and start taking you all to jail.” The retorts flew in “no you can't!” ''I'd like to see you try” and the like. Buford 1 then said, “I understand there's a band here that has organized all this.”
Randy chose this moment to exit the room he was in and introduce himself. Putting that Texas State PR degree to good use. “Hi sir, I'm Randy Rogers of the Randy Rogers Band…we played City Limits tonight and these are all our friends.” Buford 2 replied, “I don't give a damn if you are George Strait or Elvis Presley, tonight's show is over.”
It was at that moment, when those words were said, the power stick guy busted through his hotel room window like a Hollywood stuntman. He fell back first, stick still in hand. Shattered glass and screen strewn about. Two rodeo clown faces ablaze in the glow of late night TV stifling laughter staring at the cops. As the Bufords were just trying to discern just what the hell was happening, a skinny guy in brown corduroy pants, no shirt and a black felt hat began sprinting around the edge of the courtyard blasting a fire extinguisher. Pretty soon the entire party was back on, despite the police presence. I remember a girl walking up to the cops with a hotel Bible and slurrily telling the deputies that she would pray for them to have a safe rest of shift. Buford 1 and Buford 2 were bewildered, frustrated and generally confused as to what they should do next.
Soon enough, the police radios started going off with calls concerning a tan F250 driven by some clown-faced gentlemen knocking over a convenience store. They were last seen driving away with a dude holding a stick out the window and a shirtless corduroy pants wearing guy surfing in the bed. Seems as though they had thrown an emptied fire extinguisher into the store window. The Bufords jogged to their cruiser.
With that, our RRB after party was in full swing again. Fiddle and guitar bounced around until near sunrise…or until the booze ran out. 2005 was sure to be special. And it was. The Randy Rogers Band exploded. Rollercoaster became an institution. The band got invited to the biggest festivals for the first time. They recorded a Live at Billy Bob's album. And we all made it from 04 to 05 without any police jam ups thanks to the reckless cover of some unnamed heroes that wore face paint and had a stick, a fire extinguisher and zero fucks to give. What could have just been another sleepy Saturday night in Stephenville had become legendary in a matter of hours.
It was the kind of night that served as a launching pad. So much was never the same after that. RRB became the biggest band in the land. Days Inn needed to be razed. Relationships were built and lost of all types over the course of one night in Stephenville. I'm reminded of Glen Frey saying of the Eagles music, “people didn't just listen to our music, they did things to our music…they lived to our music.” Randy Rogers Band has been a consistent soundtrack to people living in Texas for 18 solid years. Weddings, funerals, barroom romances, breakups…and for one special Erath County holiday night some memorable hell-raising, minor law breaking and the line of demarcation when RRB became an institution. A legend built from a legend.
The Randy Rogers Band plays a sold out Billy Bob's Saturday night for NYE 2022. We're all older and wiser. But, if someone shows up in face paint and with a walking stick…who knows what might happen. See you at the gig!